‘Regular’ women are making an extraordinary difference in Southwest Detroit

‘Regular’ women are making an extraordinary difference in Southwest Detroit
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Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 That’s how the Women’s Day Dinner and Celebration: Cultivate Your Inner Power 2017 started – with this beautiful poem by Maya Angelou and a group of women celebrating the power of sisterhood.

By Mayte’ Penman

They came together to embrace self-care, self-empowerment, family, career and more.

During the last six years more than 800 women, in particular women of color, have participated in these annual dinners, initiated by Matrix Human Services leaders’ Linda Sapp and Hohemi De La Torre, who have headed the event hosted by hosted by Southwest Solutions/Vista Partnership in Southwest Detroit since 2015.

The dinners celebrate regular women, not executive leaders from businesses, foundations, or nonprofit organizations. These “regular” women are indeed leaders in their own right and the foundation of their community. Every day they make a difference in their families and neighborhood as they:

  • Take their children to school day in and day out
  • Start their own businesses as entrepreneurs or have their own careers as professionals
  • Own their homes or rent an apartment and take pride in the place where they live
  • Come together with wisdom and knowledge to share with others and cultivate a strong circle filled with powerful energy
  • Connect with one another and support each other’s’ endeavors and accomplishments

The evening began with the women writing their dreams for themselves, their families or humanity on the Vista Wall.

Seeing those goals in writing helped them see they are possible and encouraged them to take action and make them a reality.

The dreams included:

  • To graduate with my MSW (Master of Social Work)
  • Own my own house
  • Become a neurologist
  • Ser una mejor mamá (Be a better mom)
  • Trip to Spain – to Paris – Japan
  • Be a better person
  • Cure for cancer
  • Finish my degree
  • Be free
  • No more racism
  • Más sociable (Be more sociable)
  • Tener salud y familia unida (Have health and family together)
  • Immigration reform
  • Peace and joy
  • And many more….
Participants  found new “sisters” and new strength. The dinner celebrated “regular” women, who are leaders in their own right and the foundation of their community.

After the dinner a powerful panel of women talked about issues women face, such as motherhood, working in the arts, handling domestic violence, enhancing entrepreneurial skills, marketing oneself, dealing with bullying, caring for oneself and others.

The panelists were:

  • Erika Villarreal Bunce, director of de programs, Living Arts
  • Leticia De La Torre, Zumba  instructor/Vista Partnership
  • Maria Harris, Nuestro Detroit Newspaper, director
  • Lilian Roa, sexual assault clinician La Vida/CHASS Clinic

There was also a performance by Karilú Alarcón Forshee, who began and ended the program with two beautiful songs.

The gathering ended with a survey that collected ideas about what type of information women are seeking and how they can be better supported.

“Tonight gave me an inspiration to make my dream come true (What I wrote on the Vista wall) ‘Be a better person’ I am leaving tonight with a lot on hand. I appreciate the time and invite,” one of the participants, Ruby Arriaga, wrote in her survey.

Another participant, Michelle Angiano, said “the focus should be on the younger generation to empower.” Other women echoed her suggestion. Younger women should also be invited.

The gatherings have been successful because when a woman is helped it creates a ripple effect and the family gets the benefits, which causes the whole community to be strengthened and empowered. Women are indeed the backbone of their communities.

At every dinner there is awareness that whether a woman is African American, Arab American, Hispanic/Latina, or Caucasian, she longs for sisters to be by her side, as well as to be recognized for her strengths. They want to together Cultivate Their Inner Power.

While no flyers or postcards are sent, and no Facebook event created, each year between 100 to 200 women attend the dinner thanks to one-on-one, face-to-face invitations. The dinners started with Gean Holland, a former literacy specialist from a local Head Start.  Ever since then there is a conversation about the different ways women can connect with one another while breaking bread.

All dinners take place in Southwest Detroit. The last two have been done completely in Spanish with English interpretation because of the large number of Latinas for whom English is their second language.

Other dinner themes have included How to Honor Our Best Friends, Women’s Empowerment, Go Red for Mi Corazon, Life is Why, Follow your Heart to the latest, Cultivate your Inner Power.

In recent years, Southwest Solutions and Matrix Human Services have been working together to make sure women across the community enjoy this opportunity.

This year the dinner was sponsored by UnitedHealthCare Community Plan, Mi Pueblo Restaurant and Southwest Solutions. Other organizations also participated including Matrix Human Services, which has participated consistently during the six years and always provides wonderful decoration for all gatherings, American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.

Editor’s Note: Mayte’ Penman is director of resident engagement at Vista Partnership

Lead photo: Women’s issues from motherhood to domestic violence to caring for yourself were discussed by a panel made up of (left to right) Nohemi de La Torre, Literacy Associate at Matrix Human Services; Mitzi Cardona, Community Program Manager of the American Cancer Society; Beverly Hogan, with our Thrive by Five; Kristian Hurley, Multicultural Initiatives Regional Director, SE MI American Heart Association; Linda Sapp, Transition Manager at Matrix Human Services

 

 

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