Saturday, December 1, 2012

I Just Love ‘Em, Baby!

It was a good day for me on Thursday. I had the chance to be among some extraordinary women and I loved every moment of it! I tell you about three of these powerful women right here – Donna Brazile, Josie Johnson and Becky Roloff.
by Charlie Leck

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile was the headliner at the
Westminster Town Hall Forum on Thursday. The big church in downtown Minneapolis was packed to hear her. One could sense the anticipation as the crowd filed in. Brazile, as you know, is a big time political correspondent for CNN News and ABC News. When she trundled into the big sanctuary and took a seat behind the pulpit while the host of the forum prepared to introduce her, I was struck by how much more attractive she looks in person than on television. Her smile is broad and real and her eyes sparkle and are extremely attentive. Her skin is a remarkably beautiful bronze color that seems to glow slightly and her complexion is delicate and perfectly smooth. Her hair is a handsome, steely gray.

I’ll just say that her speech brought the house down. Her commentary about the election we just endured was bright and enlightening. In the end, she showed herself off as a citizen observer and not as a news person. She wants broader participation and cooperation out of the Congress. She thinks the election was a mandate.

“The issues in the campaign were clearly stated,” she said, “and the results of the campaign were a mandate for the President.”

Brazile reminded us that the President won by a strong Electoral College margin (332 EC votes).

She drew strong applause a number of times during her speech, especially when she called for stronger, fairer and less biased news reporting. She got a great laugh for her comment about Romney getting 47 percent of the vote – “…an ironic number!”

The audience also erupted when she thanked Minnesotans for defeating the voter identification amendment option that was on our ballot this year. She spoke emotionally about voter rights being the backbone of a democratic society.

“We shouldn’t have long lines and six hour waits to vote in America,” Brazile said. “Congress and the states must work harder to make voting easier!”

Her serious criticism of the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United got the loudest response of the day. Brazile sees it as a serious problem that will only grow worse as the years go on if the Supreme Court or Congress doesn’t do something about a fix in the law that allows unlimited and unreported spending on elections. She worries about the impact these large PACs will now have as lobbyists on Congress and state legislative bodies.

I’m a Donna Brazile fan; and I always look forward to hearing her commentary on CNN. Now, after hearing her in person and learning a bit about her personal life and upbringing, I think even more of her.

If you’d like to hear her comments you can listen to a podcast of the speech on Minnesota Public Radio.

Josie Robinson Johnson
I was invited to a luncheon following the speech, to hear Ms. Brazile answer a few additional questions. The opportunity was too good to pass up. The great surprise for me was that I ended up sitting at a table with another woman I have deeply admired for nearly fifty years. Her name is Josie Robinson Johnson. I had to go to her and reintroduce myself and tell her how much I admired her. She was pleased and offered me a very loving and meaningful hug. Let me tell you about her – and though it’s not important, I just have to tell you that she’s about the best looking 80 year old babe you’ll ever meet.

Ms. Johnson, like I, was in Mississippi in 1964. She went to Mississippi on a fact-finding tour in that hot, frightening summer. She wanted to see for herself what was going on. After visiting a freedom school while there, the school was bombed on that the same day – after Ms. Johnson and her group had gone on their way. It had a deep affect on her.

We shared places on some panel discussions in the fall of ’64, when we were trying to explain and describe to Minnesotans what it was like to be down there in Mississippi in that awful summer. I was always impressed by the clarity of her comments and my great admiration for her began way back then.

Since, I’ve closely followed her leadership role in the civil rights movement here in Minnesota and I had opportunities to chat with her several times during the late 60s. She served as an acting director of the Minneapolis Urban League in 1967 and 1968. Events and circumstances brought us again together during those years. Because of my own work on the southside of Minneapolis in the very late sixties, while she worked in the office of the Minneapolis Mayor, I was again involved in some significant conversations with her about what we were trying to accomplish. She always had kind, wise and good advice.

I didn’t have time to remind her about all that in our encounter on Thursday, but it was wonderful to see her again – and to see how good and strong she still looks. I count her as one of my favorite Minnesotans.

Both Brazile and Johnson are extraordinary women. They are bright, highly educated, beautifully spoken and clear in their opinions. I wondered over lunch, when Brazile took a question from Ms. Johnson, if the headline speaker had any idea just how accomplished and successful was the woman addressing her from our table.

Ms. Johnson received her undergraduate degree from Fisk University and a Masters Degree from the University of Massachusetts. In the 70s, she taught at the University of Minnesota and she was eventually appointed to the University’s Board of Regents. She became a Vice President at the University in 1992. She is a trustee at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and she is on the advisory board of the Harriet Tubman Center. She’s won a number of very prestigious awards and honors.

In his autobiography, Overcoming, the late Minneapolis civil rights leader, W. Harry Davis, wrote this of Ms. Johnson.

“She was then as she is now: always calm, witty, a glutton for hard work, and shrewd as they come. Though she was still a young woman in the mid-60s, Josie was already a veteran civil-rights campaigner and a seasoned lobbyist for the fair housing and employment laws at the State Capitol. She was known and respected by legislators, governors and business leaders.”

Ms. Johnson is an iconic personality in the Twin Cities. Everyone interested in civil rights and racial justice knows about her. She’s one of the most important contributors to the health, welfare and sanity of this town. In the knowledgeable African-American community, she is revered. What Arthur Naftalin, the extraordinary mayor of Minneapolis during the difficult years of racial upheaval in the late sixties, would have done without her is anybody’s guess. She guided the mayor gracefully through the turmoil and calmed the turbulent times that gripped several sections of the city.

I looked at her carefully. I couldn’t believe it. She was still beautiful and fit and ready for the next challenge. Less than two years ago, when our new Governor took over at the State Capitol, Ms. Josie Robinson Johnson was one of the people he called upon to serve on his transition team. She jumped in with both feet.

As I said, the feeling I had was odd when Ms. Johnson framed her comments to Ms. Brazile. I wanted the guest speaker to know what a super-star was addressing her. Somehow I contained myself.

Becky Roloff
It was a good day and it didn’t end there. I also had the opportunity to meet and speak with the CEO of the Minneapolis YWCA – another charming, handsome and self-assured woman. A few of us were curious about the YW’s interesting mission statement: “Eliminating racism, Empowering women.” We saw it on some signs around the dining hall. The full mission statement is actually: “The YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

We circled Ms. Roloff seeking an explanation.

She tried to explain how the two goals are really one and how only the success of the two will really lead to justice, freedom and dignity for all.

“I think it was Gloria Steinham who drew the analogy, Ms. Roloff said. “If one can become a reality, it is easier for the other to become reality also. The fight against racism is also a fight for a woman’s right to equality.”

She’s correct. Steinham drew the comparison a number of times. Once she was asked “how men can be included in feminist work.”

“In much the same way that white people can be included in anti-racist work once we realize that racism restricts us, too,” Steinham said. “Once men realize that the gender roles are a prison for them too, then they become really valuable allies because they’re not just helping someone else, they’re freeing themselves as well.”

Ms. Becky Roloff is the leader of the YW in Minneapolis. She’s a startlingly powerful personality. She came to her current situation after executive positions with American Express and with the Pillsbury Company. She has chaired the Board of Trustees at the College of St. Catherine (of which my wife is an alum and to which we contribute). Ms. Roloff has also led the Board of Trustees at Blake School (of which my wife is an alum and to which we are contributors) and the Children’s Theatre Company (to which we also contribute). I could go on with plenty more of her impressive credentials, but I’ll just sum them up by saying she’s a graduate of St. Catherine’s and earned her MBA from the Harvard Business School.

All I can say is: “This is not your mother’s YWCA.” They’ve come a long way, baby. The organization is clear and purposeful in what it wants to accomplish and it appears to have a clear game-plan that will get them there. You can visit the Minneapolis YWCA web site here.

Wow! This was my day to be blown away by some pretty amazing, powerful and talented women. The world is a better place when women are free to take leadership roles in it.

Donna Brazile, Josie Johnson and Becky Roloff
What a trio! It’s no longer a man’s world, baby. Step aside and make way for the women who will help make America a better and stronger place!

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1 comment:

  1. No need for men to step aside. Men and women together will make the world a better place.