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Brenda Coley Accepts ‘Empowering Women Award’

Brenda Coley, a member of WCASA’s LGBTQ Committee and ALL* Workgroup, received the 2013 Women’s Empowerment Award from the Southeastern Wisconsin YWCA.

Brenda ColeyHere are the remarks she gave when she accepted the Empowering Women Award at An Evening to Promote Racial Justice in Milwaukee on December 3, 2013 :

I’ve been an activist all my life, or as long as I can remember. At eleven years old I organized a demonstration of my class mates to have my grade school teach Black History.  After the demonstration they told us money was an issue, a couple of weeks later I organized a fashion show to raise money for Books about Black people. As a result of those efforts and others of course, the first African American teacher was hired, and we had a class on Black History.

As a young girl I had the example experiences and inspiration of the civil rights movement in this country and in this city. My parents came to Milwaukee in the sixties from Gary Indiana seeking a better life, because the steel mills were closing. My family had to sleep outside of the city gates in our U-Haul truck because of the curfew imposed on the city due to the unrest. I remember days later lying in my bed in my grandparent’s attic, hearing and actually feeling the footsteps of people marching for housing equality in Milwaukee

My work and community activism has focused on issues of social justice including race, HIV, and  labor , fair housing  issues , and   anti LGTB discrimination, but it took a  while in my activism to really focus on  issues affecting  women  primarily .  I was taught as a young woman within those movements I mentioned for social change, that woman’s issues, women’s liberation was secondary.   I believe that sexism and male dominance is really the oldest oppression in the world and the one oppression that we as a society and community and the world are the most comfortable with.

Having the opportunity at this point in my career to focus on Women’s Leadership and Development and in particular Lesbian and bisexual has enhanced my own development.  I have come to realize that the city of Milwaukee is in need of the leadership that lesbian and bisexual women can provide.  Lesbian and Bisexual women are leading all over this city, but our leadership is invisible to the larger community, to ourselves, as well as within the LGBT Community.

Along with our leadership our personal health practices have to be more explicit and robust and visible. Taking care of ourselves is often the missing link in our leadership. Putting ourselves not first, that always seems selfish to me and not last because that does not seem affirming, but instead to put ourselves in the center of life. This is where we belong.

I want to thank my partner of 27 years, Dr. Sandra Jones, my colleagues at Diverse and Resilient, The YWCA for giving me this honor, Melissa Lemke for nominating me, my sisters in the Reproductive Justice Collective, and finally GROW Great Women a project that has given me a place to lead from, a space that I sit comfortably with all my identities.     

I stand here as a human being  who is 100% African- American, 100% female , and  100% Bisexual , and tell you that this city needs the  thinking and  actions of all  women  in our full authentic voice, not leaving any parts of our identities behind.  

Congrats Brenda!

Brenda pictured with featured guest Harry Belafonte and others

Brenda pictured with featured guest Harry Belafonte and others

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