The Minnesota African Women’s Association (MAWA) celebrated its fifth anniversary recently. As part of the celebrations of the organization’s fifth anniversary, guests were treated to a variety of African delicacies during a fund raising dinner that crowned the celebrations. Through research, advocacy, and education, MAWA is able to promote the health and well being of African refugee and immigrant women and their families in Minnesota. Since its inception some five years ago, MAWA has become a force to reckon with in its services not just to African immigrant women, but also to the community through its outreach activities. It has also helped bring into limelight the educational opportunities for Africans and non-Africans to learn about the issues African women face in the Twin Cities.
“Yes, we are five years old now” said Board Chair Ms. Annie Umoeka (picture) smiling, who thanked all present, and the community for the continuous support it has shown MAWA. Then, a briefing of the organization’s annual report by MAWA director, Melissa Nambangi followed by a keynote address from Councilwoman Debbie Montgomery.
“I’m honored to have the privilege to be the keynote speaker for today’s annual event recognizing the MN African Women’s Association and the African Girls Initiatives for Leadership and Empowerment,” said Montgomery. “First, let me point our two very important words in the African Girls Initiatives title, which I feel are, key to inspiring young people today. Those two words are Leadership and Empowerment. They are powerful by themselves, but, even more powerful when defined,” she added.
Explaining the terms, Debbie said the first word, leadership is the process of leading. Some cultures, especially those with a reverence for age and wisdom, see leadership as a standard part of the life-cycle of a person. Just as a youth becomes initiated into adulthood, so an adult may gain initiation as a leader. The second one she refers as empowerment in which she explained to increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities.
Montgomery said that in this occasion she wanted to focus on the word empowerment. Defining empowerment as a process of enhancing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. Central to this process, she said, are actions which both build individual and collective assets, and improve the efficiency and fairness of the organizational and institutional context which govern the use of these assets. She said that the empowered people have freedom of choice and action. This in turn enables them to better influence the course of their lives and the decisions which affect them.
Sharing quotes with the audience, she said “I chose quotes from Oprah, for today’s event, because not only is she a powerful African American woman, she’s also a promoter of women both young and old. I’m also a believer in the example she reflects, that no matter who you are or where you come from you can bring about change.” “The quotes are be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. The second is excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. And the third is what material success does is provide you with the ability to concentrate on other things that really matter. And that is being able to make a difference, not only in your own life, but in other people’s lives.”
Debbie Montgomery was the first African American female to be elected to the Saint Paul City Council in 2003 and was a police officer prior to that.
Highlights of the anniversary celebration included a fashion show by LaBelle & Friends, Volunteer/Intern recognition, declaration of the results of a silent auction, and of course a scintillating performance by the famed Amanin Dance Group whose performance left all on their feet.