Over 200 guests turned out to support the 33rd annual Women of Achievement (WA) awards ceremony which took place March 26 at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn. The program opened with a greeting from Deborah M. Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women’s Council. Clubb is also a WA co-founder and recipient of Woman of Achievement for Vision award in 1997. Hosts for this year’s ceremony were Emily Ballew Neff, director, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and Adriane Johnson Williams, program officer, Pyramid Peak Foundation.”
“Women of Achievement Inc. was founded in 1984 by a group of women dedicated to honoring the extraordinary women who have made Memphis and Shelby County better through their lives and accomplishments,” said Deborah Clubb. “This coalition of diverse civic and professional groups and support agencies organizes events to recognize and celebrate these women.”
“Since our founding, we have honored and preserved the stories of 241 individual women plus the Yellow Fever Martyrs and the Shelby County suffragists,” continued Clubb. “Years later, Women of Achievement continues to be the only award given to women by women representing the whole community,” added Clubb. “This awards program is a way to honor HERstory. Women of Achievement organization members and individual members reflect a diverse spectrum of Memphis women in races, religions, ages and interests. The list of award recipients each year reflects that same diversity.”
Clubb explained that seven awards, based on the quality of character that underlies achievement, highlight contributions of women who improve the Memphis and Mid-South community and the advancement of women are given each year. She said that the awards are given without requirements of education or income and are not limited to professional categories.
As each honoree was recognized, she was presented with a hand-made pottery plate by Katie Dann. WA began in 1985 with plates created by potter Mimi Dann and they continue that tradition with her daughter Katie.
Co-chairs for the 2017 selections were Carolyn Head and Summer Owens. Other WA members are Peggy Caffrey, Judy Card, Deborah Clubb, Kay Due, Erma Elzy, Africa Gonzalez-McCloy, Margot McNeeley, Perre Magness, Lily Mastron, Audrey May, Pat Morgan, Gail Murray, Linda Pelts, Pam Routh, Patti Smith, Jane Sorin, Catherine Clubb-Brown Turner, Regina Walker and Nancy Williams.
The 2017 Women of Achievement honorees were:
HERITAGE - Mary Magdalene Solari (1849-1929)
This award is given, posthumously, to a woman of generations past whose achievements still enrich our lives.
About a year after her birth near Genoa, Italy, Mary Magdalene Solari’s parents moved to Memphis where her interest in art eventually flourished. She became a barrier-breaking and award-winning painter as a well as an advocate for community reform and a philanthropist. In 1928, a year before she died, Mary donated her home, art collection and land, valued around $150,000, to Christian Brothers College. To this day, the school houses her art collection, and the sale of her home and land provided funds to purchase the land upon which Christian Brothers University sits today on East Parkway at Central Avenue in Midtown.
STEADFASTNESS - Joyce Springfield-Collins
This award recognizes a woman with a lifetime of achievement.
Organizations that have benefitted from Joyce Springfield-Collins’ leadership and support include YWCA of Greater Memphis, Mothers of the Nile, Rotary Club, Girls Inc., Goodwill Homes Senior Center, Habitat for Humanity and the Coalition of 100 Black Women. Her decades of engagement continue.
VISION - Karen Moore and Ruby O’Gray
This award is given to a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs led her to tremendous achievements for women.
Karen Moore and Ruby O’Gray, co-founders of Women’s Theatre Festival Memphis, believe women in theater arts deserve wider exposure and an audience for their work. Moore, a director and event planner, and O’Gray, a playwright, combined their skills and love of art to bring their dream alive.
The semi-annual multi-venue event showcases performances about women, directed by women and written by women.The festival is comprised of theatrical, operatic, dance, symphonic performances, stage readings and workshops.
DETERMINATION - Ines Negrette
This award honors a woman who solved a glaring problem despite widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her.
When her position as an advocate for Latina survivors of domestic violence ended in one agency, Ines Negrette rallied her spirits, support and funding to open Casa Luz, a new non-profit dedicated to those survivors and providing court advocacy and other services. Inez, an attorney, immigrated from Venezuela in 1999 and settled in Memphis in 2000.
INITIATIVE - Kamekio Lewis
This award recognizes a woman who seized the opportunity to use her talents and created her own future.
Drawing on her own experience as a survivor of domestic violence, Kamekio Lewis has written a book and a play aimed at raising awareness. Her Share a New Life organization seeks to help survivors of intimate partner violence transition to safety and a fresh start with housing, clothes and jobs.
COURAGE - Rev. Lisa Anderson
This award honors a woman who, facing active opposition, backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed.
Memphis’ homeless have a champion in Rev. Lisa Anderson who persevered in organizing Room in the Inn among local churches despite opposition from city officials and within some churches. Homeless persons are welcomed with hospitality, food and lodging in participating churches November through March.
HEROISM - Rebecca Terrell
This award is given to a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond.
Providing complete reproductive health care for women is Rebecca Terrell’s passion. Despite ongoing intense and violent opposition to abortion providers, Rebecca perseveres, presently striving to create at CHOICES the first non-profit clinic to offer both a birthing center and abortion services.
“For our 2017 awards, we celebrated women in a year when we’ve seen renewed momentum around women’s rights and women being interested in speaking out,” concluded Clubb. “Women of Achievement began in 1985, two years before Congress designated the month of March for women’s history. Once again we saluted and honored women from right here in Memphis and the Mid-South who are making history.”
Clubb issues a final rallying cry, saying, “We must work together to make our nation better, more fair, more just. Remember, if we want anything in our community — to be different than it is today — then it is up to us to change it.”
Group Photo(top): The 2017 Women of Achievement honorees were (front row, from left) Joyce Springfield-Collins, Rev. Lisa Anderson, Ruby O’Gray; (back row, from left) Ines Negrette, Karen Moore, Rebecca Terrell and Kamekio Lewis.
Individual Photo: Mary Magdalene Solari (1849-1929) was the recipient of this year’s Women of Achievement Heritage Award. This award is given, posthumously, to a woman of generations past whose achievements still enrich our lives.