This month the Minneapolis St. Paul Chapter of the Links, Inc. welcomed women from across the Midwest to celebrate the "Power of One."
Our call to action was to recommit to positive community change by investing our time and resources. Last week in this column, Tony Sanneh, CEO of the Sanneh Foundation, reminded us that our children and communities are looking to us and we can make a difference. This week I am delighted to share my conversation with Dr. Delores Henderson, a person who is an example of the “power of one” and a person who changes people through both her actions and commitment.
Although I have known her since birth, we really got to know each other when we traveled to Ghana together with the Stair Step Foundation in 1996. Twelve African-American teen girls, who represented a cross-section of the Twin Cities, traveled with their guides/mentors, who were women leaders from this community. We experienced the rich culture of our homeland. We also followed the journey of our ancestors and saw firsthand the unjust trafficking of our people. It was a life changing experience for me. Henderson has become a trusted advisor and mentor to me since that trip.
When I asked her what her purpose is after 50 years as an educator, the answer was clear – to have higher expectations. That is her purpose, to hold us to our best based on what she sees within us. That is a powerful gift to give to a child. Henderson understands the importance of seeing the ability for achievement in all children. She then speaks that achievement into their life until they listen and believe it. They eventually hear her because she is everywhere in her school. Ask anyone who has met her, she is always present.
Henderson is a former principal at J.J. Hill Elementary School. Philando Castile was one of her students. She knew him to be a good kid and she believes the community must learn from this experience. She knows that children of color have been hurting for some time. She believes this must be the moment we change. If we don't, she says, it will be harder for our children to feel safe and to believe in justice. She believes we need to understand we can make a difference if we show up and work for positive change in our community.
I asked Henderson how we as a community could help our children. She responded, “We need to instill in our babies that individually and collectively, they are somebody, and that life is precious and critical. Speak up if they don’t feel well, when are they hurting. Help them connect to their feelings. Encourage your children to speak up and advocate for themselves."
Her call to action is based on experience. "Do not expect the system to raise your child, all the challenges you face on your job with racism, sexism and ‘craziness’ show up at school." Henderson has witnessed the power of parents to bring about change when they work together.
She believes children are afraid of being unloved. Anyone who shows them love is special and our children do not have enough special people in their lives.
Change for Henderson looks like a school system being an active advocate for students of color and addressing systemic racism with more than periodic workshops or programs. She'd like to see parents of color welcomed in hallways instead of reported or questioned. She'd like to see parents of color work together and participate and show up in the schools in numbers large enough to be reported instead of ones or twos. She'd like to see us, as a community, care about our children consistently, enough for them to believe it.
Henderson wants you to believe in your power and she invites you to get engaged in your community. She says she is getting tired of holding the community up to higher standards, but she's worried about who will take her place when she stops.
Meredith Moore Crosby is an entrepreneur and writer working and living in the Twin Cities. Connect online @MeredithMCrosby or info@LeveretteWeekes.com.