Paying tribute to the women in our lives

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

March is Women's History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the triumphs of women and looking back on what we have achieved over the centuries. It is at this time of the year when we reflect on the women in our lives and remember the impact they have had on us, and at the same time hope that, one day, others will look to us as ones to look up too.

At this writing, I am about to embark on a two-day summit, "Leading Women Defined," organized by Debra Lee, chairman and CEO of BET Networks. The roster of women attending is luminous and was the impetus behind writing this editorial. Over the next 48 hours, we will hear and speak with women like Valerie Jarrett, Donna Brazil, Debra Lee, Harriet Cole, Raven-Symone, Susan Taylor, Star Jones and Terrie Williams, just to name a few.

We will be discussing topics such as Black women and health, education, and the shaping of Black America, as well as holding a special session with young women from a local high school. What a way to celebrate women.

When I think about it, many of the woman that I admire will be with me over the next two days, some of whom I have known most of my life. Williams has been an inspiration for as long as I can remember. She has a courage few can match. Her forthright, outspoken discussions about mental illness in the Black community have been a godsend. For many of our people, asking for help or understanding the issues of mental illness is a painful or impossible process--and many remain silent or embarrassed to admit they may have a problem. Terrie has made a difference in the lives of so many just because she was able to say, "I understand, and I hurt too."

Taylor, an icon in the magazine world, kept us "in the spirit" for decades as the editor in chief of Essence magazine. She set the standard for what it means to be a modern Black woman at the close of the 20th century, and set us off on our way to enter the 21st as smart, stylish, accomplished businesswoman without ever losing her compassion or soul.

Lee showed us that yes, we can run a network, and run it well. She brought about a change to what Black Entertainment Television really can and should be--something more than just rap videos with women shaking their butts for male gratification. And she showed us all that giving back and uplifting our community and people is an important part of why we are here on this earth.

Then there are other women. These women will not be here with me over the next 48 hours, but are with me every step of the way because they are the ones that are my sister-friends, mothers, godmothers and aunties--ones that I see as being so much more than just women. They are remarkable women on whose shoulders we all stand. From those that we never knew in our lives--Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth; to those that have passed on--Dr. Betty Shabazz, Sarah Wright; to those who walk among us every day and sometimes we just must remember to say thank you.

With that, I mention just a few thank yous. Thank you for being the strong women you are and for making a difference in all those whose lives you touched. Thank you, Hazel Dukes, Dr. Phyllis Harris Ross, Inez Dickens, Ruth Clark, Marcella Maxwell, C. Virginia Fields, Gerri Warren-Merrick, Dolly Christian, Aunt Lorraine and Aunt Edna; my peers, Susan Austin, Michelle Miller, Rose Pierre-Louis, Maria Perez Brown, Hasani Pratts; and so many more too numerous to name. And last but not least, my mother. You have all made a difference in my life and in the lives of so many others. I salute you and honor you.