OPINION: Honoring influential inspirations during Women’s History Month

By Donna Willis for BlackByGod.org

On March 8th, we celebrated “International Women’s Day”, but in this country, the whole month is designated to honor women. As a Black woman who has survived and thrived in a male-dominated society, I want to pay homage to some of the amazing women who have influenced my life and represented the best of womanhood.

Ida B. Wells Barnett is one such woman. Her biography is a must-read, as her life’s work as a teacher, suffrage leader, investigative reporter, anti-lynching activist, wife, mother, and advocate for every race and creed is truly inspiring. She has influenced my life personally, and I hope to one day achieve her level of accomplishments.

I also want to honor some Black women whose names and accomplishments may not be well-known, but whose legacy continues to be passed down from generation to generation. Louise Thompson and Maryella Austin both served as principals of a small elementary school in Institute, West Virginia. They set a high bar for their students and went above and beyond to update the outdated textbooks provided by the county. Their dedication to their students was unwavering, and they prepared them to excel out of their sight.

Another incredible woman was Mrs. Zeona Estelle Eubanks Hatcher Haley, a former education professor at West Virginia State College and stepmother to Alex Haley, the author of “Roots.” Although small in stature, her presence commanded attention from the students of Institute Elementary. She expected the best from her students, and her pleasant demeanor inspired her education majors to teach at their best.

In the wake of these incredible women walked many high-end educators, including Betty Caldwell Spencer, Barbara Powell Saunders, Dr. Gayle Mosby, and Sue Ferguson Davis, just to name a few.

Lastly, I want to honor Mrs. Henrietta Lacks, who passed away in 1951 as a victim of cervical cancer. The actions of a doctor at John Hopkins Hospital and a scientist in a lab before her death appalled many, as her cells in a biopsy sample refused to die but multiplied. Her cells have been duplicated and used in cancer research laboratories for almost 72 years, and the industry has made billions from a woman’s cells who died in poverty. Her story is a reminder that women’s rights have been taken from them for the “good of all mankind” far too often.

If you’ve ever been diagnosed with cancer and survived, understand and appreciate the fact that a Black woman in the form of a stolen and regenerated “HeLa cell” is your real hero. Let’s continue to honor the amazing women who have paved the way for us.


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