BRYAN PATRICK / BPATRICK@SACBEE.COMFaye Kennedy speaks to the gathering of the Women's
Civic Improvement Club at the start of Wednesday
evening's program of poetry and other speaking at the
club's Third Avenue home. Kennedy, a member for 40
years, intoned the names of the organization's founders
as part of a "libation ceremony." More events celebrating
75 years of service are planned.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Women's Civic Improvement Club celebrating 75 years as anchor in Oak Park
The "Poetry and Spoken Word Explosion" on Wednesday night was a fitting tribute to the club – the oldest black women's organization west of the Mississippi River – as it celebrates 75 years of public service.
The club continues to battle poverty and fight for better education and political representation for people of color.
Founded as a refuge for single black women who couldn't find safe places to live in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, it provides a safe haven for children and adults through its Head Start and senior nutrition program.
The organization's 100 members, ages 20 to 90, now include men and women of various races and religions.
Educator Mary Jane McLeod Bethune, writer Maya Angelou and activist Julian Bond are among the famous African American trailblazers who have addressed the WCIC over the years. Now the mission is to groom the next generation of civic leaders.
"The women in 1936 had a community mission and a caring heart to help people who were disadvantaged," said executive director Segboye Davis. "We're trying to jump-start the youth program so they don't get caught up in crime, drugs, teenage pregnancies and all those other demons out there."
The club hopes to create mentoring and performing arts programs and a computer lab, she said.
Davis, who manages the club's Playmate Head Start programs for 120 children ages 3 to 5, said, "We have stood the test of time because WCIC stands for 'We are Caring, Involved and Committed.' "
After a freeway tore through its old Victorian mansion at 12th and X streets in the late 1950s, the WCIC built its center at 3555 Third Ave., a facility that has helped anchor Oak Park for decades, hosting political redistricting sessions, community meetings and cultural events like Wednesday's spoken-word fest.
Activist Faye Kennedy, who joined the club at 16 and is now 56, began Wednesday night with an African "libation ceremony," honoring the founding mothers and others who have passed on.
After intoning the name of each founder, Kennedy said a Swahili affirmation and poured water into a plant representing the earth.
"The WCIC is unique because it's not part of a large national network like the NAACP – it's been kept alive by locals using their expertise," Kennedy said.
"Since 1936 it's been one of the rallying points for black people in Sacramento," said David Covin, professor of government and ethnic studies at California State University, Sacramento, and a 25-year member. "One of its strengths is simply its perseverance."
Over the years the club has helped the poor pay their utility bills and weatherize their homes.
The organization still provides emergency relief for seniors "who might fall short on rent or need money for transportation," Covin said.
Brenda Usher, a 23-year member, told the 100 people in the audience Wednesday that the club plans to reach out to the next generation of community leaders.
"We need to teach our children to be intelligent, wise, creative and strong of mind. If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."
Usher said she was impressed by Vietnamese refugees who've transformed Stockton Boulevard into a thriving business district.
One of the poets was a club veteran, Dr. Tchaka Muhammed, who strolled to the stage with his African walking stick and recited his poem "Ladyism."
The club's links to its storied past include former president Sarah Richey, 70, and Dora Daniels, 90, who help out every week.
When Richey arrived in Sacramento with her cosmetology license in 1962, she said, she moved into the WCIC after a landlord wouldn't rent her a room because she was black.
"At the time there must have been 15 African American women living there, going to college and working," Richey recalled. "I appreciate the opportunity that was given me, especially since I experienced housing discrimination the very first day I arrived in Sacramento. That's why I stay connected."
Daniels, who watered plants at the club Wednesday, has gotten some of her three children, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren involved.
"I'm hoping we'll have a group of younger women," Daniels said. "I think if we're still vocal in our communities, with the background and knowledge some of us have, we're still relevant."
OAK PARK CLUB HOSTS CELEBRATIONS
The Women's Civic Improvement Club will host a free, 1930s-era house party from 6-9 p.m. today and a $25 gala banquet Saturday from 5:30-10 p.m. For information, call the WCIS at (916) 451-8870.