Game changers are people who transform things. They might improve a business or a community. They might even create something spectacular. Without a doubt, they lay the foundation for others.
President Obama aptly characterized an important population of game changers when he proclaimed this year’s Women’s History Month.
“Throughout our Nation’s history, American women have led movements for social and economic justice, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries, enriched our culture with stunning works of art and literature, and charted bold directions in our foreign policy,” the presidential proclamation stated about this annual March history celebration.
“They have served our country with valor, from the battlefields of the Revolutionary War to the deserts of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan,” the proclamation explained. “During Women’s History Month, we recognize the victories, struggles, and stories of the women who have made our country what it is today.”
I’d like to recognize three women during this year’s Women’s History Month. They are Mrs. Dorothy K. Jones; Mrs. Mamie L. Page, and Mrs. Inez E. Hale. All three lived in or near East St. Louis, a Mississippi river town in southern Illinois. They lived through the Great Depression years, World War II, and the 20th century civil rights movement. Their stories, their struggles, their stamina, make them game changers.
The three were born between 1916 and 1925. Dorothy Jones was a public school teacher in East St. Louis for 35 years until her retirement in 1985. Inez Hale was a devoted member of Parks Chapel A.M.E., and Mamie Page worked at the LaBelle dress shop in East St. Louis for many years.
All three outlived their husbands, and all three died within the past twelve months.
You won’t find their names in history books, or engraved in fancy marble memorials. But you will find their spirits etched in the hearts of younger generations (including myself) who grew up in southern Illinois. Like so many uncelebrated Americans, these women supported their communities in myriad ways. They quietly provided the platform for others to succeed.
What character traits marked these women? Here are some examples:
Hard Work/Volunteerism: Mrs. Mamie Page was born in 1924 in Scooba, Miss., during the era of legally-sanctioned racial segregation. Like so many other African-Americans during that time, she migrated North in search of greater opportunity. In East St. Louis, she and her husband, Frank “Jessie” Page, found work, made friends, and raised their son. But when I attended her funeral, I was struck by something else—her long record of volunteer work. Not only did Mrs. Page work to support her own family, but she found time to volunteer at St. Mary’s hospital, for more than 35 years. As noted in her obituary, the hospital gift shop was renamed Mamie’s Café in her honor. But her volunteer work didn’t stop at the hospital. Every July 4th she and other women would sell beverages on the Mississippi riverfront to raise money for the local police and fire departments.
Generosity: Mrs. Dorothy Jones was born in 1925 in East St. Louis. She attended public schools there; received a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., and a master’s degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though busy as a local public school teacher, she found time to give in additional ways. One day she shared with me a printed program of a church-sponsored concert that raised money for student scholarships. For 25 years she had served as president of the committee that raised the scholarship money. The program noted that at least 250 students had received scholarships over the years. But she was active in other organizations noted for service too-the local chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the East St. Louis Women’s Club.
Humility: Mrs. Inez Hale was born in rural Ward, Alabama, in 1916. She married my grandmother’s cousin. After moving to East St. Louis, she became an active member of the Parks Chapel A.M.E. church in Centreville, Ill. Though she lacked formal degrees, she was educated in so many other ways. When I would drop by her home, she would give me a hug and a bright smile. But what I remember the most about Mrs. Hale was her calm, reassuring spirit. In my mind, she had a stillness about her that bordered on majesty. I observed another of her crown jewels: She was quick to honor other people. She would recall their good deeds. She recognized the best in others. After she died on January 11, a friend wrote in an online guestbook: “We were truly blessed to have been taught by the best.”
It’s your turn. What values characterize your own life? What values do you admire in others? What organizations, or persons, make a difference in your community, your way of life?