Below are some excerpts from 1st Quarter 2011 WOA The Bridge, a National newsletter that WOA produces quarterly.

EMPOWERED by Nancy Devllin, Member-at-Large

Where did 'empower' originate?

Empower. Where did this word come from? Did you know that this word was adopted by the Women's movement many years ago and is still associated with women, even today?

"Although it is a contemporary buzzword, the word empower is not new, having arisen in the mid-17th century with the legalistic meaning "to invest with authority, authorize." Shortly thereafter it began to be used with an infinitive in a more general way meaning "to enable or permit." Both of these uses survive today but have been overpowered by the word's use in politics and pop psychology. Its modern use originated in the civil rights movement, which sought political empowerment for its followers. The word was then taken up by the women's movement, and its appeal has not flagged. Since people of all political persuasions have a need for a word that makes their constituents feel that they are or are about to become more in control of their destinies, empower has been adopted by conservatives as well as social reformers. It has even migrated out of the political arena into other fields." (

Surprised? I was when I read this. But I also felt proud! Proud to be a woman and proud to be associated with such an incredible word.

According to Wikipedia, Empowerment

"refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities. Sociological empowerment often addresses members of groups that social discrimination processes have excluded from decision-making processes through - for example - discrimination based on disability, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Empowerment as a methodology is often associated with feminism: see consciousness-raising."

So, are you empowered? Frankly, I think this is an evolutionary process. Certainly we, as women, are much more empowered now than women were 20 years ago, 50 years ago and certainly 100 years ago. I was surprised to learn even our basic right to vote is actually a relatively 'recent' occurrence. Did you know that?

  1. In the US, woman did not gain the right to vote until 1920 – that was only 89 years ago! That means our grandmothers and maybe some of our mothers experienced a time when they were not allowed to vote. WOW!
  2. In Saudi Arabia, woman still cannot vote! Only men 21 years of age and up. Another WOW!
  3. In Vatican City (also known as the Holy SEE), only cardinals less than 80 years old can vote (and as you may already know, woman cannot be cardinals).
  4. The earliest recorded and confirmed date that a country allowed woman to vote was by the Pitcairn Islands in 1838 – 171 years ago! (btw – these are a group of 4 volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean that are a British overseas territory and only one of these islands is inhabited)
  5. In South Africa, white woman were allowed to vote in 1930, but black woman were not allowed to vote until 1990! That was only 19 years ago! BIG WOW!
  6. Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates finally allowed woman to vote in 2003, 2005 and 2006 respectively.
  7. Finally, throughout the 19th century, another 190 countries allowed woman to vote.

The point is, even though the right to vote is only one characteristic illustrating how being empowered can change the world, we certainly have come a long way! And we still have a way to go! But it is up to us, collectively, to network, connect, self-develop and act to bring about equality not only for woman, but for minorities and people being treated less than whom they are. And the way to do this is through EMPOWERMENT.

WHEN I RISE by Gigi McKinzie

"When I Rise" aired in early February on various PBS stations throughout the country as a PBS Independent Lens series and was made possible, in part, by AT&T. The documentary tells Smith Conrad's story of being among the first African Americans admitted to the University of Texas and the controversy that she withstood as a student during the Civil Rights movement in the late '50s.

It's no mystery that racism did not end in 1865 with the civil war and the Emancipation Proclamation. Since that time, "African Americans in the United States have struggled against institutional racism, forced segregation, violation of voting rights and even terrorism."[1] What happened to Barbara Smith Conrad in 1957 could be considered just another example of racism in America, but for her story, there's more.

The story documents a poignant story of a talented young woman who was a descendent of freed men in Center Point, located in East Texas. There, Smith Conrad had a strong Christian upbringing, close family, and a sense of community which yielded a strong self worth in her from an early age. Throughout her childhood, music played a significant role. With the help of a network of friends and associates, she overcame the "storm that changed her life."[2]

When Ms. Smith Conrad was admitted as one of the first African-Americans to the University in Texas of Austin, not only was she setting precedent in this regard, but then she found herself in another controversy. She was quickly discovered for her ability to sing opera and was cast in the lead role in the school's production of Dido and Aenas. She was the first African American woman playing a romantic lead opposite a white man. Upon hearing of this, segregationalists as well as Texas State Representative, Joe Chapman, strongly objected and threatened to cut University funding. University of Texas dean, Logan Wilson, was pressured to force Ms. Smith Conrad to step down from her role as the lead. Campus uproar ensued and the story became national news. After relentless threats and harassment, Smith Conrad took a hiatus from UT and decided to return to East Texas to regroup. As the story became national news, celebrity onlooker, Harry Belafonte, took an interest in seeing Barbara succeed in her singing career and offered her an opportunity to study at any place of her choosing. After much contemplation, Smith Conrad returned and graduated from UT.

The friendship Smith Conrad developed with Harry Belafonte changed her life forever and led her to move to New York to pursue her musical aspirations. Mr. Belafonte introduced her to Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr. and a number of people involved in music. Ms. Smith Conrad was later introduced to Maestro Rudel, who also took an interest in Smith Conrad's abilities. His involvement further developed Smith Conrad's successful career in film and opera. Over the decades, she has performed at numerous world-famous opera houses.

As the documentary reveals, the Texas Legislature and University of Texas amended their prior behaviors. House Resolution HCR-31 commended Ms. Smith Conrad on her accomplished musical career and her role in the civil rights movement in the U.S. Ms. Smith Conrad was also presented with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Texas. In Ms. Smith Conrad's honor, the University of Texas at Austin established the Barbara Smith Conrad Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Fine Arts.

Ms. Smith Conrad continues to perform and also shares her craft with young talent by working with students at the Mannes College of Music in New York and teaches a master's course at the University of Texas in Austin. Ms. Smith Conrad's triumphant success can be attributed to her maturity to forgive and move forward. In addition, the story inspires viewers by demonstrating strong faith, solid family values, and loving encouragement from a faith-filled community, contributing to the positive growth of any child. Appropriately, Smith Conrad begins every day with the same prayer, "Guide my feet Lord, while I run this race."

[1] New World Encyclopedia, Slavery; Slavery in the United States, (April 18, 2008),

[2] AT&T Sponsorship, "When I Rise" on PBS Independent Lens series Feb 8,

Excerpts from 2nd Q 2011 The Bridge Newsletter

EMPOWERED By Sandy Barry – Bay Area Chapter

New Forum Focuses on Women's Business Needs

To serve emerging communications technology needs and help ensure U.S. women-owned businesses continue to innovate and grow, AT&T has launched the AT&T Women Entrepreneurs' Forum. "The goal of this organization is to drive innovation and operational excellence by encouraging the sharing of new ideas, different perspectives and proven best practices," Martine said. "Women-owned businesses today are creating new jobs and will play a big role in the country's economic recovery. To continue this trend, they need the latest communications technology, and AT&T is committed to helping ensure that it's both available and affordable."

The country's 8 million women-owned businesses generate an economic impact of $3 trillion in the U.S., according to a 2009 study from the Center for Women's Business Research.

AT&T has recently been recognized for its leadership in women's business issues by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council and the National Association for Female Executives.

Book Review – "Breaking Night" By Liz Murray

By Ashley Delph – Triangle Chapter

This book was such a wake-up call. It touched on the courage to overcome incredible barriers and pursue goals that appear to be unattainable. Liz possesses a tenacity not only to just survive and fulfill basic life needs at a young age, but to rise above levels those of us with so-called "normal" upbringings would consider impossible. It was truly amazing.

Liz's memoir has a great voice and was engaging from cover to cover. The New York Times describes "Breaking Night" as "full of heart, without a sliver of ice, and deeply moving."

A part of the book the New York Times commented on was the lack of malice Liz feels for her parents despite all they put her through. I wonder, if she had grown up with hatred (that we would not have faulted her for) ,would she have been able to move beyond that to the purpose for which she strived? What baggage do we hold that keeps us from our true potential?

Liz's story is one that will stay with you long after the last page is read.

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