Brenda Durden has spent
28 years as an educator in Palm Beach County, so she knows a thing or two about
the challenges facing minority students.
Durden, who lives west of
Delray Beach, has been assistant principal at Olympic Heights High School west
of Boca Raton since 1982. Her passion for educating children rubbed off on two
of her four children.
Daughters Fe'Licia Durden and A'Licia Durden also
work as educators in Palm Beach County. The three Durden women recently joined
forces with 33 other area professional African-American women to improve the
lives of minorities in the county.
They became charter members of the
newly formed South Palm Beach Chapter of the National Coalition for 100 Black
After a sorority sister told Durden about the fledgling group,
she started attending meetings. Early on, the group focused on meeting the
criteria set by the national coalition for founding a charter. But Durden was
excited by the possibilities. "We're a working group with a strong sense of
fellowship," she said.
Members of the chapter live or work in the
Greater Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Wellington and
Royal Palm Beach areas.
The National Coalition of Black Women has its
roots in the civil rights and women's movements. In 1970, 100 successful
African-American professional women in New York got together to help
African-Americans in the areas of health, education and economics. By 1981, news
of the coalition's work had spread, and the National Coalition of 100 Black
Women was formed in Washington, D.C.
Today, the coalition includes 7,000
to 10,000 women from 62 U.S. chapters, as well as chapters in London, Jamaica
and the Bahamas. Chapters range in size from 32 to more than 100. The "100" in
the title pays homage to the original New York coalition.
Coalition of 100 Black Women was already well represented in Florida when Doris
Robinson decided to form the South Palm Beach Chapter in August 2002.
There were nine chapters, including groups in Greater Palm Beach,
Greater Fort Lauderdale and Greater Miami. Robinson, however, convinced the
national organization that the southern part of the county had its own unique
"Palm Beach is very different than many of the communities
in south Palm Beach County," Robinson said. "And Palm Beach was far for many of
us to travel."
The new South Palm Beach Chapter will take its cue from
the national coalition and focus on education, health and economics in the
African-American community. The group wants to work with local agencies,
businesses and schools to improve the lives of minority women and families.
The 36 charter members include educators, attorneys, medical
professionals and corporate businesswomen who represent a cross section of women
in all age groups and economic backgrounds.
Thirty years of experience
as an educator in Palm Beach County taught Dorothy Lowery that the best way for
minority parents to help their children succeed is to become involved in their
"One thing I noticed, time and time again, was that parents,
especially minority parents, were very hesitant to get to the school center,"
said the Delray Beach resident, who started her career as a teacher's aide and
is now a personnel specialist for the school district. "Many minority parents
have to overcome their own negative past experiences with school."
the years, Lowery started such initiatives as the Bucket of Books program, in
which teachers armed with books went to homes to make parents more comfortable
with school personnel. "So when problems arose, parents had a comfort level and
saw that the teachers had a real interest in their child," she said.
chapter has come a long way since Robinson began contacting potential members 21
months ago. "I thought there were enough successful professional women in the
community with a will and desire to help," she said.
The South Palm
Beach Chapter officially was recognized last month by the national organization
at an installation ceremony. It served as both a celebration of Robinson's
achievement and a call to action. Lively gospel music punctuated inspirational
speeches and stylishly dressed charter members mingled, taking baby steps toward
their future together as agents of change.
A top priority for many of the
women will be the county's foster care system.
"We want to mentor foster
kids and help them understand they are not alone, that our group is just a phone
call away. We want to teach them what it takes to be positive and productive
participants in the community," said Regina Simmons, who lives west of Boynton
Simmons said the group also will encourage home ownership among
"A disproportionate number African-Americans rent
their homes, not own them. We want to be sure that they understand the power of
purchasing their own homes and why it's important for them economically," she
At the installation ceremony, national coalition Vice President
Leslie Graham praised Robinson for her tenacity and challenged the fledgling
group, which is by invitation only.
"I expect to see differences in this
community," she said. "Don't just ask questions, but talk to people to have
answers to the questions. Your goal is to affect policy change or weigh in on
Many of the women Robinson contacted at first didn't
understand the slow process of putting together a charter, and they dropped out
along the way. Robinson hopes they will come back. "People like jumping on a
moving train," she said.