By Ashley Claire Simpson
According to textbooks, the American Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 and ended in 1968. Those
not familiar with this time period may think this moment was a simple victory. By the end of this revolutionary crusade, the U.S. Constitution—the law of the land—outlawed every form of racial segregation.
Unfortunately, changes in legislation and legal precedent could not establish the much-needed infrastructure for African Americans to take full advantage of their hard-earned, newfound civil liberties.
Fortunately, strong and educated black women emerged as leaders to provide hope in these uncertain times. After playing such a crucial role in the victories against racial discrimination, they were primed to confront these post-Civil Rights Movement predicaments.
In 1981, some of these empowered black women formed the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW). The NBCW carries out its mission—“to advocate on behalf of black women and girls to promote leadership development and gender equity in the areas of health, education and economic and political
empowerment”—through more than 55 local chapters, including the Prince William County Chapter (NCBW/PWCC).
“Our chapter’s focus is identical to our national chapter mission: To impact local communities in the area of leadership development, education, health, and economic and political empowerment,” Mary R. Lively, second vice president of NCBW/PWCC, explained.
A Movement of their Own
Established in 2012 under the leadership of Dr. Alice H. Howard, NCBW/PWCC president and organizer, the Prince William County Chapter is already the coalition’s second largest chapter nationwide.
“Twenty-one awesome women came from the Northern Virginia chapter, where I was serving at that time as President,” Dr. Howard said. “We were the ones who resided in Prince William, but were commuting to and from Arlington. That was not our home. Our home is in Prince William County;
therefore, we chartered a chapter in Prince William to serve the constituents where we live.” According to the national past president, Dee Dee Strum, it normally takes two years to get a program of this magnitude started, but Dr. Howard did it in nine months. “I could not have done this by myself though,”
Howard said. “It took the 20 other women who came with me to PWCC to get the organization started.”
Today, NCBW/PWCC has 121 members and counting, working in multiple areas so that, each year, hundreds of local black women and girls—along with their families—have access to key resources.
“Our goal is to continue to address the critical dimensions of education, health, and political and economic development that affects our community,” Lively said. “The signature programs we provide both promote and improve gender equity, inclusion, respect, racial and social justice, integrity, economic
empowerment and political awareness.”
Their signature programs include, but are not limited to, mentorship programs in elementary and middle schools, scholarship programs so that young black women can attend college, and health awareness campaigns focused on issues prevalent in the black community.
NCBW/PWCC is successful in all of its endeavors in large part due to the nature of its composition. The women who become a part of this organization are community leaders and accomplished—even award-winning—experts in a number of fields. “We look for people to join who can really add to the programs we run and the causes we champion,” Dr. Howard said. “This is not a social organization. If you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves and work, then you don’t belong in this organization. If you’ve never made a contribution to your constituents, you’re not the kind of woman we’re looking for. Our members have
won awards for making changes in their communities.”
A Healthier Outlook for Prince William Residents
With its smart, effective formula for executing all of its goals, NCBW/PWCC has been a key part of Potomac Health Foundation’s (PHF) mission to confront and deconstruct some of the most common—and often, preventable—killers in the Prince William community.
After merging with Sentara Healthcare Inc., the PHF established a grant program intended for projects that would help prevent disease in local communities. Enter NCBW/PWCC, which had the network and the strategies in place to do the kind of work that PHF grants were designed to enable.
For three years running, PHF has awarded thousands of dollars in these aforementioned grants to NCBW/PWCC, which in turn reached black communities that Prince William health systems previously could not penetrate.
“We have educated thousands of black women and men on triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), prostate cancer and colorectal cancer,” Dr. Howard said. “In 2015, we received funding from PHF in the amount of $78,000, with matching funds from the community totaling $5,000 plus. The results of this particular grant were awesome and well-documented.” Over the last five years, contributions from sponsors and partners have exceeded $45,000.
Part of NCBW/PWCC’s strategy for accessing these previously untouched communities was through their partnerships with the faith-based churches to reach thousands of people in Prince William and Stafford counties.
The first PHF grant in 2015 was to educate 450 black women about TNBC. NCBW/PWCC addressed congregations of multiple black churches in Prince William and surrounding communities to ultimately educate more than 500 women about the disease. This incredibly effective strategy produced the data
and results that Sentara Health had previously been lacking. The findings were so important because TNBC—a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer—is significantly more prevalent for black women than for those of other racial and ethnic groups.
The JOCEP, a well-established medical journal published by the Chi Eta Phi Sorority, published the details of the study, which concluded without question that “black women can benefit from culturally appropriate educational programs about TNBC.. Increasing knowledge about TNBC can save lives and prevent the harmful consequences associated with this disease among black women.”
With their next two PHF grants, the ladies of NCBW/PWCC educated black men on prostate cancer and colorectal cancer. Through both of these projects, NCBW/PWCC either met or exceeded the target number of people they set out to educate.
“We are closing out our colon cancer project, but we have already received a grant award of $98,000 to educate families on prediabetes and type 2 diabetes for the next fiscal year,” Dr. Howard said.
Dr. Howard added that, as impressive and driven as the ladies that make up NCBW/PWCC are, they would not have achieved what they have for the PHF without their corporate, medical and church partners.
“We are educators, doctors and lawyers, and we do have some medical personnel as part of our chapter,” Dr. Howard said. “However, we are not medical doctors. Therefore, we utilize the expertise of certified physicians at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center. We have established an excellent working bond
with the Potomac Health Foundation and Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.”
The ladies of NCBW/PWCC also said that there is no way to discuss the successful results and outcomes of their health awareness campaigns and studies without acknowledging their church partners—who welcomed them to speak before their congregations—as well as their corporate partners, who offered
necessary funding and support.
“We cannot perform this work in isolation,” Dr. Howard said, adding that NCBW/PWCC has helped other PHF grant award winners get in front of black church congregations for their own initiatives. “One of the things that the PHF impresses upon awardees is that we assist each other,” she said. “For example,
we supported the American Heart Association by allowing its staff members to present their training sessions at the end of our workshops [for the churches].”
Although the NCBW/PWCC focus is on black females, there really is no limit to the people NCBW/PWCC serves or to the projects they will take on. The leadership knows they must stay flexible and dynamic, so that one day, the soil of their society will be fertile with resources and support for hardworking
women whose goals also involve making the world a better place for countless generations to follow.
Ashley Claire Simpson ([email protected]) is a corporate communications professional by day, but her real passion is learning more about this community—and world —by writing for publications like Prince William Living. She has been crafting features and human interest articles since her college newspaper days at the University of Virginia.