When LaWanda Hawkins received the call that she was selected as a Los Angeles Freedom's Sister, her response was classic: "You don't mean me; how did you find me?"
But they did indeed mean her and 19 other Los Angeles women.
Hawkins, who formed Justice for Murdered Children in 1966, after the murder of her son Reginald, was selected from a list of about 60 women found in a city-wide search for exceptional ladies living in Southern California.
According to Ford Motor Company, which is underwriting the program, the women exemplified dedication to social causes and humanitarian efforts, and these are attributes of the 20 phenomenal ladies who are part of the original Freedom's Sisters exhibition.
This exhibit, which is in the midst of a three-year, nine-city tour of the nation, features African America women, ranging from key 19th century historical figures like Ida B. Wells to contemporary leaders such as Myrlie Evers-Williams, who helped shape the spirit and substance of civil rights in America. However, they have not received the same kind of high-profile recognition as their male counterparts.
"At the age I'm at now, I don't want to take a back seat. I'm old and ornery, and I'm not going to take a back seat anymore," said Evers-Williams at the event honoring the Los Angeles Freedom's Sisters.
The 76-year-old Evers-Williams is featured in the national traveling exhibit, and gave a powerful and poignant keynote speech at the Los Angeles event.
" I am also concerned that we pay attention to women, who have been in the background of the movement. I don't mean any harm to my brothers. However, we deserve all the encouragement we can get," Evers-Williams told her audience at the Beverly Hills Hotel last Thursday.
"I think of Betty Shabazz, Coretta Scott King, and I miss my sisters. I'm standing here alone; there are only five of us alive," said the civil rights fighter about the number of women featured in national tour that remain living. "It behooves us to nurture . . . we need to be about the business of building new leadership."
The Los Angeles Freedom's Sister are a mixture of grassroots women working in the trenches and high-profile ladies making a mark on their respective communities. This celebration was the third of five that will honor local women. The exhibit organizers have already recognized 20 leaders each in New Orleans and Washington, D.C. The cities chosen were major metropolises not included on the national tour schedule.
The Los Angeles Freedom's Sisters are:
Karen Bass, former Speaker of the California Assembly and founder of the social justice organization Community Coalition;
Yvonne B. Burke, former Los Angeles County Supervisor and the first African American woman elected to Congress from California;
d'Lisa Davies, the first African American female firefighter in the City of Los Angeles;
Loretta Devine, an award-winning actress who fights for cancer through the Susan G. Komen for the Cure events, breast cancer research and HIV/AIDS charities;
"Sweet" Alice Harris, who founded the Parents of Watts, whose activities include encouraging children to stay in school and providing emergency food and shelter for the homeless;
Charisse Bremond-Weaver, the first woman to head the Brotherhood Crusade whose current effort includes partnering with the California Endowment to develop and implement a 10-year plan to transform South Los Angeles;
Natalie Cole, co-founder of OurWeekly newspaper and founder of the Urban Media Foundation, an afterschool program for inner city youth interested in journalism;
Cynthia Davis, program director of the Family Life Information and Education Project at the American Indian Free Clinic in Compton;
Glenda A. Gill, automotive operations director for Rainbow/PUSH, who has been instrumental in promoting diversity and minority inclusion;
Pat Harvey, nationally recognized broadcast journalist whose investigation into faulty pap smears helped close down the laboratory responsible;
LaWanda Hawkins, founded Justice for Murdered Children in 1966, after the murder of her son Reginald. It is an advocacy organization dedicated to reducing the number of murders and unsolved murders, and help families cope with the aftermath;
Miriam Scott Long, who is Deputy Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, and was instrumental in the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools;
Lillian Mobley, a community activist and founder of the South Central Multi-Purpose Senior Citizen's Center and the Grandma's Hands Los Angeles Birthing Project;
Denise Pines, who is best known for her work with The Smiley Group including helping launch Smiley on PBS;
Della Reese, a Grammy-nominated entertainer and the first woman to guest host "The Tonight Show;"
Artist Lane, an award-winning sculptor and painter, who is the first African American woman to have artwork display in the U.S. Capitol;
Holly J. Mitchell, chief executive office of Crystal Stairs, one of the largest nonprofit childcare development agencies in California. It provides services to about 25,000 children on a daily basis;
Holly Robinson Peete, actress and co-founder with her husband Rodney of the HollyRod Foundation, which is designed to help improve the quality of life for those plagued with devastating life circumstances.
Sheryl Lee Ralph, actress and founding director of the Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed Foundation (DIVA), created in memory of the many friend she has lost to HIV/AIDS; and
Angela B. Winston, director of development for Challengers Boys and Girls Club who has worked on behalf of the underserved and economically disadvantaged for 25 years.