By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Race and gender do not define African American women.
'More than anything, it's faith that binds us,' said Shirley Walker, a 17-year social work professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton. 'As a group, spirituality is something that is very much a part of us. It goes all the way back to slavery. The ability to get through it came from God.'
That's the premise of an article she wrote for 'Advances in Developing Human Resources,' a publication of the Academy of Human Resource Development, a professional organization for scholars and business people.
Published in the October 2009 issue, her piece was one of eight that spoke to the theme of 'African American Women in Leadership.'
'The other articles dealt with the scholarly definitions of leadership and the practical applications in the work place,' Ms. Walker said. 'Mine focused more on what leadership is to me as an African American woman.'
She listed the abilities to communicate, manage and persuade as common attributes to successful leaders.
'Those things are important, yes, but it's not what leadership is,' Ms. Walker said. 'It's God, and it's faith. He presents a door of opportunity to you, and if you have faith in Him, you open and walk through it.' More than likely, she said that door is going to look scary.
'But you trust Him and know that no matter how hard it gets, He'll be with you,' Ms. Walker said. 'He's already given you all the skills, gifts and teachings you need to handle the challenges. It's His promise that will be OK in the end.'
As examples, she talked about early heroes of black civil rights, like Sojourner Truth, a slave turned abolitionist, preacher and advocate of women's rights; Harriet Tubman, a caretaker of the Underground Railroad; and Rosa Parks, the woman who refused to give her seat on a bus to a white person.
'Rosa Parks wasn't planning to start a movement, and Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth didn't know they'd become textbook figures of history when they did what they did,' Ms. Walker said. 'God presented them with a door, and they opened it, knowing that God had their backs.'
On a different scale, she said similar opportunities are presented to black women today.
'It can be through applying for particular job or joining a certain organization or church,' Ms. Walker said. 'It might be a predominantly white group, and it might look hard, but you do it anyway because in your heart, it's the right thing to do. You feel called to do it.'
She refrenced her own life as an example.
'In the '80s I felt called to join a particular church,' she said. 'It was predominantly white, and wasn't sure I wanted to do it. But I had to because it was what God wanted. It didn't matter if nobody else wanted me there, God did.'
Marilyn Byrd, business professor at UMHB, was co-editor of the 'Advances' issue on African American women in leadership.
'I had to fight to get the faith portion of her article included,' Ms. Byrd said. 'The entire issue was controversial anyway because 'Advances' had never before focused on African American issues.'
Ms. Byrd felt faith couldn't be excluded from the issue because it can't be excluded from African American women as a people.
'It's in our history and background,' Ms. Byrd said. 'Spirituality is how we grew our strength.'
Her article, 'Telling Our Stories of Leadership: If We Don't Tell Them They Won't Be Told,' wasn't faith-based.
'It was a series of stories from different black women who are leaders in their field,' Ms. Byrd said. 'They all encountered situations where they were judged because of the race, gender and social class. But every one of them said they never could have have gotten through the bad times without their faith in God.'
All of the articles in this issue of 'Advances' can be viewed online at http://adh.sagepub.com/current.dtl.
'The feedback has been great,' Ms. Byrd said.
A book deal between Ms. Byrn and Sage Publications was born of the 'Advances' articles.
'It'll be a textbook called 'Workforce Diversity,'' Ms. Byrd said. 'This well help us bring these issues up in the classroom.'
She expects to have the book completed by the end of next year.
'I'm glad this has happened,' Ms. Byrd said. 'It gets our issues of race, gender and social class, and how they affect the work place, out in the open. It has started a discussion, one I hope will continue to be researched.'