Judy Wimmer

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2013

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Judy Wimmer

 

Judy Wimmer has long had the vision of a peaceful and loving community free of prejudice and with respect for all. This vision has led her to bring her creative and enlightened leadership to many projects and initiatives designed to improve the lives of women and children in Memphis and Shelby County.

Judy has always been very sensitive. Even the nuns at school told her so. She’s always been an activist, ever willing to take on a new challenge. She began taking dance classes at age 3 and started her own dance school right after high school, teaching ballet, tap and jazz in her own studio in Whitehaven while attending college. She only became a stay-at-home mom with the birth of Dana. But even then she didn’t stay home.

In the spring of 1968, Judy participated in the first Rearing Children of Good Will Workshop, a program that brought black and white mothers together to hear speakers on civil rights, child development and community needs and then to promote dialog across racial lines. Inspired by the experience, that summer she organized a second workshop in the Whitehaven community.

That same year, she became a founding member of the Memphis Panel of American Women, organized locally by Jocelyn Wurzburg. This group brought together ethnically and religiously diverse women to speak at service organizations, schools, etc. about their personal experiences with exclusion and discrimination.

In 1969 she chaired the Public Affairs committee of the Concerned Women of Memphis and Shelby County. Their primary goal was to help AFSCME avoid another sanitation workers’ strike.

Being a family who talked the talk and walked the walk, Judy, her husband Fred, and their three children purposefully moved to the integrated Vollintine-Evergreen community. The children were then enrolled in public schools, much to the dismay of the grandparents.

She next became one of the key organizers and volunteers of IMPACT (Involved Memphis Parents Assisting Children and Teachers), a group that supported the court-ordered public school busing which took place in 1972. She often ran the office and served as the group’s spokeswoman. Once busing began she organized volunteers at every bus stop to insure a peaceful process. J. Mac Holladay, director of IMPACT, recalls that “her dedication to public education and to the future of the City of Memphis was a shining light in a time of crisis.”

Continuing to pursue her vision for women, from 1974-1976 Judy was a VISTA volunteer, working at MIFA as co-director of Mother to Mother, a program that paired church volunteers and mothers on welfare to help them navigate the social service system. Pairing these mothers from different backgrounds had the additional impact of dispelling myths on both sides.

In 1981, the Memphis Public Library received a National Endowment for the Humanities’ Women in the Community grant administered through Radcliff College. A small committee planned a series of public programs called “Memphis Women: From Yellow Fever to 2001.” Judy was a member of the committee as well being a program chair.

Judy says that one of the best things that ever happened to her was returning to the University of Memphis to complete her degree. She says that Maya Angelou and Women of Achievement Heritage recipient Myra Dreifus are to blame. Judy had gone to hear Ms. Angelou speak and along with a few others went out on the lawn in the rain to continue the conversation. Myra was there, invited her to lunch, and after two hours of exchanging confidences, told Judy to go finish school. Undecided until that conversation, she did, completing her degree in 1982.

Of course Judy was there – on the planning committee – when Women of Achievement began in 1984. Our goal of recognizing the unheralded achievements of women is right up her alley.

In 1968 Judy wrote: “These are times of soul-searching throughout our community, our country, our world. As never before, concerned people are seeking ways to live in fellowship, harmony, understanding, and love with all persons everywhere.” These words still inform her vision.

Susanne Coulan Scruggs

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2013

HERITAGE
for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Susanne Coulan Scruggs

Susanne Coulan Scruggs could have easily filled her days and social calendar with teas and luncheons and the activities of her six children and her husband, a prominent Shelby County attorney and judge.

Instead, Susanne devoted much of her adult life to improving conditions for many of the least fortunate in her adopted city of Memphis. Born in Boston, she moved to Memphis in 1889 after marrying attorney Thomas M. Scruggs. In the next 50 years, she would lead endeavors to provide safe places for children to play, improve public education, create a juvenile court, provide free medical care to needy children, and initiate family welfare programs.

A founding member of the Nineteenth Century Club, Susanne is credited with directing a fundraising reception that ensured the opening of the Cossitt Library in 1894. After that successful event, she began to focus her efforts on social programs to help Memphis children at a time when progressive leaders across the country were tackling similar community issues. Memphis had the added complications of recovering from the Yellow Fever epidemic just two decades earlier.

Many of the groups and agencies organized through Susanne’s leadership are organizations we take for granted today. At the turn of the century, she was on the cutting edge. She was perhaps best known for founding the Memphis Playground Association in 1908 to ensure supervised playgrounds in Memphis parks. The organization creatively enlisted unruly boys to be part of a “Playground Police”, transforming disorder into self-government with the young men serving as protectors of younger children. The Playground Association became the most influential child welfare organization in the city. Its leaders were responsible for the creation of a children’s ward in the City Hospital and the establishment of a Juvenile Court.

In working to create the Juvenile Court, Susanne corresponded with Judge Benjamin Barr Lindsey of Denver, a national pioneer in the juvenile justice movement. Born in West Tennessee, Lindsey provided legal forms for the Memphis reformers to use in creating the Court and Detention Home. Susanne disagreed with a decision to make the Juvenile Court part of the city court system instead of the county probate courts, saying city court was an extension of the police department. As chairman of the Juvenile Court Advisory Board, she worked to make the best of the situation and fought for a larger budget. While the board did not receive all of its requests, Susanne stood firm on several issues including a female probation officer.

Susanne ultimately was dissatisfied with the Juvenile Court and resigned from the Advisory Board in protest. She founded the Children’s Protective Union, a complementary agency that found homes for children. Susanne argued that dependent children should not experience the Juvenile Court system because it was designed for delinquent children. In her work with the Union, she served as a “friendly visitor” to homes of children served by the agency.

In the first decade of 1900, Susanne organized two public school associations: the Woman’s Public Schools Association in 1905 and the Public Education Association in 1907. The Woman’s Public Schools Association focused on efficiency in education. They fought for free paper and books for needy children and less classroom crowding. In one letter to the Memphis School Board, Susanne made an argument still debated today. She contended that promotion to the next grade should be based on a child’s daily work instead of a single exam.

The second educational group, the Public Education Association, had a broader agenda in the schools. Through that group, Susanne led advocacy efforts for greater financial stability for the school system, improved sanitation in schools, medical exams for students and the serving of hot lunches. Both of the education associations focused on increasing parental involvement. Susanne was active in both state and city levels of the Congress of Mothers and Parent Teacher Associations and she urged women to participate as a way to make their voices heard until they earned the right to vote.

It should be noted that while Susanne worked for child-welfare reform during a time of segregation, she often supported Julia Hooks and other African-American reformers in their parallel efforts.Susanne looked beyond specific issues to address the broader social context. In 1913, at the statewide meeting of the Congress of Mothers and Parent Teacher Associations, she made a motion asking the organization president to name a committee to draft a series of bills to be introduced in the General Assembly. Among the 11 proposals were:

  • A provision that the state enforce child support by fathers, with incarceration as the penalty;
  • A requirement that girls under 16 not be required to testify in open court in cases of rape;
  • That women be allowed to serve as juvenile court judges and on school boards; and
  • That “all laws and measures affecting the welfare of children shall be state-wide in scope.”
    Susanne’s vision was years ahead of the General Assembly, but many of her proposals became law during her lifetime. In the book Gateway to Justice, scholar Jennifer Trost described Susanne as the most prominent child welfare activist in Memphis in the early Progressive years.

Susanne Scruggs died in 1945.

Jane Walters

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2013

STEADFASTNESS
for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Jane Walters

Jane Walters has spent over 40 years improving the lives of countless children, their families, and through that work the City of Memphis and the State of Tennessee through her work in the field of education.

Born into a musical family, she knew from the age of 7 that she wanted to become a teacher and started working towards that goal. A native Memphian, she completed Central High School, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Rhodes College (then Southwestern), obtained a Masters in Counseling from the University of Memphis (then Memphis State) and earned a PhD from Duke University.

She used her education well as she went along, starting her teaching career in 1956 at Messick High where she taught math and music and later became one of the first five guidance counselors in the city. She stayed there for eleven years. Always learning, she was the Assistant Director of Computer Services for Memphis City Schools from 1971-1974. Next she became principal of Craigmont Junior High, then of the combined Craigmont Junior/Senior High. She was only the second woman to become a high school principal in Memphis. She stayed at Craigmont for 21 years, earning national recognition for the school and for her innovative leadership.

Under her guidance, Craigmont became the district’s first optional program for international studies, offering German, Spanish, French, Latin, and amazingly for the time, Japanese and Russian. By the late 1980s she had set up a sister school in Russia. Students who went there had at least a year of Russian and lived with Russian families

Jane had known Don Sundquist and his family since they moved to Memphis in the 1970s. When he went became 7th District Congressman, Jane would take bus loads of students to Washington to meet their congressman and see democracy in action. When Sundquist became governor of Tennessee, he immediately thought of Jane and her innovative work at Craigmont and offered her a job. Jane accepted and became the first woman to be Commissioner of Education in the state. She held the position from 1994-1999, managing a $3 billion budget. While there she almost singlehandedly got every school in Tennessee connected to the internet.

After returning to Memphis and a brief stint leading the not-for-profit Partners in Public Education, Jane retired.

Of course that didn’t last.

The Grizzlies wanted to do something positive for the community and decided to start the Grizzlies Academy. Wanting the best talent to develop the new school, they called Jane. She agreed on the condition that they serve students who were two grades behind. The academy opened in August, 2003 with 40 students. Wanting the students to be successful academically and socially, Jane insisted that two nights a week, the students sit down to a dinner with white tablecloths and multiple-choice forks.

She really did retire in 2009.

Dr. Jane Walters spent a long career pursuing her goal of good education for all students and she did so during changing times. Through sit-ins and walk-outs, school integration and the women’s movement, she continued to put children first. Her interpersonal skills created a level of trust that encouraged excellence in those who worked with her.

By her own admission she was never patient enough to be political or eloquent. Of parents she has said “They don’t send us their used cars. These are their children. That’s why moms cry leaving them in kindergarten.” Jane is a straight talker – gathering a following that swears by her simple recipe of caring so much for students and their futures that the rest just falls into place.

For her steadfast dedication to education, we salute Jane Walters.

Karla O. Davis

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2013

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Karla O. Davis

Karla’s initiative has taken her down a path that leads from Chicago to Memphis and from Memphis to Nashville, from the Environmental Protection Agency to Memphis Hope, and from there to the Tennessee Commission for Labor and Work Force Development. Each move has resulted in improved lives for people touched by her work.

Born and raised by a loving family (her parents have been married for 58 years!), Karla lived in Chicago until leaving for Atlanta to attend Spelman College. Knowing that she wanted to become an engineer, she returned home to continue her studies. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in bio-engineering from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

She went to work for the Environmental Protection Agency. Over the course of 16 years, she assumed a number of management level positions and earned numerous awards for service along the way. While working in Chicago, she met her future husband, Terry Davis, through salsa dancing. In 2006, after enduring years of brutal winters, the couple decided to move to his home town of Memphis. Lucky for us!

Using her excellent networking skills, Karla took the initiative to meet Ruby Bright, director of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis. Impressed by Ms. Bright, Karla offered to volunteer for the foundation. This connection led to a position as director of Urban Strategies for Memphis HOPE. She committed herself to creating opportunities for families of the former Dixie Homes and Lamar Terrace communities. This was a huge challenge as most families were headed by single mothers whose situations had been deemed hopeless by others.

Karla was responsible for establishing cooperative relationships with other organizations, identifying funding opportunities and leveraging resources to help move these families out of poverty. She says Memphis HOPE’s goal was to “serve the whole family, by connecting adult residents with employment preparation and job training programs, connecting youth with tutoring and enrichment programs, and connecting seniors and the disabled with service programs.” Karla accomplished this by supporting a range of intervention strategies designed to permanently lift these families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. Over 400 families benefited.

In 2011, Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Halsam offered her the job of Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. She says, “I was shocked and incredibly excited and honored. This was bigger than I could have ever dreamed.” She accepted. She was one of six women to be appointed to his 24-member cabinet. She now commutes between Memphis and Nashville. Karla manages a staff of nearly 2000, with offices all over the state, and administers a $220 million annual budget. She has embraced the massive task of bringing an industrial and agricultural based workforce into the world of technology and advanced manufacturing.

People who use the services of her department are often in crisis. They may be unemployed, have lost their jobs unexpectedly, need job training. In our current economic climate, they often feel desperate. It is her goal to provide them with excellent customer service so that they know that they are respected and that their voices are heard.

She says: “My entire career has revolved around public administration of some sort. I wish I could say I always wanted to be a public servant, but really it found me. Memphis has been a place of tremendous opportunity for me. I count moving here as one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Karla Davis uses her initiative with compassion and kindness to improve the lives of those she serves.

For this, we salute her.

Felica Richard

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2013

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Felica Richard

Felica Richard knows what it is to be misused and abused. She knows about being hurt – with verbal and emotional abuse, molestation and rape – and not telling anyone. She knows how important it is to have access to the right help when you ask for it.

Her own experience has made Felica Richard determined to help survivors of violence feel strong and feel good about themselves. She has created an organization, recruits fellow cosmetologists and works beyond her paid job as a victim navigator at the Family Safety Center to offer extra support for those in need.

Felica has lived in Memphis all her life. She grew up on the city’s north side, third of five children in a family where her parents were not married but her dad lived a few blocks away.

Her school friends at Craigmont Middle and High School often sought her out for advice. Even at that early age, Felica found herself drawn to the wounded and rejected.

She understands now that it was the molestation by a family member and the rape during a date as a young teenager that caused her not to love herself. This under laid her drinking and promiscuity as a young adult, her bounce between multiple colleges and stack of college loan debt. She married – but won a divorce within six months to escape verbal and emotional abuse.

Eventually Felica entered and completed cosmetology school and began to work full-time as a hairdresser while also beginning a social work degree. After coursework at Southwest Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and University of Memphis, Felica earned her bachelor’s degree in social work in 2009. She interned at the Shelby County Crime Victim Center and continued to “do hair” part-time.

By then Felica had been a mom for six years, having adopted at birth a baby girl born to a family member.

Since she graduated from high school in 1989, Felica has had a dream of building a safe haven for hurt women and their children. Felica calls the organization she founded in 1999 Women Loving Themselves First believing “If I can get the mother together, she can take care of children. I’m looking to help her build her self esteem, give her hope, love herself and then she can give love. You can’t give what you don’t have.”

She began her outreach simply with a routine of communicating encouraging emails and prayer requests. In 2009, she began offering direct services to women referred to her by other agencies. She provides help with their immediate needs, especially temporary emergency housing, often by reserving motel rooms in her name – to protect the fleeing woman. “I pay a night and they pay a night,” Felica says. She rents a U-Haul for those who need it and puts their belongings in storage. Sometimes she styles their hair for free.

Now a full-time navigator for domestic violence victims at the Family Safety Center, Felica still recruits colleagues in local salons to give violence survivors professional makeovers to prepare them for court or a job interview. She is offering training on the dynamics of domestic violence to local professional stylists.

Her goal is to raise funds for a gated community where survivors of abusive, violent relationships could live during their healing, both single women and mothers, with programs for children, comprehensive case management and constant security.

“I’m a server. . . I went into social work because that’s where God needs me and I can help women. . . I compare myself to David and domestic violence is Goliath. I believe that giant can come down – I really do.”

With her passion for helping and her determination to be of service, Felica Richard will be here to help women damaged by violence for many years to come.

Chelsea Boozer

Women of Achievement
2013

COURAGE
for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Chelsea Boozer

Chelsea Boozer was a student journalist and editor in chief of the University of Memphis Helmsman when she began working on stories about unreported rapes on the campus. The resulting struggle for access to public documents and to secure students’ safety led to a battle that threatened the newspaper’s funding and Chelsea’s reputation.

Her steadiness during it all led Candy Justice, faculty advisor of the Helmsman, to say: “Nobody can take her courage away as far as I’ve seen.”

Ironically, Chelsea began her career as a nervous junior high student who liked to write. And she was good. One of her teachers in Marion, Arkansas, even accused her in seventh grade of letting her mom produce a story for her advanced literature class. Her mother had to go attest that the work was actually Chelsea’s!

The journalism bug bit this self-described “news nerd” early – she was editor of the junior high school paper, took a journalism class in high school and edited that newspaper senior year.

She crossed the river to major in journalism at the University of Memphis where she became deeply involved in journalism organizations and the Helmsman while also maintaining strong grades. She was managing editor January to May 2012 and editor in chief May to December 2012 when she graduated first in the College of Communications.

Her drive for the truth led to repeated fights with the university for access to public documents – a right protected by the federal Clery Act which requires universities that receive federal financial aid to disclose information on crimes that occur on or near campus.

She angered faculty and Student Government Association leaders with a three-part series that documented free tuition paid for SGA members and the money-losing football program. Invited to an SGA meeting, she was publicly chastised by the SGA president who got a standing ovation for his remarks, including the dean of students.

But the hostility rose to new levels in March last year when the Helmsman began to write about rape.

First there was a battle for records related to a November assault incident that university officials had not disclosed. Then the student journalists found out about another alleged rape that had happened in March – but again it had not been disclosed. It involved a registered sex offender who was posing as a student and living illegally in university housing.

Chelsea as managing editor and her reporter on the rape story met with campus Police Services and interviewed students at the housing complex – and later faced police reports alleging that they made threats, were rude and hostile, claims Chelsea disputed. In an open letter to Police Services, Chelsea criticized the department for failing to notify students of the March rape.

But when director of residence life and an official from Judicial Affairs met with the newspaper’s faculty advisor, they said there had been discussion of arresting Chelsea. However the Judicial Affairs officer said the police reports – alleging that Chelsea made a scene and refused to leave the campus police office – “didn’t ring true” so there would be no arrest.

The harassment – the pressure brought on Chelsea for doing her job – outraged faculty, alumni and national journalism organizations.

When the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee notified Justice that the Helmsman would receive $50,000 instead of the $75,000 it had the prior year or the $80,000 requested – Helmsman staff and some journalism professors believed it was based on the paper’s critical reporting about the university. She and her faculty advisor alleged the cuts were a First Amendment violation as SGA members retaliated for her work. The allocation committee consists of four university administrators and three students including the SGA president and vice president.

The funding cut infuriated alumni and inspired a website for donations to “Free the Helmsman.”

A university investigation agreed with the Helmsman’s claim and the funding was restored. Last week university President Shirley Raines announced 2013-2014 funding will remain at $75,000.

Chelsea has won numerous awards and was recognized by Memphis Magazine in October 2012 as one of five women who make a difference. She is now is a reporter at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Student Press Law Center director Frank LoMonte called Chelsea “Mike Wallace with molasses syrup – disarming but deadly.” She says her courage came easily “because I knew we were on the truth side and doing something important and really right.”