Cornelia Crenshaw

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

HERITAGE
for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Cornelia Crenshaw

Cornelia Crenshaw was born in Millington on March 25, 1916. At the age of 5, she moved to Memphis where she lived until her death in 1994. She attended Booker T. Washington High School and LeMoyne-Owen College. One of the few African American professional women working outside the field of education, Cornelia was employed for 27 years by the Memphis Housing Authority. She was an advocate for workers’ rights to unionism. It was a stance that got her fired from the MHA. She then sued, unsuccessfully, under the new Civil Rights Bill of 1964.

After she lost that job at the age of 49, Cornelia became a full-time community activist. Noted for her stylish clothing and hats, she regularly attended City Council meetings and usually spoke. Well before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis to popularize the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, Cornelia Crenshaw was already working to collect food and other necessities for the strikers’ families. It was she who told the union about Robert Worsham’s poem “I Am A Man,” which then became the heralded slogan of the Strike. She was the only African American woman on the strategy team headed by Rev. James Lawson. She walked in the daily protests downtown and was gassed while participating in the first march led by Dr. King.

Cornelia was well ahead of her time in recognizing institutional racism. In 1969 she protested an increase in garbage collection fees that brought no increased salary to the workers by refusing to pay her Memphis, Light, Gas, & Water bill. After MLGW turned off her utilities, she continued to live in her well-appointed home without gas or electricity for ten more years until she was forced to abandon it. Because of her protest, however, MLGW began to accept partial payments on monthly bills, thus allowing customers to spread out any unusually high monthly bills.

Cornelia Crenshaw’s long-time advocacy was officially recognized when the City Council named the Memphis Public Library Branch at 536 Vance in her honor.

Estelle Axton

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

HERITAGE
for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Estelle Axton

Estelle Axton co-founded Stax Records with her brother, James Stewart. The name Stax itself is a combination of STewart and AXton. Stax became renowned as a leader in soul music, rivaling Detroit and the Motown sound in the 1960’s.

Born in Middleton, TN, Estelle began her career as a schoolteacher in Memphis, married Everett Axton, raised their two children at home for ten years, then worked as a teller in a bank.

When her brother needed money to develop a record company, she persuaded her husband they should remortgage their house and joined her brother as a full partner at the newly named Stax Records in 1959. Together they bought the old Capital Theater in an African-American neighborhood now known as Soulsville, and turned it into a recording studio and a record shop. Her brother ran the recording studio and she ran the Satellite Record Shop, which attracted local talent and provided money in sparse recording times.

“The shop was a workshop for Stax Records,” she explained. “When a record would hit on another label, we would discuss what made it sell.” Musicians recalled Estelle as the one who encouraged them and sometimes made her brother sign them up.

Together with her brother she was involved in finding and promoting the careers of artists such as Rufus and Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Booker T & the MGs, and Isaac Hayes, who said of her:
“Estelle was a very generous woman. She was generous with her time, with her counsel, with her advice. I think she was responsible for the racial harmony at Stax. Mrs. Axton, you didn’t feel any back-off from her, no differentiation that you were black and she was white. . . Being in a town where that attitude was plentiful, she just made you feel secure. She was like a mother to us all.”
The musicians and singers at Stax called her “Lady A.”

“Were it not for her, there’s no way Stax could have become what it became,” said David Porter, a songwriting powerhouse who wrote many Stax hits, such as Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man,” and “Hold On, I’m Coming.” “She had a positive spirit toward the acts in that community and any young kids who came in there with aspirations. There’s no way that Stax could have become Stax without the positive energy that this lady contributed,” he said.

After leaving Stax Records in 1970, she founded the Memphis Songwriters Association and co-founded the Memphis Music Association, which became the umbrella organization for all Memphis music.

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music opened in 2003, and she lived to see it, dying in 2004 at age 85. In 2007 she herself was posthumously awarded a Grammys Trustee Award, given to “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording.”

Carol Danehower

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

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

Dr. Carol Danehower

Every day dozens of women and girls in Memphis and Shelby County endure beatings, sexual abuse, verbal abuse and emotional violence that strip them of their health, their sanity, their confidence and their capacity to study or to work. Every year 15 to 20 local women are killed by men who have claimed to love them.

Dr. Carol Danehower is committed to giving of her time, her expertise as a researcher and educator, and her passion for helping women to fulfill a vision of safety and fairness for women in their homes, at work, everywhere.

Carol is an associate professor in the Department of Management at the University Of Memphis Fogelman College Of Business. She became aware of the deadly extent of domestic violence locally and nationally as member of the board of the Memphis YWCA, a leader in DV services for over 40 years. Nominated to the Tennessee Economic Council on Women by UofM President Dr. Shirley Raines in 2007, Carol read their research on the economic impact of domestic violence and began to develop her own research into the connection between DV and the workplace.

She came to the Memphis Area Women’s Council in 2011 as a volunteer concerned about women and violence and interested in how that connection limits women’s capacity to be productive and maintain jobs or careers.

She soon created with the Women’s Council a two-hour training workshop “Violence at Home. Victims at Work. Employers Confront Domestic Violence,” a compelling program that equips employers to recognize when employees or colleagues are struggling with domestic violence – intimate partner violence – and to respond with compassion and community resources.

Carol presents the training to classes at UofM every semester and, with Deborah Clubb, has trained nearly 1,000 people in workplaces across the city — without pay and on top of her full-time job.

Carol’s route to a thriving academic career began at Hendrix College in Conway, AR, where she studied economics after a wonderful childhood on her family’s farm outside Forrest City. She got her master’s in economics from the University of Arkansas in 1978 and then was drawn to the emerging profession of personnel management and human resources. She completed her Doctorate in Business Administration in 1987 at the University of Kentucky.

She taught at Rhodes College 1986-1989. She moved to the UofM where her role also involves graduate students, older students and those from varied backgrounds. She was an administrator in the Fogelman College for 12 years, then returned to regular faculty position in 2009. Since 2015 she has been part-time teaching, including on-line courses, and part-time working in Academic Affairs on various projects.

It was Carol who initiated the effort at UofM in 2015 to address the scourge of on-campus sexual assault with the debut screening of “The Hunting Ground” documentary. She secured the powerful film about the scourge of college campus rape and led programming for it at Memphis and Jackson/Lambuth campuses. For 2019 she is giving the same leadership to securing “Roll Red Roll” about the Steubenville, OH, high school football team rape case and working with MAWC to create a special training event for local high school teachers and coaches on disclosure and consent.

Carol for years mentored and advised the campus chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. She is greeted regularly around the city and across the Internet by former students happy to see “Dr. D.”

Carol began chairing of the Women’s Council board of directors in 2013 and continues in that capacity.

Her vision for safe, secure, productive homes and workplaces for all is critical and just. For her generous and persistent efforts toward that vision, we honor her today as Woman of Achievement for Vision 2019.

Jane H. Hooker

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

STEADFASTNESS
for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Dr. Jane Howles Hooker

Jane Hooker was a mother of three and pregnant when she entered Memphis State University in 1961. Now 81, she really has never left the university in spirit. And the change she led while there – to revive and develop intercollegiate athletics for women, to teach and inspire generations of teachers – is legendary.

It’s hard to believe now, but beginning in the 1930s to 1972 when Title 9 became the law, many American colleges and universities provided no intercollegiate athletic programs for women. While 1920 to 1930 could be considered golden years for women athletes, concern grew that young women should be discouraged from serious competition. Among many reasons, women were considered too emotional, too likely to cry or faint. So higher education ended intercollegiate sports for women.

Instead, women athletes joined the Association for Intramural Athletics for Women. This meant no school funding for team uniforms, team travel or coaches. Young women athletes would stand at the doors collecting money after boys’ games so they, too, could participate in the sports they loved. Their coaches worked for free.

Jane, a self-avowed tomboy, spent summers playing sports at Cliff Davis Park and, as a teen, competing thanks to the YWCA’s Y-Teen basketball program.

In 1956, while still at Messick High School, Jane married the love of her life, Joe Hooker. She became pregnant with their first child and hid her pregnancy until after graduation. Soon she was the mother of four.

But Jane always knew that she would go to college. And go to college she did.
When she enrolled part-time at then-Memphis State in 1961, she majored in Health, Physical Education and Recreation. With children at home, she prepared meals, checked homework and did her own before rushing off to classes. She earned a Bachelor of Science in 1968, followed by a Masters in 1969.

She played basketball and badminton, coached by her mentor and nominator the legendary Elma Roane. She was Head Coach for Women’s Volleyball from 1970-1972.

But her real love was teaching so she left coaching to make the long commute to Oxford to earn a PhD at the University of Mississippi, completed in 1988. Through that time, she continued to teach teachers at Memphis State, making sure that they understood the importance of movement for kids in the classroom and through sports and games.

Jane was always passionate about young women being able to compete in college sports. In 1969, Elma Roane, Jane and several women across the state started a Tennessee Women’s Sports Foundation. Their mission was to provide intercollegiate varsity sports for women. They succeeded. Other leadership positions included presidencies and board memberships in state and national athletic organizations.

Her interest in providing sports opportunities for children led her to accept responsibilities in AAU Junior Olympics and Special Olympics. She wrote four text books for her classes and 50 biographies for the Sports Chapter of “A Bicentennial Tribute to Tennessee Women 1979-1995.” Recipient of countless awards, she taught and held UofM administrative positions until retiring in 1998.

But retirement isn’t a word to describe Jane, who turned 81 this month. She was an adjunct for years, compiled a History of Messick High School and co-wrote a history of Cordova. And for 17 years, she and her late husband gathered and delivered food, toys, generators, and school supplies for the families of Laguna San Ignacio in Mexico.

Jane is an active member of Bethany Christian Church and has written its history. She is a proud life-time member of the University of Memphis Alumni Association and until recently could be found in the stands rooting for the Tigers. One final thing: Don’t try to beat Jane at tossing free-throws. You won’t win.

Jane Hooker thanks the YWCA for keeping sports viable for young women prior to Title 9 and Elma Roane for being her mentor. Women of Achievement thanks Jane for her steadfast life.

Maxine Starling Strawder

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

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

Maxine Starling Strawder

Maxine was always told by her mother “Remember who you are. You are loved, you are valued and you are enriched by the people in your life.” She knew the history of her family and its struggles and understood early that she was defined by family, not situations outside of herself.

In Beckley, West Virginia, Maxine was born with very poor vision. The family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where, at age 10, Maxine saw legendary African-American dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham dance. That performance led Maxine to a life-long passion for dance.

At her request, her parents enrolled at Cleveland, Ohio’s Karamu House, one of the oldest African-American theaters in America. She exhibited great talent, always dancing without her usual Coke-bottle glasses, barely able to see the stage and other performers.

In recognition of her talent, at age 16, she was chosen to study and travel to Haiti in a program sponsored by her inspiration, Katherine Dunham.

Her parents wanted her to attend Fisk University, which had no dance program. Exhibiting further initiative, while at Fisk, Maxine worked for two years cleaning houses and then, using her savings, went to Europe, studying in Denmark and Germany. Back in the states, she worked with dancer/choreographer Bob Johnson’s Pittsburgh Black Theatre Dance Ensemble.

Maxine then returned to Cleveland and Karamu House, where she danced with several modern dance troupes while obtaining a Bachelor’s degree at Case Western Reserve. She married and had a daughter, Dawn Rebecca, at age 23, but the marriage was short-lived.

With a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of Indiana at Bloomington, in 1974 she took a job with the Memphis and Shelby County Public Library and Information Center, one of the first African-American librarians in Memphis. She later became manager of the Gaston Park Branch.

But Maxine never gave up her passion. In 1973, she was one of the organizers of the First National Congress of Blacks in Dance. Maxine continued to dance, to teach dancers, and be actively involved in the Memphis arts community for the next several decades through groups such as the Harry Bryce Dance Theatre, the Memphis Black Arts Alliance, and Project: Motion. All of this in spite of her poor vision and later-diagnosed hearing problems.

While dancing with Harry Bryce, she came to be called Silverbird, a name that has graced many dance programs.
The year Maxine turned 75 she asked Project Motion if she could choreograph a piece in an annual show. Not only did they agree, they asked her to produce the entire show. 75 Rotations: Celebrating Maxine Strawder’s Passion for Dance had three sold-out performances. All profits went to the Project: Motion Maxine Strawder Dance Enrichment Scholarship at the University of Memphis.

A lifelong learner, Maxine earned a second Master’s degree in Liberal Arts, and received professional certification in diversity training and tai chi.

While in Cleveland she fought blatant housing discrimination and participated in marches and sit-ins for civil rights. In Memphis she continues to participate in social justice activities.
At the age of 80, Maxine keeps limber with dance classes and by teaching tai chi. She continues her studies at the University of Memphis as a perpetual scholar of the arts, languages, history, and world cultures.

“Dance is a universe unto itself,” she says, “It’s not only taking care of your body. It’s taking care of your mind. It’s a worldview.” Reflecting on her life, she said, “Both my mother and grandmother lived to be 96 years old, both faced many obstacles in life, and both possessed a loving fierceness. They instilled that in me.”

Women of Achievement salutes Maxine Starling Strawder who continues to take initiative to overcome obstacles and inspire others with her talent and passion.

Gabriela Salinas

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

HEROISM
for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and
shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:

Gabriela Salinas

Gabby Salinas’ story of survival and heroic devotion has been told all over the world. She was brought to the United States from Bolivia by her father at the age of seven, unable to walk, to be treated for cancer, but the family was turned away from a leading New York hospital after they were unable to pay for her treatment.

Without specialized care, Gabby did not have long to live.

Lucky for them that actress Marlo Thomas, daughter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital founder Danny Thomas, read about them and immediately faxed the story to Memphis. Two days later Gabby and her dad, a Bolivian Air Force pilot, were flown to Memphis courtesy of St. Jude – where no patient ever pays.

It was March 1996.

The medical team at St. Jude fought the Ewing sarcoma – pediatric bone cancer – in Gabby’s spine, helped her learn to walk again and saved her life – and not for the last time.

Gabby Salinas’ story, says WMC TV, “has plot twists worthy of a Steven Spielberg film.”

Gabby has survived cancer three times, suffered the loss of her father and younger sister in a horrific car crash, works as a scientist to discover new drugs to treat ravaging diseases and ran for the Tennessee State Senate – and she is only 30 years old!

Thirteen months after the Salinas family arrived at St. Jude, as they drove on Interstate-40 northeast of Memphis, their car crashed. Her father and sister were thrown from the car and killed. Her pregnant mother was paralyzed.

The surviving family – mother, Gabby, twin brother, toddler and infant – continued in Memphis. In 2001 Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson sponsored a bill in Congress, signed by President Bill Clinton, to grant them citizenship. Gabby was educated at St. Ann Bartlett (2003), St. Agnes Academy (2007) and Christian Brothers University (2011).

She was diagnosed twice again with cancer and again was treated at St. Jude – in 2003 and 2007. In 2010, still a college student, she joined the St. Jude Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics. She also helped establish “Danny’s Dream Team,” former St. Jude patients who run races that raise funds for St. Jude in honor of founder Danny Thomas. In 2010 this woman who once lost ability to walk participated in her first half-marathon to raise money for the hospital.

Acutely aware of the urgent need for access to health care and medical insurance, Gabby lobbied in Nashville for expansion of Medicaid after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. She watched helplessly as her state senator ignored his own Republican governor in shooting down the effort. She later saw the rural hospital that had treated her injured family members close.

It all sparked her political awakening which led her to run in 2018 for her state senator’s seat in Senate District 31: Cordova, Germantown, east Shelby County and Hickory Hill. She defeated two opponents to become the Democratic nominee, facing a nine-year incumbent in a solidly-Republican district.

Gabby became the target of $369,000 in negative TV, radio and direct mail ads in a fear-mongering campaign funded by huge companies and a conservative political action committee, aided by Tennessee’s lieutenant governor. The ads painted Gabby as a dangerous radical and featured images of masked men representing criminal immigrants.

When Election Day ended, the incumbent had only 1,520 votes more than Gabby.

After almost a year of campaigning, she has returned to writing her thesis in Pharmaceutical Sciences for the University of Kentucky.

Gabby is a true hero. She has certainly been tested and her spirit shown – in print, television and online – as a heroic model over and over again. We salute Gabby Salinas as our Woman of Achievement for Heroism 2019.

Rachel Coats Greer

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

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

Rachel Coats Greer

In 1958, Rachel’s father started Rachel’s Flowers, a small florist near the University of Memphis. In 1997, the business moved to 2486 Poplar near Hollywood, on the edge of Binghamton, the geographic heart of the city. The neighborhood behind the shop suffered from a lack of jobs and businesses. This resulted in crime, poverty and hopelessness.

After the move, Rachel Coats, working in the shop that bears her name, answered a knock at the back door. A young boy asked for a part time job to buy clothes and school supplies. She initially said no but he kept coming. She finally agreed to hire him. The next day he brought a friend. Then three. Then more. She said yes to them all.

As she got to know them, she realized they needed more than money. She started tutoring them, buying cakes for birthdays and helping with school clothes. Her parents and late husband Harry Greer worked with her.

She began mobilizing friends, family and employees to volunteer their time to mentor and tutor neighborhood kids. Her church, Central Christian Church, provided support.

In 2002, Rachel’s Kids, Inc. became a non-profit. The mission: Provide opportunities and improved quality of life for the children of Binghamton. The method: Call Rachel.

In 2003, Rachel and Harry moved their home to Binghamton and opened their door. Mondays and Tuesdays would find 25 kids there, most with tutors recruited from their church, their friends, or nearby Rhodes College. They took the kids to Tigers’ games, to medical appointments, sent them to camp. Rachel shopped at thrift stores to help with school clothes.

Rachel’s Kids, Inc. is not a calendar of grant-funded programs. It is a relationship with families. The nonprofit depends on donations from individuals and support from Rachel’s Flowers.
Rachel does what is needed as it is needed.

She never knows when the phone rings what the problem will be, but if possible, she’ll find a solution. If it requires money, she’ll spend it. She says that just as the bank account is getting low, funds arrives. Her mother, who lived with Rachel, slept in her tennis shoes because she never knew where they’d go when they got a call.

Help with school? Tutors are hired. Need food? It is delivered. Transportation? It is arranged. If there is domestic violence or another need for safe haven, it is found. If it’s advice or an opinion, Rachel doesn’t hesitate. Her kids know they can tell her anything.

And once a Rachel’s Kid, always a Rachel’s Kid.

More than 300 kids have been helped by Rachel and her volunteers. Rachel believes that it is not her place to judge actions taken by others, that she is there to help those who ask in whatever way she can. For older kids that may mean, cell phones, cars, childcare for their kids, or help with a college application.

Now kids are growing up and giving back.

Rachel constantly reminds her kids to believe in themselves and not to allow their circumstances to define their future.

A long-time customer says, “Rachel is a shining light of hope in a neighborhood where there are growing opportunities but still devastating challenges. She is a mentor, a counselor, a business partner, a problem solver, a go-to person and a humble servant leader for this neighborhood.”

Sometimes Rachel wonders if she’s made a difference. The many little Rachels and Haleys living in Binghamton named for Rachel and her daughter say yes! Women of Achievement says yes. Rachel’s determination continues to make a difference in the lives of kids in Binghamton.

Mary E. Mitchell

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

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

Mary E. Mitchell

Born in 1936, Mary Mitchell has lived in the same home in Orange Mound since she was six years old.
Today, Orange Mound has one of the higher levels of housing blight in Memphis. The unemployment rate has for some time remained above 20%. Some tidy homes and thriving small businesses have faded into boarded-up storefronts. Television and media too often present negative stories of poverty and violence.

Yet to Mary, Orange Mound is scared ground. She determined that the rich historic and cultural heritage of Orange Mound deserved to be preserved and celebrated and she works to make this happen.
Orange Mound started in 1890 as one of the nations’s first planned African-American communities. It was a source of pride to the business owners, lawyers, teachers and other professionals who called it home. In 1919 it became part of Memphis.

The Orange Mound Mary Mitchell grew up in was thriving. During World War II her grandparents and neighbors strategically organized their limited resources. They worked together to ensure that neighborhood children were fed before heading to school. Children watched adults go to work every day, instilling a work ethic and making sure that every young person knew their value. The community had a vision and a purpose that Mary recognized as she matured.

At some point, as Mary watched, the neighborhood began a slow decline. Buildings closed, employment opportunities decreased, the beautiful neighborhood park shut down, and poverty and crime were on the rise.

Mary became a mother in her teens, raising five children, but she always planned to go to college. In 1980, at age 44, she enrolled at LeMoyne-Owen, graduating with a degree in Philosophy in 1984. She had always loved Orange Mound, but it was a project at LeMoyne-Owen that inspired her to start telling the story of her beloved community.

After graduation, she started a business but continued to promote the importance of Orange Mound at every opportunity.

From 2000 through 2005 she chaired the Orange Mound Collaborative. Funded by the Ford Foundation, the Collaborative stressed education through empowerment. Included were an Early Childhood Institute, an oral history project and a community newspaper. After grant funding ended Mary enlisted the help of the University of Memphis Journalism Department to continue the paper for several more years.

Unwilling to lose the momentum begun by the Collaboration, in 2006 she and several others founded the Melrose Center for Cultural Enrichment in Orange Mound. The group is committed to the preservation and restoration of the Historic Melrose School building which include a genealogy center as well as a museum.

According to her nominator, Mary promotes collaborations by uniting teams around historical, cultural and socioeconomic factors to advocate for the epic history of “The Mound.” She sees opportunity and progress even when faced with challenges. Mary sees the best in people and encourages those behind her to reach past the obstacles of today and be the bright spirits of the future. Thanks, in part to the extraordinary determination of Mary Mitchell, the history of Orange Mound has been documented through newspaper articles, tours, speaking engagements and documentaries.

Mary E. Mitchell, Shelby County’s Honorary Orange Mound Historian, is determined not to make lemonade out of lemons but to make orange juice out of oranges.

Mildred Richard-Edwards

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

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

Mildred Richard-Edwards

Born to a drug addicted mother, at the age of 12, Mildred dropped out of school to care for her twin siblings who had been abandoned. They had not yet reached their first birthday. In 2000 Mildred Richard-Edwards found out she was HIV+ after she gave birth to her son, due to a pregnancy that was a result of rape.

Mildred was overwhelmed. She felt alone, ashamed and unworthy of love. She would accept help from no one, not even her best friend.

She was referred to Hope House. There she met staff members Maria Randall and Melissa White. For the first time she met other women like herself. There she learned how to live with HIV and she earned her GED. She says the support she received was phenomenal.

Hope House was having a Hopes and Dreams luncheon to raise funds for a new space.

Maria asked her to speak but she said no. Maria told her it would only be a few people. She still said no. But finally she agreed.

When she got to the University Holiday Inn, the room was packed. She was terrified but Maria convinced her she could do it and stood by her side as she spoke. She cried as she talked and so did many of those listening. She won a standing ovation and was then hugged by lots of strangers. She’d thought that since becoming HIV+ she couldn’t be touched by others. The experience was life-changing and she’s been speaking about living with HIV ever since.

Her mother didn’t love her. After her diagnosis she became estranged from her father. She believed that she didn’t deserve love. Yet for one year, the man who became her husband left roses on her doorstep every morning. She was living with a mentally ill aunt and 4 children and on their first date he took her and all the kids. They married in 2003 and he has supported her in her work ever since.

Mildred is a tireless advocate on behalf of people living with HIV, counseling them through Hope House and Friends for Life. She has been a peer mentor, patient navigator and case manager, often taking calls herself in the middle of the night. Though no longer working for those groups, she is still part of the family. And her clients are still with her. “You don’t leave someone who is living with HIV,” she says.

Mildred received the annual National Public Citizen of the Year Award in 2016 from the National Association of Social Workers for her outstanding work advocating on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. She continually pushes for better care for people living with the disease and shows them they can live full lives.

Mildred is founder of “My Sista’s Keeper,” which started as a small group for women living with HIV or caring for someone who is living with HIV. The group has now grown to over 80 women who meet monthly. Some are HIV+ and some are not but they all share problems and concerns. She provides a meal. Mildred describes it as Girls Night Out with an edge.

Her siblings and son are grown. She now works for a pharmaceutical company, traveling to teach people how to live successfully and even happily with HIV. She continues to tell her story and in fact will be doing so at Vanderbilt this week.

A force of nature, Mildred Richard-Edwards courageously speaks out as a person living with HIV, despite societal stigma. We honor her courage which has transformed countless lives.