Women Whose Lives Sing
Annette McKenzie Anderson Honors Black Women at Spring Convocation
By Auburn Mann
As the band played a rendition of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Grand March,” students and faculty trickled in to Samuel L. Myers Auditorium on Feb. 8, preparing for yet another Spring Convocation to officially welcome in the semester.
Following the processional, prelude events, history professor Dr. Karen Cook-Bell presented the theme of this semester’s convocation, African American Women in History & Culture, which in following university tradition, is also serving as the theme for Bowie State’s month long Black History Month celebration this year.
“It’s important to praising the bridges that carry us over,” Cook-Bell said. “The accomplishments of the African-American women in many cases remain an unheralded field of study.”
Cook-Bell named several pioneering African-American women such as Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, who was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate and Dr. Martha Settle Putney, a former Bowie State professor, who was a noted historian, especially of African-American servicemen. Quoting Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Month, Cook-Bell said: “In order to know the condition of a people, you must first understand the condition of their women.”
Bowie State University President Mickey L. Burnim introduced the guest speaker Dr. Annette McKenzie Anderson, after the official opening of the new semester. Anderson is the president and CEO, of Diversified In-Valuable Assistance (DIVA) Enterprises, which is a consulting business specializing in diverse services, and catering to those with intellectual disabilities.She also has been active in the theater, where she starred in South Carolina’s Tricentennial Commission and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Production of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”. Recently, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
After Dr. Burnim finished his introduction, a flattered Anderson, responded saying “My parents in Heaven are smiling down on you for what you just said about their baby girl Dr. Burnim. Thank you”. Then, showing off a finely tuned operatic voice, she held a preliminary presentation with a classic gospel selection, “Ride on King Jesus.”
After the solo, Anderson began with asking the audience to envision themselves taking a journey through the chronology of the black experience in America. “Today I invite you on an historic voyage, comprising of the events of a dark past, through the accomplishments of today and the hope of tomorrow”, she stated.
Anderson brought the audience’s attention from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the plantation experience, through the eras of the Civil War, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. Then, fast forwarding into these period’s legacies that have manifested in today’s black American success stories such as the Obamas and Oprah Winfrey. “Another treasure that is worth acknowledging is a woman many of you are probably not familiar with. Henrietta Lacks is considered the most important woman in medical history.”
Anderson described Lacks as an African American woman who, in the early 1950s was diagnosed with and died from a cancerous tumor, yet the cells from this tumor were, as discovered by Johns Hopkins research staff, enduring and could be kept alive long enough to conduct research. This allowed for an “immortal cell line,” later nicknamed the HeLa Cell Line.
“One woman I can’t omit is my mother Adele McKenzie” declared Anderson. “Between her and my father, Rev. Frank McKenzie, they produced three children who are award-winning professionals, and several more successful grandchildren, nephews and nieces” she said, acknowledging some of these very relatives seated in the audience
Anderson presented a series of unfamiliar names and deeds, which legacies were seemingly hindered by the greater anonymity surrounding them, some who lacked the traditional credentials associated with many of those iconic women that were celebrated thus far. She then drove home the point that even though some weren’t “doctors ,lawyers, or Political leaders, their simple manners, loving behavior and enduring positive attitudes and commitment to service and love. That’s what can really open doors to unimaginable blessings.”
“Then we have all the up and coming young women of color what I like to call legacy makers”, said Anderson. “Including, Serena Williams, Beyonce, Cynne Simpson, Sholanda Patterson, as well as all the courageous young women throughout the armed forces, and continue to serve our country with love and commitment. All of these women let their lives do the singing.”
In closing, Anderson reached out to the young women in the audience. “And of course all the young women right here of Bowie State University. So let these stories of lives past and present continue to inspire us to continue to follow in the same melody, and let us ride on!”