At the December Sister Spokesman, African American mothers were honored for their actions and accomplishments. See the dedications to mothers below submitted by family members, and enjoy the emotional photo highlights of the event captured by Steve Floyd above.
My mother LaWanda Spears is the most important and influential human in my life. Being a single parent in Minneapolis, the odds against us succeeding as a family are grim. But like everything else in her life she defied the odds and made sure I wanted for nothing and went to the best schools. My mother has never asked for a handout and she has only done hard work in her life. This award for my mom would mean the most to her and will show how much I care about her and thank her for everything that she has done in my life for me.
If any mother deserves to be celebrated for going above and beyond the norm, it’s Shawntan Howell. Inspired by a conversation with her daughter and her friends on self-esteem and self-worth, Shawntan started Girls Are Powerful, a non-profit organization committed to empowering girls and helping them to embrace their unique identity and strengths through workshops, specialized programs and an inspirational product line of T-shirts and more.
Shawntan’s love for her daughter and desire to surround her with positive affirmations has allowed her to affirm and empower hundreds of girls in the Twin Cities and beyond. As if the work and the messaging she evokes weren’t enough, her fight and steadfast persistence to push past all obstacles in moving Girls Are Powerful from a one-woman operation, to one with a team of mothers and women community leaders committed to evoking change, is nothing short of remarkable. Shawntan’s passion, drive and commitment to service and empowerment has set a standard that we should all hope to reach; and because of this I highly recommend her for the “Celebrating Moms of All Ages” honor.
Dr Hallie Hudrieth Smith
Dr. Hallie Hudrieth Smith is 98-years-old, and she is a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and also retired principal from Minneapolis Public Schools. I have befriended her in the last couple years and we have discovered that we share a birthday: December 13. She was born in 1916 and I was born in 1959, so there’s some 40-odd year difference between us, but we have a lot in common and I would love to celebrate her because of all of the years of community service and her expertise in the education field.
My name is Camille Williams and I nominate my mother, Carrie Athanasselis. Through it all — single teen mother of five children, drug addiction, homelessness, depression, anxiety — she is still managing to keep it together and raise me and four other siblings: Olivia, Carlos and Saundra Athanasselis, and Raymond Blaylark.
She started working for Hennepin County as a case worker and overcame addiction. She is one of the most intelligent, kind, caring, and generous people that you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. I know this for a fact because not only is she my mother, but she has taught me to learn for myself and love myself no matter what life may bring upon me.
She has also recently began to follow her own philosophy even further by looking into politics and making connections within the political and activist community in order to get her voice heard. She is a member of Black Free Thinker, Unitarian Society, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, and many other organizations.
Kathlyn G. Sterart
For as long as I can remember, my mom has been a champion for women and children. As a single parent, my mom knew the value of having resources available to mothers at every stage in their lives. Whether it was a single mother raising one or more children, a battered woman looking to escape her abuser with her life and the lives of her children intact, or assisting women in transition by being a foster parent, my mom has always been an advocate for women in Twin Cities and beyond.
As the former director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, former director of the St. Joseph’s Shelter for Little Children, and the former director of Transitional Housing and former assistant director for the Food Pantry at Sabathani Community Center, it would be a joy to see my mom recognized by the community she has long served.
My mom is still “shining in the spotlight” as a reserve teacher for the Minneapolis Public Schools and has never let her diagnosis with the auto-immune disease Sjogrens stop her.
I’d like to nominate my mother, Cheryl Welch, to be recognized this December. It’s so easy for us to say everything our mothers have done for us. But I want to tell you what my mother hasn’t done for me.
She has never allowed me to settle for less than what I deserve. My entire life she has pushed me to be great and give my all to whatever task I am engaged in. She has never left me high and dry. My mother has always provided me with the tools I need to excel in life.
She has never shown me what not to do as a parent. My mother raised me and my four other siblings with my father. Life wasn’t always easy, but it was always full of love, and encouragement, and nourishment. My mother has never let me feel ashamed of her. She has been a constant example in my life of the belief that you can do what you set your mind to.
I am most proud of her becoming a pastor, and I envy her steadfast faith and connection with God. My mother has never let me feel not loved. When my days are terrible and my nights are long I can eventually rest easy because I know within my mother I have the support and love of someone who truly cares. I love my mother, and I have been blessed to call her mom.
While every mother is special, some are just extraordinary in their willingness to help their families and others. That is one of the many reasons why I chose to nominate Liz Moore as mother of the year. Liz Moore has been a devoted, loyal, steadfast and loving mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. She is very committed not only to her children, but to the community and our youth. Since my mother passed away, Liz has made me feel so welcome with her warms hugs and inspirational words. She is phenomenal. To me a good mother will always put the needs of others in front of her own and Liz Moore does just that. She is the perfect example of an outstanding mother.
I would like to nominate my step mother Barbara Cassius. She works tirelessly in the community by volunteering her time at Estes Funeral Home, as well as promoting the Sister Spokesman events at all times. She has shown me and so many others how to work hard and to volunteer just as much. Never has she asked for any compensation in any of her volunteer work. What a pillar in our community!
Ernestine Gates Armstrong
Ernestine Gates Armstrong has been a pillar in the South Minneapolis community for over 50 years. She lived on 39th and 5th Avenue during those years and is known by “Granny” or Mother Gates in the neighborhood. She was also known as the “Lady with the big Hat” by the radio community.
She has been a foster mother for over 30 years and has welcomed numerous kids in her home when they often had nowhere else to go. It wasn’t surprising on a summer afternoon to see her yard filled with kids of all ages. She ran “Songs of Praise” on KFAI Radio for over 23 years, filling many homes with gospel singing on Sunday mornings between 6 and 9 am. She is the founder of the “Ole 4th Avenue Parade and Festival,” and implemented the Ole 4th Avenue South Drum & Bugle Corp in the 90s.
She worked with the City of Minneapolis. as a public health nurse and was one of the community members who named Parents in Community Action (PICA) which is now PICA Head Start. She served as pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist in South Minneapolis until her illness in early 2015. She has also brightened many homes during the holiday because she provides toys for tots and thanksgiving baskets to those in need.
Mother Gates has five children of her own, 14 grandkids and 10 great grandkids and a host of nieces, nephews and children she calls her own.
My name is Akeeylah Watkins and I would like to nominate my mother, Sheronda Orridge, for the recognition of Black mothers. My mom is a single mom who has took care of me without the help of my father. She has always been a part of my education and my extra activities, such as City Songs, and the step team. She has even volunteered or worked at every school I have attended with the exception of one. Not only is my mom a great mother, she is an excellent role model. She went back to school online and received her Ph.D.
My mother taught me a strong work ethic — I helped with the home daycare since the age of 10 and we have performed together, singing and doing spoken word throughout the Twin Cities. My mom moved me to a house in Frogtown when I was three and we have lived in our house for 18 years.
I even witnessed my mom fighting Wells Fargo to keep our house and she won. My mom has took me on family vacations. I have been to New York, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Jamaica, and many other places. For my 18th birthday she gave me a Rites of Passage celebration, and for my 21st birthday she took me to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
My mother has been a great provider but she has also taught me morals, values, and how to stand up for myself and others. I traveled to Washington, D.C. with her where we marched together for financial justice. By the time I was 17 I had three youth awards for leadership and I attributed those accomplishments to her.
Last year, child protection removed three of my uncle’s daughters out of their home, and my mother became a foster parent. When they moved in they were two, five, and seven. They are still with us and she is now working to get custody of them.
I nominate this young lady because I personally witnessed her strategically plan her resignation, and take a huge leap of faith to pursue her passion (which is blossoming into a beautiful career!) I watch her juggle and balance her home life, in which she is raising two wonderful kids, providing richness of the African American culture, stability, and educational growth for them. She pours out her love in support of her Northside community, in which she is a homeowner. She has overcome many obstacles in the pursuit of her dreams with tenacity and determination. I salute this 35-year-old D.I.V.A.!
Abuse, homelessness, child protection, being a single parent, doubt and fear — these are just some of the things that Lowanda Harvey had to overcome. In 2012, she and her seven children left her abusive husband and headed to a homeless shelter. She then acted on a Summit Academy ad she heard on the radio, enrolling in a 20-week construction program while her children were in school. After graduating, she went to Thor Construction. It took four months, but she was offered a chance to work on the new Vikings stadium. She was the only female carpenter on her crew and the only Black female carpenter. She admits it was an intimidating environment. Not only did being female and Black make it intimidating, the job itself was intimating. She has also enrolled in University of St. Thomas’ Project Management certificate program.