A Message From The President

February 2024

When one overlooks or forgives the origins, how and why of Valentine’s Day (possibly brutal and sexist) and Black History Month (an acknowledgment of contributions, but also due to an unfortunate erasure and lack of inclusion of such contributions) ~ we have two things to celebrate in February: love and Black people (in the United States).

Love is an action. We all know that there are variations of love ~ from romantic to sisterly to tough and many more. Love worth celebrating, nonetheless.

And there are numerous contributions from Black people in action ~ in love ~ from building strong families and communities to patriotically serving in the military to fulfilling numerous public and private roles to fighting for human rights (that never should have been denied) in the women’s movement and the Civil Rights Movement and in just about every meaningful change for good in this country. This is true not only in movements of equity or equality, but among inventors, innovators, creatives, educators, scientists and all the amazing talent that made this country great. Black people contributed and often led advancements too often erased from historical references.

Personally, I’ve always believed that racism is an invalid paradigm, a human-made construct. An unfortunately effective one deep-rooted in hate and fear, because there’s scientific proof that no race is superior. So everything about racism should be null and void by thinking humans. Yet, it isn’t.

It’s unpopular to be racist because it’s fed by hate. Deep down people know this and it’s why people don’t ever want to be perceived as racist. Even if their behaviors say otherwise. It’s also why some people don’t/won’t acknowledge the reality of racism – it’s hateful, flows from a desire for absolute power, and would require people to do some soul-searching to confront bias, discrimination and privilege. Pursuing such insightfulness, enlightenment and empathy is heavy, deep work not to be approached by the weak.

Black people in the U.S have shown a resilience, not always by choice, but through their deep knowing, understanding and appreciation that all humans are equal. With a persistence to act in love incessantly (more often than not), Black people remain hopeful as they navigate systems that have historically and covertly obstructed their inalienable rights.

To deny the struggles of Black people in any way ~ past or present ~ is equivalent to saying that women have been treated fairly, experienced no obstacles and have been treated equal to men in the U.S.

To deny the realities of racism would be equivalent to saying that people who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community have always felt safe and loved in this country, and their very existence and rights have never been threatened.

To deny that the system has not and does not act against equity and equality for many Black people is equivalent to saying that religious persecution is not real. It is to deny the reality of those who live in fear due to their faith; those who sometimes secretly and invisibly suffer because they might be able to move through that fear, yet it can still be crushing and debilitating.

To deny that Black people have been ignored is equivalent to saying that our country has been inclusive of people with disabilities. Denial is akin to saying that able-ism doesn’t exist and those with visible and/or invisible disabilities always feel safe and remembered in the U.S. (even though news reports repeatedly show the opposite.)

At the intersection of these realities sits Black women. From the societal pressures of physical beauty imposed upon women (from weight to what we wear) to the expectations of mothering and doing it all to colorism to [insert every other challenge women face] ~ getting piled on to everything else is Blackness.

And if you see Blackness celebrated these days (too excessively perhaps for some), it’s because to do anything else would be the opposite of loving. Justifiably. So instead, the persistence of our ancestors carries us through.

Every woman in Athena Society has experienced some form of privilege. This doesn’t deny anyone’s challenges or struggles but is a realistic assessment of where we sit with our criteria for membership. It is no surprise that this group has college-educated, first and only, individuals amongst its membership base. The basic necessities we all have. And I’d like to believe we all understand the reality of racism.

So this Black History Month and year, I encourage us all to push a step further beyond learning. Go beyond anything work-related or HR-mandated. As Athena women, of course we have done and are doing great things in our professions and advocations.

But let’s discuss where love comes in. Changing hearts is challenging enough as is, and certainly isn’t easy on the job. But getting personal and vulnerable ~ in your communities, neighborhoods, friend circles, families and within Athena Society ~ is where hearts get activated. While living through this hostile time, we can be the beacons of love and hope that people need.

Love in action looks like:
–knowing Black women are women. Period.  (For clarity and purposes of this message I have specified.)

–having relationships with women (who don’t look like you) and being ready to refer/recommend them for opportunities (e.g. executive roles, board seats, speaking engagements, etc.).
–making a coffee or lunch date with someone you’d like to genuinely get to know better (make new friends).
–speaking up in circles you’re a part of when you see inclusivity and belonging is not considered.
–identifying opportunities for self-growth. Consider taking the Harvard Implicit Association Tests and reviewing this checklist for white allies.
–gathering a group to watch the movie, “13th” or reading a book on anti-racism (see the DEIB tab on the Athena Society website and additional resources here) and having open and honest discussions. Then assigning a person who will ask, “What’s next?” Engaging Black people (more than a couple), and then establishing a “do” to be done. (Without the need for recognition.)
–being close enough to ask questions and seek to understand.
–having awareness of when Black women don’t need nor want support.

Thank you to all of you who have been doing these things, are doing things, and will continue or begin to do these loving actions.

I hope that you all will be able to attend this month’s program, “Come Sit in My Kitchen” a behind-the-scenes conversation about the daily challenges Black women face and ways to become a part of the solution.

With a grateful heart,

Nancy Vaughn

*If you’re wondering why “Black” is capitalized, I follow AP style guidelines (used by journalists) and here’s their update.

*To the (Black) women in Athena, a love letter, courtesy of The Highland Project. Please consider sharing this love letter with the Black women leaders in your life.

*This year’s Black History Month theme is: “African Americans and the Arts.” Here are ways to celebrate in the Tampa Bay region.

Athena Society Position Statements

Affirmative Action
The Athena Society favors ongoing action to remove barriers and secure access to the full range of educational, employment and economic opportunities for all people. Therefore, Athena advocates for affirmative action programs.

Diversity and Inclusion
The Athena Society is committed to policies and actions that value and promote diversity, inclusivity, and differences in race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, ability, and gender. We advocate for justice for all.

Racial Equity & Justice

(established in 2020 by a CAC sub-committee to replace the Tolerance position statement)
The Athena Society is concerned with the systemic and structural wealth inequity, inequality and the injustices that Black people endure today, stemming from over 400 years of racism including slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow, white terror, federal policies, racist laws, voter suppression and disproportionate incarceration. The Athena Society rejects racist beliefs, behaviors, policies and practices; and embraces the development of antiracist policies and actions that ensure racial equity and justice for Black people within all spaces including, but not limited to, workplaces, neighborhoods, governing boards, courtrooms, schools, healthcare institutions, and civic arenas.