In 1974, during the fourth Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend, a small team of women came together in a Washington D.C. hotel room and mapped out “a national forum to articulate the needs and concerns of women and children.”
[pullquote]Literacy, girls’ empowerment + “measuring what you can”: Q+A with @NHBWINC president Deborah Summers[/pullquote]
The Joliet chapter was founded in 1991, after Deborah Summers and other Joliet residents recognized a desperate need in their community for an “active and collective voice on women’s issues.” Serving all women and their families, NHBW Joliet facilitates family preservation, builds self-empowerment and promotes economic development.
Today, Summers serves as the organization’s national executive director. A retired educator, Summers is passionate about literacy and empowering young girls.
“It’s amazing what it’s like when young people find their voice,” she says. “You can only be with them for so long; they have to develop the tools.”
Q: What inspires or motivates you to do good for others?
Deborah Summers, national president of the National Hook-Up of Black Women, Inc., delivers the keynote address at the Joliet chapter’s Founder’s Day Gala.
A: It’s that I don’t feel progress without others progressing. I feel united and connected to people. It feels strange when I don’t see movement and makes me feel like I’m standing still.
It can be frustrating in many ways, but I can’t judge where a person is in life or where they want to be. People have their own levels. If I can help those that want to be helped, I’d like to be a part of that.
Q: What is the greatest act of kindness or giving you have witnessed?
A: For me, it’s the act of kindness itself. When I see a smile on someone’s face, or someone just simply taking the time to talk to someone. What really brings me joy are those nonmaterial acts of kindness, especially when they brighten a child’s day.
If I’m able to have a conversation with someone and I see the change in them, that’s as good as it gets.
Q: How has giving changed the way you think about receiving help from others?
A: I’ve always had a problem with asking for help, though I don’t hesitate to help others. I’m always trying to be self-sufficient. Asking was so much easier when I learned that everyone’s lives indirectly or directly affect me.
When people buy into the fact that we’re all connected in some way, it makes it easier to ask for help.
When your own life is not flourishing, you think you can’t do good for others, but you can. There’s no gift that’s too small.
Q: How do you think giving creates stronger communities?
A: At National Hook-Up of Black Women, we try to start with literacy. We have a Reading for Life Literacy program and the particular thing we found out was that all we were dealing with–incarceration, teenage pregnancy, and when you really drill down into it, even health and wellness–illiteracy was at the root. Children imitate us so much, and if they have a family who reads…
In Joliet, we have 11 places where people can go and get free reading materials, and five reading rooms. We have book drop-offs at day cares and advocate centers for families; businesses help us collect books.
Our goal is to build literacy centers in homes. It will hopefully increase graduation rates and decrease incarceration rates.
Q: You are a philanthropist–what advice do you have for others who want to do good?
A: To see the vision and to do it. It doesn’t always require money. Sometimes it requires time.
When your own life is not flourishing, you think you can’t do good for others, but you can. There’s no gift that’s too small. We’ve had speakers come out and when they don’t focus on the amount of the people in the room, but know they can touch one person, that’s when you see how big those small measures are.
Your expectations of giving have to be adjusted when you’re in the business of helping, without looking for certain markers of being thanked. Sometimes you want to give to people who are not looking for what you’re giving. Don’t force things on people based on your standards of what they or their lives should be like. Your vision, your focus, your mission: stay focused on it, and on the client or recipient on the receiving end.
We become frustrated because we have these expectations. Sometimes they’re unrealistic or can’t be met. Measure what you can.