The event supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
Charlie Sutton, BGCC director, said he thought the benefit was fun and exciting.
“I think it spoke to the importance of meeting the needs of children generally and specifically,” Sutton said. “The program is designed to position women in the community to reach out to younger girls in and outside of our clubs.”
Continued Sutton, “It affords a great future for children who really need our help the most.”
As is tradition, three ladies were honored at Thursday night’s event. Everyone waited as emcee Cindy Sexton built the anticipation. No one but the committee knew the three names listed.
Audience members were told the criteria used to determine the award winners, prior to the reveal.
“She must show true character of what empowerment represents in all women. She must be community-oriented female ... never expecting anything in return or never expecting public recognition,” Sexton said. “She responds when called on and often [acts] before being called on.”
“She is active in her community and takes on roles of leadership. She represents high standards and good moral values. Sometimes, but not always, this woman has overcome obstacles to become the woman she is. And, she shares her stories with others in order to give them a chance to grow.”
Sexton revealed the award winners were Megan Bryson, 2013 Empowering Women Youth winner; Donna Elle, 2013 Success with Life and Compassion winner; and Sandra Rowland, 2013 Empowering Woman of the Year.
Rowland said she was honored and shocked to receive the award for Woman of the Year.
“It is so important to encourage these young people. [The Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland] does such a great job,” Rowland said. “Thank you so much. ... This is very special to me.”
Guest speaker Liz Murray shared how her life went from living in a home with drug-abusing parents to her acceptance and education at Harvard College.
She also shared how everything is not as black and white as the audience might think.
“Despite everything I just told you about my environment, I experienced myself deeply loved by my parents. I know they loved me and I loved them so very much,” Murray said. “I am one of those people who feel drug addiction is a disease. When I saw my parents use like that, I just thought they were sick. It was a gut feeling they were not well.
“As a result of that, I could not find it in my heart to be angry at them.”
She said her mother would tuck her and her sister in every night. Both of them received a nightly rain of kisses across their faces. Then Murray’s mother would discuss her ‘what if’s’, or dreams, as they laid in bed.
When Murray was 16 her mother passed away.
“I realized you could leave this world with your dreams still inside of you,” Murray said.
She also pointed out people who lose everything else still have their dreams.
Murray realized her dreams involved having an education. Numerous rejections from high schools came before she finally received a yes. Within two years she finished all four years of high school.
Murray attributes her success to her mentor, Perry.
“I got the sense he cared,” Murray said. “He bothered to ask me questions [at the interview]. He talked to me. I wasn’t just a piece of paper to him.”
Perry gave Murray her first handshake at the end of their meeting. He also gave her a sense of accountability.
“If you treat people like they are broken, then they will always need to be fixed,” Murray said.
Through Perry’s mentorship, a scholarship from the New York Times and determination, Murray made it to Harvard, eventually graduating.
She warned against people letting others tell them what is possible in their own lives.
“No one knows what is possible until you do it,” Murray said. “Especially not someone telling you what is possible from their couch.”
Sutton said he felt Murray’s message was applicable to the members of the BGCC.
“A lot of our kids echo Liz Murray’s story in that each day, especially in the summer, they struggle to meet their daily food needs, because their nutritional needs take a back seat to substance abuse,” Sutton said. “In the 20 years of working for the Boys & Girls Clubs, it is a common thread I see. That is truly an issue which can go under the radar.”
Sutton said there needs to be a Perry in every child’s life.
“I believe that is one of the things Janey Cooke really wants to see. She really wanted to meet the needs of kids,” Sutton said. “We need more Perrys in Bradley County ... that are willing to step up in place of parents, because many of our parents do not care anymore. A part of that not caring is due to substance abuse.”
Cooke said she believed the event was a success.
“I am pleased to say the Cleveland community attended our Empowering Women event in large numbers once again last evening, making it a huge success,” Cooke said. “Liz Murray takes the hearts of many as she told her powerful story and we all walked away as better individuals because of the message.”