published Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Women are focus of the "It Takes a Village: Women and the Struggle for Justice" retreat

Council member Carol Berz attends a meeting of the Chattanooga City Council in this file photo.
Council member Carol Berz attends a meeting of the Chattanooga City Council in this file photo.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WOMEN IN TENNESSEE

• While 75 percent of Tennessee men age 20 to 64 are employed, only 64 percent of women in the same age group have jobs;

• Among women with children age 6 years or younger, 59 percent are employed.

• Median earnings for male workers in Tennessee are $41, 019, compared with $31,585 for female workers.

• Only about half as many Tennessee women as men own businesses.

Source: The Tennessee Economic Council on Women

In a room surrounded by females, Antonio Simpson doesn't have a bit of trouble answering the question, "What do you know about women?"

"I wouldn't be here without women," the 38-year-old veteran and former law enforcement officer says.

The exercise was part of the seventh annual social justice retreat, "It Takes a Village: Women and the Struggle for Justice," held Friday at Grace Episcopal Church in Chattanooga.

"Things are not getting any better [in the issues of disparity] and we wanted to identify what we can do to effect change," said Lucilla Nash, from Chattanooga State Community College and one of the event's organizers.

Simpson, a 6-foot-5-inch former basketball and football player, said he understands and appreciates women as a whole.

"Some men don't want to hear about the inequality, but the truth is that women get paid less and are seen as a second a lot of times in everything," said Simpson, a Cleveland State Community College student who wants to counsel veterans about substance abuse.

Women, who make up more than 50 percent of the state's population, "hold communities together," said Valerie Radu, founding member of the Grove Street Settlement House, an organization that works to strengthen community roots.

"There's so much research that, if you empower women, it changes everything," said Radu, wearing a blue T-shirt depicting Jane Addams, a pioneer settlement worker and leader in women's suffrage.

On Friday, the first exercise for the 91 participants at the retreat was to answer the question: "What do you bring today?" on a sticky note.

One by one, young women, older women, men with working boots, men with muscular arms, walked to the white poster boards taped to the walls and stuck their response on it.

Within minutes, the white was covered with pink, blue, green and yellow pages with words such as "resilience," "big heart," "active listening," "endurance."

The idea, organizers said, was to figure out what each of them could do to be active in their communities.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson talked about her own experience in activism.

Her mother was a member of the original Black Panther party and her father was a radio show host who focused on issues affecting Hamilton County's black community, she said.

Her own interest in voting led to a full-time job as an organizer with United Campus Workers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

She's also a board member of the advocacy group Chattanooga Organized for Action.

"There are so many things to be concerned about, so many attacks, attacks on women, immigrants, the environment," she said. "What do we do to activate people to mobilize around that?"

Chattanooga City Councilwoman Carol Berz talked about how social work, the field most of the attendees are studying or practicing, led her to run for public office.

"The problems we have today are not Republican or Democratic, they are human," she said. "What we need is for people to fight for what's right for human beings."

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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