Powerful Women Power Up Women’s History Month
by Dianne Anderson
Even before she could fully grasp the urgency of social justice, Joan Powell was always in tow as a little girl with her devout NAACP parents running off to meetings, rallies and the great Martin Luther King March on Washington.
But it is in hearing all the familiar stories of discrimination that continued through the decades that made her all more determined to keep the movement alive.
“I may not be able to carry signs like I did in the past, but there are other things I can do,” said Powell, President of Orange County Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women.
Recently, she was elected to the National Executive Board of NCNW, Inc., Member at Large in Washington D.C. Her next big project is applying to get on the Orange County Relations Council as a commissioner.
She is also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which both groups often work together nationally and regionally, and it has also fueled her mission to empower women and the community.
“The sorority and NCNW have been so impactful in my life, it has allowed me to branch out to do health care advocacy and bridge projects dealing with the community and law enforcement,” she said.
The Bridge Project, a community-based Black Orange County listening project with the Anaheim California Law Enforcement is another local effort that she started with Cathy Steele Woodard, and other community activists. The project was modeled after efforts in Charleston South Carolina, where white supremacist Dylann Roof walked into a Black church and killed nine elders during Bible study in 2015.
“That’s going to be the big thing now, we’re trying to create the space to talk to the community members about bridging the gap between police and the community. We want to hear what the younger people and college students have to say,” she said.
Despite discovering that she has a rare blood disease Myelodysplastic Syndrome in 2014, her fight has only grown stronger to bring outreach and awareness to the community on health issues, patient rights and the high cost of medications.
Another goal of the local section NCNW is Saving our Sisters, a program supporting homeless and displaced women, and connecting them to resources.
Last year, Powell was recognized as Soror of the Year, Orange County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. Coming up, she said the sorority anticipates hosting its Delta Days in Sacramento, and from there, hope to go New York and the nation’s capitol.
Powell is now finishing out as a delegate since her 2019 appointment to the California Political Party Central Committee of Orange County for assembly district 73. She said the Delta sorority and NCNW are both nonpartisan, but dedicated to keeping the community informed about where local candidates stand on the issues, and the importance of the vote.
“It’s who you vote for city council, it’s the judges. It’s just not the president of the United States, it’s the senate and congress. It starts at the local levels, the school boards,” said Powell, also Delta chair of the hospitality committee and chair of the arts and letters committee.
To change the trajectory involves chipping away at policy to reduce racial barriers, which for her, is helping women and children. Among her decades of community outreach, Powell has served with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Association, Collete‘s Children’s home, Crittenton Family services, Homeless Programs, and as a Domestic Violence Hotline Counselor, to name a few.
“It’s about uniting the community making them aware that we have rights, civil rights, social rights, health rights. You have to put it in action, you have to form groups, committees, whatever you need to do to empower our people,” she said.
Gerry Morgan Smith was also recently elected treasurer for the National NCNW, where she will be in charge of crunching the numbers on a bigger budget.
Smith, who holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s in accounting, is the finance committee chair for the local section for over a year, now responsible for financial reporting at the national level.
One of her concerns is keeping personal finance in front of the community. Last year, she held several financial literacy webinars for college students, and said money matters start at a young age.
“We talked about what their credit score means, and about investing. We send our children to college and a lot of times they don’t have that information. Someone sends them a credit card, but no one tells them the impact,” she said.
Right now, Americans have hit $17 trillion in debt, the highest in history. She worries that too many people reach for the plastic, as college students are targeted for what they see as easy money.
“That interest rate can be 27% over time. A lot of credit card companies now have some astronomical number of years to pay off the card,” she said.
She loves reaching the local community, educating Black youth, and teaching them how to create and keep wealth.
“They can order as many pizzas as they want on that credit card,” she said. “When they increase interest rates on those credit cards, they’re hit right in the face.”
To learn more of the National NCNW, see https://ncnw.org/