More than 1,000 members of Jack and Jill of America Inc. are slated to convene in Philadelphia for the organization’s 40th national convention this week.
It will be held under the theme “Living the Legacy: Honoring Our Past, Celebrating Our Present, Securing Our Future” July 24–29 at Philadelphia Marriott Downtown.
The event, which marks the organization’s 75th anniversary, is expected to draw 1,500 attendees and have an economic impact of $3.2 million.
National Jack and Jill President Tara Joseph-Labrie will preside over the convention, which will include the election of national officers and leadership development.
“This is the largest-attended convention that we’ve had in Jack and Jill’s history, and I’m just delighted to be the national president and be the host and serve as the chair,” said Joseph-Labrie.
“This convention will highlight our history, our members, our achievements and the partnerships we have forged over the years. We look forward to sharing our extraordinary history and allowing everyone throughout the Greater Philadelphia region to have an opportunity to learn about our impact as we gather in Philadelphia for this milestone event.”
Jack and Jill will host a teen summit titled “Aim to Live, Lead and Succeed” on July 24 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Children from the Philadelphia Boys and Girls Club have been invited to attend the summit, which will feature a keynote address by Marlon Smith, founder of Street Academics, a high school youth mentoring program.
A convention highlight includes a public meeting July 25 from 5:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown’s Grand Ballroom. Valerie B. Jarrett, senior adviser to President Barack Obama will be the featured speaker. Lifetime achievement awards will be presented to poet Sonia Sanchez and music legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Mayor Michael Nutter and representatives from the region’s National Pan-Hellenic Council’s fraternities and sororities are expected to attend.
Joseph-Labrie says community service projects are an important aspect of this year’s convention.
“I am a true believer that Jack and Jill was founded not only for the principle of the social and educational activities, but more importantly for the philanthropy, and to ensure that our children truly understand the importance of giving back,” she said.
With that in mind, members of Jack and Jill will renovate a local elementary school library during the convention.
Members from Jack and Jill chapters in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware have led the convention steering committee.
“It is with enormous pride that we welcome our members and their families to Philadelphia. This committee has worked extremely hard to ensure that everyone has an interactive and educational experience during their stay in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection,” said Henri G. Moore, chair of the steering committee.
“We look forward to our members having an enjoyable time while they carry out the business of Jack and Jill, and are empowered to return to their communities ready to make a positive and lasting impact,” said Moore.
In addition to attending meetings and participating in community service projects, convention attendees will visit regional attractions such as the Franklin Institute and the New Jersey State Aquarium.
Members of Jack and Jill say the organization has enabled their children to form longstanding friendships and prepares them for the future.
Steering committee co-chair Shelly Pullian appreciates how it is helping to prepare her children for future leadership roles.
“We are training leaders of tomorrow. Once our children become teens they actually learn how to become leaders of the organization. We do a lot of leadership building. We do a lot of financial awareness building so that our children are prepared to enter the world and be active members of society,” said Pullian.
Sandy Booth, a former president of the Jack and Jill Philadelphia chapter, joined the organization three years ago. Her daughter and stepson have participated in activities such as holiday brunches and ski trips.
“My family has really enjoyed our association. My daughter has made some of her best friends in Jack and Jill,” said Booth.
“It not only gives opportunities for our kids to be involved, but for mothers to be involved in governance of the organization and steering the direction of the group.”
Jack and Jill was founded in Philadelphia on Jan. 24, 1938, by 20 African-American mothers who wanted their children to have cultural opportunities, develop leadership skills and form social networks.
Today the organization has more than 220 chapters whose families represent 30,000 family members. Membership is by invitation only and is open to mothers of children between the ages of 2 and 19.
The organization’s national programming thrust, AIM for Healthy Living, is designed to engage and encourage children to live healthy lifestyles through chapter programming and decrease the risk of preventable diseases that disproportionately impact the African-American community.
Chapters hold cultural activities, leadership training and legislative and social events for their children, while hosting fundraisers to support the Jack and Jill of America Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm that has distributed millions of dollars to communities across the country since its inception in 1968.
Notable Jack and Jill alumnae include actresses Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen, Betty Shabazz and Dr. Lilia Abron, the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in chemical engineering.
As lawmakers in Washington try to hammer out a budget agreement and avoid a fiscal crisis, another issue is also on the table during the lame duck session of Congress — the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act or VAWA.
In April, a version of VAWA was approved by the Senate by a vote of 68 to 31, despite some Republican opposition to certain provisions of the bill. But the battle over VAWA’s reauthorization has now moved to the House of Representatives and supporters of VAWA are concerned that, with a little more than two weeks left, the law may be allowed to expire.
The United States has made tremendous progress on violence against women and girls domestically since the passage of VAWA in 1994,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama when the measure passed the Senate. “Since the passage of the Act, annual rates of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent. The Violence Against Women Act, something that should be above politics, is mired in just that on the Hill. The Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill three months ago. The House should take up the Senate bill so we can get this important bill to the president's desk. Women should not have to wait a day longer. As the vice president has said, Congress should act now to protect women.”
In Philadelphia, a recent report was released detailing the scope of violence against women in the city. Titled Violence Against Women in Philadelphia — A Report to the City, the study indicated that the Philadelphia Police Department handled 145,904 calls that were related to domestic violence in 2011. The number of arrests increased from 4,927 to 6,256 between 2009 and 2011.
“The Philadelphia Police Department should continue its positive and constructive relationship with the city’s domestic violence and rape crisis agencies,” the report said. “Philadelphia is one of the few, if not the sole city in which victim advocates are allowed to review every rape case. And the department involves local domestic violence agencies in efforts to improve all services to victims with the goal of reducing violence against women.”
Such violence was displayed on Nov. 28 with the murder of Rasheedah Blunt, a 27-year old mother. According to police, the victim was shot multiple times inside a second floor apartment in the 3500 block of Old York Road just before 11:30 p.m. Investigators are looking for her live-in boyfriend, Dominique Haynes, 33. Police were called to the location following a violent argument in which neighbors reported hearing several gunshots. They found Blunt in the bed dead from multiple gunshot wounds. Two children, a 3-year-old boy and the victim’s 6-year-old daughter were present in the residence but were not harmed.
In February, Tiffany Gillespie, 24, was six-months pregnant with her third child when she was allegedly shot to death by her boyfriend, Aaron Fitzpatrick. Investigators said that Fitzpatrick killed Gillespie following an argument in which he tried to convince her to get an abortion and she refused.
The Violence Against Women Act was originally drafted by then Sen. Joe Biden and signed into law by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1994. It was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. The law provides grant programs that help local law enforcement in identifying and prosecuting domestic abuse offenders and sexual predators, as well as programs that assist the victims. The new version would restructure and consolidate grant programs and create new programs to raise awareness on college campuses. GOP lawmakers are concerned about provisions covering undocumented workers and members of the LGBT community.
State Sen. Leanna Washington, a survivor of domestic abuse, said that with recent budget cuts on the state level, the federal government can’t turn its back on victims of domestic violence.
“In Philadelphia victims of domestic violence have been turned away from agencies that could help them but don’t have enough beds to accommodate them. The state doesn’t have enough beds for these women and because of the budget cuts, funding for these agencies have either been scaled back or cut entirely,” she said. “We need this law and I’ve urged my friends in the Senate and Congress to support this. We typically see a rise in domestic violence in times of economic hardship and during the holidays. We’ve cut welfare benefits, what else are we going to cut? City Council just recently authorized $3 million to help provide additional beds for these victims but much more is needed. Some people might think, ‘Oh this doesn’t affect me’ but it does. Just because no one is saying anything doesn’t mean someone in your family isn’t being abused. Many of these victims suffer in silence.”
In an effort to increase youth participation in the 2012 re-election campaign of President Barack Obama, the Women Vote 2012 Summit traveled to Philadelphia and hosted campaign events at the Obama Campaign headquarters, 209 South 52nd Street, and the Philadelphia Convention Center.
Among those events was a luncheon held for 60 young women leaders at the Temple University Diamond Club on Monday. Through this event, African-American women between the ages of 18 and 21-years-old discussed empowerment, mentorship and civic engagement — and how they can help the re-election campaign.
The keynote speakers were Senior Advisor to the president Valerie Jarrett, and R&B singer Alicia Keys. Both Jarrett and Keys talked about the important role that women play both politically and socially.
Jarrett, who also serves as the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, talked about knowing the president and first lady, Michelle Obama, for 21 years. She shared a few anecdotes about the president’s upbringing, working with him and Michelle in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and his goals to advance education and heath care in the country.
“We have a leader who does not put his political objectives in front of you,” Jarrett said. “He wakes up every single morning, walks into that Oval Office and says, ‘What can I do for my girls and you to grow up in a world were you can do whatever you want to do?’”
Keys, who is a Grammy Award winner, an active philanthropist and co-founder and Global Ambassador of Keep a Child Alive — a non-profit organization that provides medicine to families with HIV and AIDS in Africa — encouraged women to rethink the voting process as a positive experience that brings enlightenment and social power.
“It’s wonderful for women like us to have a forum, a place where we can get together and we can talk about what’s happening and what’s going on in our world — because we have an opportunity to change things,” Keys said. “It is absolutely the case that we have to be involved. We must. There is no choice, because if we don’t utilize our voice, nothing will happen.”
Other special guests included Desiree Peterkin-Bell, the Obama campaign’s Pennsylvania Senior Advisor for communications, Councilman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Tina “DJ Diamond Kuts” Dunham, Jeri Lynne Johnson, founder and music director of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra and Charisse Lillie, vice president of community investment for the Comcast Corporation and president of the Comcast Foundation.
Aisha Winfield, founder of the Junior Music Executive, a non-profit organization created to expose students to careers in the music business, was also a special guest at the luncheon. She said she appreciated talking with the attendees.
“I told our table that we get a lot of negative images of young people in the city of Philadelphia,” Winfield said. “This is an extremely inspiring event for me to be able to talk to the young ladies about some of the things they’re interested in. It’s just reassuring that we do have young people who are willing to be in leadership positions for the country.”
For Ashley Ashby, this election will be her first time voting. She will attend Montgomery College to study nursing, but Ashby admitted that after talking with Jarrett, she is considering studying law.
“I feel excited,” Ashby said. “I feel included. I feel that my vote will count and he will win.”
Brittany Love, a Philadelphia resident and student at the University of South Carolina, came to the luncheon to understand the president’s campaign, and network with the other attendees.
“I want to know what he’s doing, and how I can possibility make a change to this election,” Love said. “I want what’s best for us. We all come from families that aren’t as fortunate as they could be, so it’s kind of hard for us to pay for our education. But, I could see determination within [the women]. Each of them have a glow that’s like, ‘I’m not stopping and I’m going to get there no matter what.’ That’s what we all have in common.”
Alicia Keys to visit Philly, give her support at Women Vote Summit
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney may have an edge on President Barack Obama in fundraising, but Obama appears to have cornered the political market on hip entertainers pushing his message.
R&B sensation and multi-platinum singer Alicia Keys is the next celebrity to work on Obama’s behalf. She’ll be the prime draw to Monday’s Women Vote 2012 Summit, which begins at 5 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch Street.
The event is free and open to the public.
Keys will join Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and senior Democratic strategist Valerie Jarrett in discussions of Obama’s various women-related initiatives, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the merits of the recently upheld Affordable Health Care Act.
“As a mother and a daughter, I know there is too much at stake in the upcoming elections to sit on the sidelines. I’m excited for next week’s Women Vote summit to talk about issues that are important to me and my family,” said Keys. “In his three years in office, President Obama has been an advocate for us since day one — from making health care more accessible and affordable to ensuring women can fight for equal pay for an equal day’s work. He has proven that he has the people in his heart! As a new mom, I am going to do everything I can to re-elect the president because this election will determine where we go as a country and what kind of world my child will grow up in.”
Recent polls show that the Obama-Romney gender gap is growing; in fact, Romney is facing a wider gender gap than John McCain did in 2008.
And the National Organization for Women recently endorsed Obama’s re-election, which will perhaps further motivate NOW’s 500,000 members and women voters in general.
“It is with great pride that I announce on behalf of the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots women’s rights organization, that the National Organization for Women Political Action Committee endorses President Barack Obama for re-election as president of the United States. NOW/PAC is proud to stand behind a president who unquestionably represents the path forward to achieve equality for women,” said NOW/PAC Chairwoman Terry O’Neill. “Throughout the past four years President Obama has listened to our concerns and repeatedly stood up for women’s rights against a right-wing juggernaut bent on undermining our access to reproductive health care, our economic security and even our safety from intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
“The extremists’ War on Women is all too real, and in order to win this struggle we must have strong allies in the White House who will work with us to implement policies that empower the women of this country to live healthy, safe and productive lives,” O’Neill continued. “President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have shown time and again that they are our allies.”