She and her husband together established the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation and support various initiatives that help minority students. In her honor, the Morehouse School of Medicine broke ground last year for the Billye Suber Aaron Pavilion.
Each year at its signature fundraiser, Salute to Women of Achievement, YWCA of Greater Atlanta honors a Georgia woman whose leadership and civic work represents the organization’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women. Women who have unshakable faith, unabashed resolve and are relentless in their pursuit of their passions, their professional achievements and their community involvement.
Women selected to receive the YWCA award, and others named to the YWCA Women of Achievement Academy, volunteer or work in the areas of education, advocacy or health and wellness, according to Sharmen Gowens, YMCA of Greater Atlanta CEO. Each year, 10 women are selected for the academy and one additional woman receives the top honor.
I imagine the selection process isn’t easy. Metro Atlanta has some of the most influential, talented and successful women in the nation. It’s one of the things that eventually drew me here 10 years ago. I saw it as a place of opportunity for women like me, where I could make a mark and a difference.
I’ve always admired and applauded the work of the YWCA. While there are many other organizations – big and small – out there helping women (a huge shout out and thank you to them) the YWCA’s consistency has spanned generations and issues.
I grew up with the “Y” in the D.C.-Virginia area. As a child the “Y” was more of a place than an organization. It was the place children went for fun, for safety, for education, for mentorship. I always knew it to be a place that people could go for help. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I began to understand its greater mission of community service.
But when I was growing up in the 70s I really only knew the “Y” as the YMCA. Honestly, I always thought the YWCA and YMCA were the same except that one focused on men’s needs and the other on women’s needs. I’m sure I’m not the only person who was confused.
Gowens said the organizations are separate with very different missions stretching beyond gender.
She reminded me how the organization has helped a countless number of homeless women and children over the years. It also has programs that prepare young girls for S.T.E.M. careers, programs that urge women to get more involved in the political process and a number of health initiatives. The main focus, she said, is eliminating racism and empowering women.
If anyone embodies that mission it’s Billye Suber Aaron.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women,” said Aaron, after accepting the YWCA’s Woman of Achievement award.
I don’t know Aaron personally but I have a hunch that she’s the kind of person who would prefer to reward others than to bask in her own well-deserved accolades.
“We eat from fields every day that we did not plant. We drink from wells we didn’t dig. We live by liberties that we did not secure,” Aaron told a crowd of hundreds gathered this week at the YWCA event. “That means there’s a special responsibility to continue planting and digging and fighting for freedom, peace and dignity.”
“She’s a woman I so admire … a catalyst,” Gowens said of Aaron, in explaining why she deserved the honor.
Personally, I have come to realize that women like Aaron and Gowens shouldn’t make us question what we have done with our lives. Instead they serve as motivators and encouragement for us to keep living. They remind us that it’s never too late to start making a difference in someone else’s life.
In addition to recognizing Aaron, the YWCA inducted 10 distinguished Atlanta leaders into the YWCA Academy of Women Achievers. The honorees are making a difference for women and girls in the areas of education and economic empowerment, health and safety, and advocacy and social justice.
The YWCA is already preparing for its next big event. In October, the organization will lead a social justice forum on race and gender. If there was ever a time in our world when more discussion and conversation is needed on this topic, it’s now.
Find out more about the social justice forum and the YWCA Academy of Women Achievers at www.ywcaatlanta.org.
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