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'Our History Is Our Strength'

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Rialto conference celebrates Womenʼs History Month with laughter and bare knuckle candor

By Chris Levister –

Be smart, be inspiring, be accountable, be family, and beware of walls painted to look like doors. That was the message to a packed house at Rialto Senior Center, Saturday from some of the Inland regions most powerful women.

March is Women’s History Month, this year’s theme, is “Our History Is Our Strength”. The event co-hosted by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), gives women an opportunity to stop take a moment to reflect on the barriers that women have overcome and to celebrate what they have accomplished throughout our nation’s history, said host and Rialto Councilmember Deborah Robertson.

“The people gathered here need to see that women are not just nurturers and teachers, we are elected leaders and bridge builders,” said Robertson.

A panel presentation by local elected leaders including Assembly member Amina Carter, Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, San Bernardino County Supervisor Josie Gonzales and Rialto School Board member Joanne Gilbert drew words of praise, condemnation, caution and plenty of thunderous laughter.

“We can be trailblazers but we’ve also got to get back to our role of raising our sons and daughters,” explained Fontana’s first African American Mayor Acquanetta Warren.

“We are missing in action at school board and city council meetings, we’re absent at our children’s weekend softball games,” said Warren a single parent and Deputy Director of Public Works-Operations in the City of Upland.

“Our kids are being raised by street vandals while many of us women spend Saturdays at the beauty parlor getting our hair and nails done. We have to take the intelligent route to gender equality,” said Warren.

San Bernardino County Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales reminded listeners that barriers to equality still exist recalling her contentious election to serve as board chair during the next two years.

“The case made by certain individuals on the board for not electing me to the chairmanship in January wasn’t pretty,” said Gonzales.

“The camouflage, it works beautifully as you look at it until you go up to touch it. You say to yourself there’s a keyhole, and a door knob where I can insert the master key I think I have,” Gonzales told the crowd. “But no, that was not the case. Instead there is an immediate invention of phraseology that very kindly said no. But when you leave and go home and think about it, it was in fact a - hell no.”

The crowd erupted in applause. “Ladies you’ve got to be aware of the wall painted to look like a door,” warned Gonzales.

Assemblywoman Carter a Democrat kept the upbeat crowd roaring with applause and laughter emphasizing the important but sometimes humorous side of women helping women.

“Several elected leaders got together recently to talk about what we could do to help the Inland Empire. Acquanetta was part of that roundtable. Someone walked in and said, ‘she’s a Republican’. I said wait a minute, we don’t play that partisan mess down here. We help each other.”

Carter told listeners that solving the state’s budget problems must be a shared effort.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican, male or female. You have to put your nose to the grinding stone and do what’s right for the good of the people of California,” said Carter.

“We must recognize what a struggle it’s been and celebrate the progress,” said Gilbert who told the crowd of her fight for gender diversity.

“I’m the only female on the Rialto School Board. But I had to fight to keep it from becoming all male. Gender diversity, it shows, makes some people uncomfortable -- but discomfort isn't always a bad thing. It can produce a healthy giveand- take that may have eluded a group of people with more similar backgrounds and approaches.”

“During today’s difficult times, Our History is our Strength can serve as an important reminder to our nation and the world that adversity can be overcome,” said Rialto Mayor Grace Vargas.

American women are making headway in employment and college education, but the nagging pay-gap still exists, a new White House report finds. The earnings gap between men and women has narrowed, but the report shows that on average women still only make 75% as much as their male counterparts.

The report released last week highlighting areas including income, family and crime against women, found that women aren’t just getting a better education, but they’re putting off marriage and having fewer children as a result of their career choices, yet those lifestyle shifts haven’t translated into the pocketbook. Statistics also show women are more likely than men to live in poverty.

“As we know women excel in math and science all throughout middle and high school. Then they hit a wall. The support system disappears,” said Deborah Berg, CEO of Berg and Associates Construction Management. Launched in 1980, her company manages over $150 million in public works construction projects annually from its nine California offices.

“We have to stop allowing others to define who we are as women. We need to stick on some hard hats, pick up some wrenches and tell ourselves there are no limits. Only the ones we place on ourselves,” said Berg.

Mary Bethune founder of NCNW always used her hand to illustrate her point, said Lois Carson, president of NCNW – Inland Empire Section.

"With one finger she said, if I tap you, you may not even know that you have been touched,” “With two fingers, she declared, you may well know that you have been tapped. But if I bring all of my fingers together and make a fist I can give you a mighty blow. That mighty blow was not a violent one at each other - it was a recognition that we have each other.”

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