By Ruth Bayang
Northwest Asian Weekly
“We celebrate the end of a chapter, but this is a book. And somebody else has to write the next chapter, and you may be in this room.” Those were the comments from Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu at the final Women of Color Empowered (WoCE) luncheon on Sept. 16.
Close to 400 people attended the sold out and lively event at China Harbor restaurant. Yu was a panelist, along with former University of Washington School of Law Assistant Dean Sandra Madrid, former State Sen. Claudia Kauffman, Seattle Central College President Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange. KING 5 anchor Lori Matsukawa emceed the event, and Seattle Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim gave a warm introduction.
Phyllis G. Kenney, a former member of the Washington House of Representatives and former WoCE honoree, said, “I look out in the audience. And I see a beautiful quilt of many colors.” She said the luncheons over the past 20 years have meant a lot to her. “It is believing the impossible — hold tight to the incredible, and live each day to its fullest potential. You can make a difference in your world, and every single one of you has made a difference in your world and your community, and you have to keep doing this.”
WoCE was the brainchild of community leader and Northwest Asian Weekly publisher Assunta Ng, to recognize the accomplishments of women of color who are trailblazers in their field and for these women to network and learn from each other. More than 550 women have been honored over the past 20 years.
“Assunta is a force of nature,” said Wing Luke Co-President Ellen Ferguson. “I have personally been deeply honored and appreciative of her friendship, her leadership, and her work in publishing such an amazing paper.”
Panelists were asked to share an ‘Assunta story.’ A common theme the panelists shared was that it’s hard to say no to Ng. “She does not ask, but tells you what to do.” Edwards Lange called it being “voluntold.”
The room erupted in laughter when Yu said, “I feel like one of those [people] who’s been hustled by Assunta.” Yu continued, “You’re laughing because you agree.”
Yu said she is where she is today (a Supreme Court Justice) because of Ng. Yu said that Ng has one of the keenest noses for politics and was the only voice who supported Yu when she was vying for the Supreme Court appointment. At the time, Gov. Jay Inslee was pressured to appoint someone from Eastern Washington.
Yu said the visibility of women of color has increased like never before. “Women of color have allowed themselves to say, ‘I want to be a leader and I want power.’” Yu said it’s really easy to just talk about leadership and mentorship. She challenged the room to go beyond talk and make a commitment to actively mentor at least one other woman.
“Get involved,” said Madrid. “Join those organizations that make a difference, seek out those individuals who make leadership decisions and make your voice heard. The collective voice is powerful. People of color are powerful.”
Edwards Lange said she hopes to see more women of color in leadership positions.
Projecting forward to the next 20 years, she hopes a woman will become the mayor of Seattle or King County executive. “We are fortunate that our deputy mayor [Hyeok Kim] is such a phenomenal woman. But it’s been almost 100 years since Bertha Landes (Seattle’s first female mayor).”
At the end of the luncheon, it was Ng’s turn to address the crowd. The spotlight-averse community leader urged attendees to pass the torch and take the lead. And if there are supposedly no opportunities to do so?
“My dear friends,” said Ng, with humor, “If no one promotes you, promote yourself. Men do that all the time, and they are so good. They are natural at selling themselves. So don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid. There are times when you should step back, but there are times you should stand up for yourself. I want all of you to stand and shout to yourself and others, Go Girls!”
Ng then led the crowd in a rousing “Go Girls!” cheer, wrapping an event that, for so many, has been life-changing.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.