By Cillea Houghton
NASHVILLE, TN — Since its founding in 1946, The Links, Incorporated has operated with the mentality of empowering women and making a difference in communities around the world.
The nonprofit, volunteer organization has since grown from its two founders, Margaret Roselle Hawkins and Sarah Strickland Scott, into a network of 15,000 professional women of color in 289 chapters across 41 states, the Bahamas and the United Kingdom, collectively logging more than one million hours of community service each year.
The goal of supporting communities is at the center of The Links’ 45th Central Area Conference A Change in Rhythm, taking place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center July 31 – Aug. 4. More than 1,000 people have registered for the event that will honor seven community leaders in Nashville, members of The Links and other African American women who have served in the military, along with recognizing the Central Area chapters that participated in the photography series, My Community Through the Eyes of a
21st Century African American Child. It will also feature discussions on a range of topics including voter registration, interacting with law enforcement and looking for signs of elderly abuse and human trafficking. “Those are the stalwarts of what the organization is about,” said Central Area Director Glenda Masingale Manson.
The anchor of the conference is a major community service project that has The Links partnering with Fisk University and Tennessee State University to supply hygiene products, provided by Dove, to local middle school students. Members of The Links and college students will distribute hygiene products at Fisk University to girls from McKissack Middle School and local HBCU students.
The idea was inspired by a similar project The Links did in Africa providing hygiene-related items to young women, many of whom missed school due to the fact that they didn’t have access to sanitary products.
“Little did we know that the same thing was happening in our own country,” Manson said. The products will be distributed in bags that display the phrase “you are beautiful” as a way to “bring the positive impact of young women to let them know that they are beautiful as they are and that they need to make sure they take care of their bodies and their health so they can move forward and become successful members of the community,” Manson described.
The product distribution will be preceded by a panel at Fisk University helmed by a young social activist who will discuss the importance of civic engagement and how organizations like The Links can benefit causes.
Another important event during the conference is the programming breakfast that features keynote speaker Kemba Smith Pradia, who was granted clemency in 2000 by former President Bill Clinton after serving six-and-a-half years in prison after becoming involved with a serious drug dealer who was physically and emotionally abusive. Additionally, as “strong supporters” of HBCUs including Fisk University, TSU, Meharry Medical College and American Baptist College, The Links will unveil their latest efforts for HBCUs during the breakfast.
“When an Area goes into a city, we try to support institutions that are a part of our overall goals and objectives. Things that we do hopefully will transform our communities and fulfill our purpose being good stewards,” Manson said. “The Links is one of the oldest organizations who really work together as friends to transform their communities for the better.”