by TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER and CARMEN SIERING
photos by MARTIN BOLING and JIM KRAUSE
The achievements of Black women are being recognized nationally as never before, thanks to the ascent of Kamala Harris to the vice presidency, the impact of Black women on the presidential election, and the several Black women appointed to cabinet and other key government positions. Finally, and long overdue.
Black women are also mayors of several of the country’s largest cities, including Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., and Michelle Obama for the third straight year is the most admired woman in America, according to a 2020 Gallup poll. (Harris finished second.)
Here in Bloomington, Black women have contributed mightily to every facet of our community, and in this issue we recognize the successes of 21. There are many, many more.
Recognition, however, does not mean that prejudice is on the decline, either nationally or in Bloomington. In fact, one could just as easily argue that bigotry is on the rise in the wake of our former president’s efforts at legitimizing racism and inciting violence.
Most of the women profiled in these pages have experienced prejudice and faced obstacles because of both the color of their skin and their gender.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” It is our hope that by sharing these stories, we might cast a little light.
Doris Sims has seen the country “go through hills and valleys” when it comes to race. “A lot—especially within this past year—has happened within our country with dealing with racial inequality, and dealing with issues of equity and diversity,” she says. For some, she believes, this time has introduced new awareness. “What I’m hoping is that we don’t lose the momentum that we’ve gained. It’s easy to stick a sign in your yard and say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ it’s another thing to make sure the actions that you take show that Black lives matter to you.” Read more.
Professor Jeannine Bell, a nationally recognized scholar in the area of policing and hate crimes, has written extensively on criminal justice issues. When demonstrators took to the streets this summer demanding changes to policing in America, she was a step ahead of them. Read more.
Nicole Bolden comes from a lineage of women with a legacy of firsts. Her grandmother was the first Black nurse to work in the University of Iowa Hospitals. Her mother, Valeri Haughton, was the first Black woman to be directly elected to the Monroe County judiciary. In 2015, Bolden became the first Black women elected to citywide office in Bloomington and is the only LGBTQ woman of color in elected office in Indiana. Read more.
Selena Drake, who was raised in Gary, Indiana, says she never truly experienced racism prior to attending Indiana University. A racially charged incident that occurred as she started her freshman year in 2016 changed that. Read more.
For more than 40 years, Elizabeth Mitchell has been documenting African American history and correcting the white version of that history. “All those stories that tell us who we are—stories of exploration, freedom, slavery, and, of course, violence,” she says. “We hold on to those one-sided stories and pass them on from one generation to the next.” Read more.
Whether it’s ensuring that local elementary school children have winter coats or cheering up the Bloomington skyline with hot air balloons, Vanessa McClary cares that the work she does in the community has tangible results. A dedicated volunteer and leader in Kiwanis for two decades, “I don’t talk about me a lot,” she says. “I’m passionate. I’m committed. I think I encourage others in a lot of different ways to be more involved in their community … but ultimately, it’s not about me, it’s about the impact of what I do.” Read more.
As a master’s student at Indiana University, Priscilla Barnes researched public health disparities and the connection between faith communities and public health. Now, as an affiliate faculty member with IU’s Center for Rural Engagement, she’s doing something similar. She designed the “Healthy Rural Indiana 2025: Community Health Improvement Plans Project” to build partnerships that address public health needs in rural communities. Read more.
Jacinda Townsend is a novelist, a software trainer, and a Monroe County Community School Corporation board member. She’s also a Harvard University graduate with a law degree from Duke University and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her 2014 debut novel, Saint Monkey (W.W. Norton & Company), won national awards and critical acclaim. Read more.