By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
Many things have come to womankind surprisingly things such as the right to vote, the right to own property and perhaps less surprisingly, the existence of the month of March as Women’s History Month. It is the celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society.
In 1986 14 states, had declared March as Women’s History Month. This momentum and state-by-state action was used as the rational to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March in 1987 as National Women’s History Month. A special Presidential Proclamation has been issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women.
The same extraordinary achievements of women are exemplified by the women of Gary, Indiana by the various positions in government and education they serve within the city.
Among the many women in the City of Gary that are in leadership positions, whether it be in government, civic, social and sometimes even volunteering, the women of Gary “Run This Place”. Some of those women are Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Gary City Judge Deidre L. Monroe, Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson, Gary Common Council Chairperson of the Finance Committee Mary Brown and Gary School Board Trustee President Rosie Washington. Some claim they do not have any problems with the opposite sex seeing them in leadership positions, but then there are those who attempt to go up against them because they are women.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson
On December 31, 2011, Karen Freeman-Wilson became the first woman to lead the steel city of Gary and the first African-American female Mayor in Indiana.
She previously served as the CEO of The National Association of Drug Court Professionals and Executive Director of The National Drug Court Institute based in Alexandria, VA. With Freeman-Wilson at the helm, the number of drug courts in the U.S. doubled and NADCP became the premier organizational advocate for drug treatment in the judicial arena.
Freeman-Wilson has consulted with the Office of White House Drug Control Policy, the Department of Justice and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the creation and implementation of drug policy. As the twice-elected Gary City Judge, she helped pioneer the drug court movement in Indiana.
She has served as Indiana Attorney General, Executive Director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, on the National League of Cities’ Board Executive Committee, Co-Chair of the Presidential Task Force and the REAL (Race Equity and Leadership) Council.
She previously chaired NLC’s Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee. In November 2016, she was elected second Vice President (VP) of the organization’s Leadership and Board of Directors. Freeman-Wilson also chairs the Crime and Social Justice Committee for the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Mayors/Police Chiefs Working Group on Police Community Relations and is also a member of the USCM Advisory Board.
Mayor Freeman-Wilson is currently serving in her 2nd year of her 2nd term as mayor of Gary. The mayor says as a woman she really has a very good working relationship with all the male workers within the city. She said, “They do not challenge me at all. Because this is a unique community the men are prominently placed in the here and they are open to women.”
The mayor’s female role models in her lift are State Senator Earline Rogers, who she calls a trailblazer, Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm and of course her mother Deloris Freeman. She said that she would hope that the young females of Gary would get inspiration from the positions she’s held in the community. She said, “It really makes me feel good when they see me and ask if they could take a picture with me. They say ‘Hey It’s the Mayor’. That’s encouraging.”
Gary City Judge Deidre L. Monroe
Judge Deidre Monroe is a lifetime member of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church. She earned her Doctors of Jurisprudence in 1992 from Valparaiso Law School in Valparaiso. She also attended Indiana State University earning her Bachelors of Art and was an honors graduate of Roosevelt High School’s class of 1979.
Judge Monroe has held the position of Judge for the Gary City Courts since April of 2000. She is currently engaged in the private practice of law since 1993.
She held 23 years of service as a Public Defender in the Lake Superior Court-Juvenile Division and 3 years as a Deputy Prosecutor and Intern for the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office Supporting role as Public Defender in JUVIES reality show, exclusively on MTV and Lockup series on MSNBC.
The Judge has been instrumental in the planning and implementation of the Gary City Court-Second Chance Program, Do or Die Program, Mental Health Court and Project Rebuild-Truancy Court.
Judge Monroe says she has been a judge for 17 years. To obtain her position she ran against men twice, in 2000 she was appointed, ran against a male in 2003, in 2007 she ran unopposed, in 2011 against a male and finally in 2015 unopposed. She says both times she ran against men it was no problem. She said, “When I ran against Atty. Clorius Lay we had arguments but that’s Clorius. Now we have since developed a good friendship.”
The judge said in the beginning men weren’t too comfortable seeing women judges, but now with TV shows there are women judges on them. She said, “There are men who will challenge female judges in court, but I have no problem standing up to those challenges.”
Judge Monroe said young girls today like her daughter and nieces grow up to see powerful black women, but still demand respect.
Her female role model is her mother Ella Monroe. She said, “She was always educated and made sure my brother and I were educated. It was our path. This is why I am working and studying to make my family’s life better.”
Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson
Kimberly Robinson is now in her 3rd year as Calumet Township Trustee. As a female, she says she does not have any problems with men working under her authority. She said, “In fact the maintenance department is my best department.”
Robinson said the movie “Hidden Figures” that promoted the careers of women in the NASA program and how they were part of space programs show young girls that they too can do whatever they choose to do in life. As part of the LINKS Program Robinson helped to chaperone 75 young ladies from the McCullough School for Girls to go see the movie. She said, “It was important for me to share with them the possibilities they can have in life and saw the type of power the women in the movie had.”
The mother of an 18 son who is a freshman at Morehouse College Robinson says her role model is her mother who is God fearing and humble. “She is always a good friend to all of her friends and sets an example as a classy person with good character,” she said.
Gary Common Council Financial Chairperson Mary Brown
A lifelong resident of Gary Mary Brown is a graduate of Emerson High School. She is currently the Customer Service Manager for the Gary Sanitary District. She retired as Cost Analyst for USX Corporation and after 11 years has held the position as 3rd District Councilperson and Chairperson of the Finance Committee.
Brown holds a Bachelor of Science degree conferred/Manageent and a Bachelor of Arts degree conferred/ Sociology. She sits on numerous boards including as a member of New Mt. Moriah M.B. Church Board of Trustees, member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., board member of the Gary Commission for Women, a board member of the Lake County Economic Development Commission, the Elected Member of the Calumet Township Board, a Member of the National Black Caucus Local Elected Officials, President of the Women in Municipal Government, a member of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the NAACP.
Brows says she has held a position on the Gary Common Council for 16 years. She says fortunately she has not had any problems with men challenging her gender. She said, “My challenges with men has been political or some other issue, not because I was a woman. I think that when we are in leadership being a female should not be an issue. I try not to say that we are gender bias. It has been said that if you want to hold a leadership position you have to be a woman, but I take it in stride.”
Brown’s role model is State Senator Earline Rogers because she is smart, tuff and believes in getting things done. She said, “She’s a go getter!”
Gary School Board of Trustee President Rosie Washington
Washington is the representative of the 6th District for the Gary Community School Corporation 2017 Board of School Trustees serving as President. She served her first term in 2010-2014. Her current term ends December 2018.
Washington has been a member of the School Board for the past 7 years. According to her men always challenge women because they think they are in a dominate society. She said she didn’t have any problems with a man during her election campaign because challenger Michael Scott was a perfect gentleman. She said, “Even on Election Day we rode together to various poles because we had a common interest. The only time I had a problem with a man during election was he claimed I did not live in the Gary area. I had to go to the Election Board and they told him that I live in Gary. See my taxes are in Gary.”
Washington says her female role models are her mother Mary Gordon because of her tenacity and her daughter Joslyn Washington-Kelly because of her wisdom.