WIT Leadership Development Circle Takes Civil Rights Tour of Montgomery Guided By Michelle Browder
On November 6, 2021, the Women In Training, Inc., (WIT) Leadership Development Circle, comprising talented high school girls from across Montgomery and the River Region, participated in a historic civil rights tour of the capital led by local artist and historian Michelle Browder.
The “More Than Tours” began at the Kress Building at 39 Dexter Avenue in downtown Montgomery. The Kress Building is where Rosa Parks worked as a seamstress in 1955 before boarding a segregated bus, on which she refused to give up her seat to a white man, providing the spark for the Montgomery Bus Boycott that galvanized the modern civil rights movement.
“Eradicating period poverty, which is Women In Training’s signature mission, is more than just handing out pads to girls and women in need. It’s also about teaching young women their history and informing them how to become leaders in their communities,” said Marci Webster, PhD, a steering committee member with the WIT Leadership Development Circle, and leadership faculty member at the Federal Executive Institute, U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Montgomery.
“When informed young women learn how to lead, they will not only protect their own interests, they will also improve the lives of everyone in their communities,” said Webster, who facilitated conversation about historical events on the tour.
The tour was led by Browder, whose art has been displayed not only at the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University in downtown Montgomery but also in galleries around the world. Browder, a local tour guide, also leads I Am More Than, a youth empowerment nonprofit that hosts community conversations, arts-centered programs for schools and youth-led conferences.
The “More Than Tours” with the WIT Leadership Development Circle included several historic sites, including the grounds of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Civil Rights Memorial. At the Memorial, the group ran into Dr. A. Lenora Taitt Magubane, who was on a pilgrimage to Montgomery from New York. As a Spelman College 1961 graduate, Dr. Mugubane was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (Atlanta Student Movement). She told the WIT Young Leaders that on December 11, 1961, while traveling by train from Atlanta to Albany, Georgia, she became one of the 11 Albany, Georgia Freedom Riders who tested interstate travel by going to the white waiting room of the terminal, presumably to purchase tickets. They were immediately arrested and spent a total of one month in jail.
“The law had been passed to desegregate interstate travel, but we realized southern states were not implementing the law,” Magubane said. “We were the last Freedom Riders, but we were not doing it to protest for a desegregation law. We wanted to file a lawsuit to implement the law that had already been passed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1960 to desegregate interstate travel facilities, such as the terminals, water fountains and restrooms.”
The highlight of the day was “The Mothers of Gynecology Tour.” The artistic monument – including 12-foot-high statues – commemorates Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey, who were among at least 11 enslaved teenage women on whom gynecologist J. Marion Sims operated between 1845 and 1849 at a backyard clinic on South Perry Street in the city. Sims operated on the women without anesthesia, and they did not have the freedom to say no to the youth empowerment nonprofit that hosts community conversations, arts-centered programs for schools and youth-led conferences. Browder unveiled the powerful monument in September 2021.
“The history of Montgomery played an important role not only in the history of civil rights but also the history of medicine, and that’s why we are honored to take the young women of the WIT Leadership Development Circle on a tour of important sites that reflect significant achievements and sacrifices,” Browder said. “By learning their history, these young women will also learn how to transform the world.”
WIT’s signature program is the WITKITS Campaign to provide menstrual products and hygiene items to young, low-income people who menstruate. Because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, the number of girls and women who cannot afford menstrual products has increased from one in five to one in four, causing them to miss school, class, work or similar obligations because they do not have the products they need. Many girls who struggle to afford period products resort to using paper towels, rags, socks and other items that place their health in jeopardy.
Since its founding in July 2019 by twin sisters Breanna and Brooke Bennett, Women in Training, Inc. has distributed more than 10,000 WITKITS to people who menstruate.