By: Rebecca Maitland
February is Black History Month and it’s a celebration and acknowledgment of the many contributions made by African-Americans throughout this country’s rich history.
“We have been an integral part of what makes America … America. I am humbled and proud to be a part of the African-American community,” said Rhonda Scott Smith, chief financial officer of the Houston Police Department.
Smith came to Houston as a teenager and was amazed at the outstanding women leaders she was able to meet and observe. But sometimes, the most influential person was closer to home.
“For me, it was my grandmother, Ana Mae Strong, who had a profound influence on me and the many children she stewarded through the educational system,” Smith said.
Smith distinctly remembers her grandmother’s story of how she and her sister attended the University of Oklahoma so she could earn her master’s degree in education. Nothing stopped her from excelling, and that same optimism, drive, and focus are now passed down to Smith and her family.
“Thank you, Julia C. Hester, Barbara Jordan, Margaret Robinson, Audrey Lawson, Madge Bush, Sheila Jackson Lee, Yvette Chargois, Mae Jamison, Katherine Johnson, the 19 recently elected African-American judges and (my) grandmother for paving the way,” Smith said.
Paula McCann Harris, an executive with Schlumberger, a large oilfield service company in Houston, also admires her grandmothers — Dorothy Salsman and Addie McCann.
“Both were equally influential because everything I do and say, I do so in their memory. I watched personally to see the sacrifices they made,” Harris said.
Harris also witnessed both her grandmothers attend college graduations of their grandchildren at top universities.
“These grannies were determined to see the grandchildren walk these halls. They both instilled hard work, faith, sacrifice and lots of love despite tough times. These ladies lived through hard times and yet they smiled, laughed hard and protected our families,” Harris said.
Harris believes faith, education, and hard work are paramount because they believed it — and it works.
Rhonda C. Arnold, JD, chief community relations officer of Houston Airports – Bush InterContinental, Hobby and Ellington Airports – admires her father, Johnny, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Eddie Bernice Johnson.
“But the person who was like a family member to our home was the beautiful and talented Ms. Nancy Wilson, ‘A Lady With A Song.’ Our home is filled with music and as a singer myself, I admired her elegance, intellect, and grace. You can be a lovely, God-fearing, fun-loving lady and still make it in this world. She had a strong faith and stood beside her family,” Arnold said.
The steppingstones Arnold took to get ahead were getting an education and an advanced degree.
“Education can be learned, but intellect comes from God,” Arnold said.