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  • Writer's pictureS Oliver

Steel Magnolias, Fire and Ice

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

I missed an opportunity to shout out black folks for being fabulous in February but, it’s okay. After all, we are fabulous and magical every day, all day, every month. Truth is, I was doing some soul work and soul work is important work. So, here’s to March! Women’s History Month.

I want to dedicate this blog to the two women who have inspired me most. My mother and my sister. When people marvel at my resilience, I always point back to them. I watched them rise to every challenge and reinvent themselves along the way. In my eyes, they have been the most incredible roles models.

My mom was a fighter. She did not take no for an answer. When the city decided to close the bridge on our street creating two dead ends, she fought back. Mommy did her research and learned exactly how many minutes the Fire Department would be delayed if they had to divert their path to get to our block in case of fire. (I get my love of research from her.) She persuaded a neighbor to join her cause and went door-to-door explaining the hazard to everyone who would listen and had them sign a petition. She attended every town hall, persisted in getting appointments with city officials and within six months, the city began not repairing, but constructing a new bridge. That’s who she was – a champion for justice and she got it done – hell or high water. I learned to stick to it and get it done watching her.

Mommy’s love for justice compelled her to spend the greater part of her life active in the NAACP. She served on the Life Membership Committee. She had a knack for connecting with people. I have no idea how many people she recruited, but I’d guess it was hundreds. Her diligence eventually led her to chair the local Life Membership Committee and ultimately become a Regional Director for Life Membership. I learned to be committed from watching her.

Mommy was 47 years old when my Dad died. She literally had no idea how to manage money or pay bills. I found her crying one day over a Master Charge bill. I believe the bill was about $347. She was crying because she didn’t have all the money to pay it. I explained the concept of revolving credit, I think I was 18. What I saw in my mom from that moment on was a determination to learn everything she could about money and how it worked. She not only learned to manage her money, she learned about real estate, stocks and bonds and left her children a legacy. I learned that it’s never too late to change, learn or earn watching her.

My sister had an excellent role model in my mom. So much so, that resilience has been her second nature. She married and became a mother before she was twenty. As with most newlyweds, the fantasy of the house with the white picket fence soon became an ugly reality. After 10 years of marriage, she found herself a divorced, solo parent. Almost immediately after separating from her husband and moving into a new home, the company where she was employed decided to permanently shut their doors. She was devastat

ed, I’m sure. However, she did what any divorced mother of a nine-year-old son would do. She dried her tears and began a stint at the Kelly temporary employment agency.

Kelly Girls were easy to employ, but she found herself in a dilemma. There was a job that paid an extremely high hourly rate that no one wanted to take on. She could use the money during this transition, but did she dare work at a truck stop? Truck stops did not have the reputation of being a safe or savory environment for women. Nevertheless, under the circumstance, she accepted the assignment. Well, long story short, her time at the truck stop lasted almost 35 years. She learned the trucking business from the ground up. Learned to drive a big rig. Met her husband. Started a company, Western Transportation. Work with General Mills, Nabisco, Kraft Food and dozens of well-known companies. Owned over 100 pieces equipment. Employed hundreds, including me from time to time. Became Inc. Magazine’s first African American Female Entrepreneur of the Year. Was an active voice in the New Jersey Women’s Business Owners Association. Helped countless others through hardship and if anyone was willing, shared with them all she knew about achieving success in business.

My sister retired a few years ago. After working so hard for over thirty years, you would think she’d sit down with her feet up and take it all in. Not! She moved from trucks to make-up and jewelry (Mary Kay and Parklane). Studied electronics. Became a court advocate for domestic violence victims. An active board member for a non-profit. Trained and ran her first 5K and I’ve got a feeling this is just the beginning. From watching her I learned how to take lemons and make lemonade. I learned that if you have life, you can create opportunity and finally, I am only one idea away from reinvention.

I salute my mother, Bernice and my sister, Sharon this Women’s History Month. You personify steel-magnolias. Thank you for always being fire and ice. For never, ever allowing yourselves to be defeated, but always forging new ground… even through your tears. I’ve learned from you that giants do die; whether real or imagined. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

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