Group celebrates Black History Month through awards to local women

  • Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:31 a.m.
Sheila Mills, co-founder of Progressive Outreach Ministry, was one of the honorees at the 2013 OCAA Phenomenal Woman Extravaganza.
Sheila Mills, co-founder of Progressive Outreach Ministry, was one of the honorees at the 2013 OCAA Phenomenal Woman Extravaganza.

SALISBURY — They are everyday women of all ages, some of whom never thought their lives would inspire others to pay them homage.

Six local women at Saturday’s Phenomenal Woman Extravaganza were honored for doing ordinary things that make them extraordinary examples for others.

The text of Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” inspired the Our Community Appreciation Awards committee to name its event. President Brian Miller said the annual event is a chance “to honor ladies who’ve done a lot of different things for our community. Some are very extraordinary, some have overcome a lot,” Miller said. “Each has her own story.”

Honorees were nominated by the OCAA’s awards committee, Miller said. The purpose of the evening was to let the honorees share their testimony, and to honor them publicly for what they have achieved.

“Some people don’t get a chance to tell their story,” Miller said.

“These are women who’ve overcome great odds to achieve where they are today,” said committee member Tyrest Gaither. He nominated Sheila Mills, co-founder of Progressive Outreach Ministry who, among other things, has helped reach out to help local children through summer camps and after-school programs. The wife of the Rev. Nasby Mills Jr. of Progressive Outreach Ministry, in 1996 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but said she refused to let that stop her.

“There’s nothing that we can’t do, amen?” Mills said to the crowd. “You know, I never panicked, and my trust and confidence are in God,” she said.

Her advice to the crowd: “Let nothing get in your way of achieving your God-given assignment.” She said, “The mark of a phenomenal woman is that she can handle adversity.”

Some said they never thought they would be recognized for their accomplishments.

Wanda Ford said she was addicted to drugs and alcohol for 20 years. “I turned my life around ... and I never looked back,” Mills said. She participates in prison ministries and outreach programs. Having earned her GED in May 2012, she is enrolled at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

“It feels wonderful, it feels great that somebody recognized me,” Ford said.

Lifelong Rowan County resident Annie Miller Bates was honored for decades of volunteer work. Among others, Bates works with the St. Andrew Gleaning Society and Meals on Wheels. She is also a Smart Start volunteer and a tutor at Hanford Dole Elementary School.

“I just love giving to the community, as you see,” Bates told the Post. “I love going to the schools … And I love my church work.”

Likewise, Danielle Burris said the honor “caught me off guard.” Burris, 35, was nominated because of her dedication as a mother, according to the printed program, and for her ministry of music and poetry.

She said she was honored and blessed by the award. “It’s all a blessing,” Burris said.

Former radio host and current business leader Jill Burch was honored for her years of community service.

A graduate of Livingstone College, her accomplishments include hosting a radio show on WSAT, 15 years as an organizer of the local Juneteenth Celebration and her work with new homeowners in the Wesley Community Development Corp.

Holding the certificate, Burch said, “I accept this award on behalf of the community.”

“(Poet) Langston Hughes talked about a dream deferred,” Burch said. “To all you young people, don’t defer your dreams,” she said.

Mary Sifford, who for eight years served as director of the Rowan Baptist Association, was honored for more than 50 years of service to Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church,

“Some of you know her by Mary, others of you know her as Sis,” committee member Latasha Wilks said in her introductory remarks. Sifford “puts God first, and loves her family so much,” Wilks said.

Humble, Sifford said she hadn’t realized how much she had done until the occasion of the awards, when she took time to think of all she had accomplished. Sifford gave God the credit for all that she has been able to do.

The evening featured songs performed by local musician Jackie Gray, as well as praise dance and a keynote address delivered by Shonda Hairston, Rowan-Salisbury Schools Principal of the Year.

There were smiles, loud cheers and applause from the audience of some 50 friends, family members and local residents, as each woman came forward to receive her award.

Meagan Ziyad, member of Progressive Outreach Ministry, said she was glad to honor Mills, along with all of those whose lives had touched others. “I think it’s a great thing, during Black History month, to take time to honor people who’ve done so much here in town,” Ziyad said.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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