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Preserving a Legacy: African American Women’s Arch of Honor
The recently dedicated African American Women’s Arch of Honor is celebrating the past, present and future accomplishments of African American women in Tucson.
Sophistication, success and pride.
The accomplishments of African American women, both at the University of Arizona and in the Tucson community, are widespread and continuous.
Now their lived experiences and contributions are visibly commemorated at the UA Women's Plaza of Honor, located west of Centennial Hall.
The arch honoring African American women is far more than a simple viewing sight for visitors. It is representative of something greater: the challenges African American women have faced along with their unrelenting resolve and accomplishments.
"Our arch is so important to me. A lot of voices and energy went into its creation," said Saundra "Saunie" Taylor, former vice president for UA's then-named student life division who retired in 2006.
"The dedication meant a lot to me on many levels; it was the culmination of a lot of hard work by many people," said Taylor, an inaugural honoree and planning committee member.
Daisy Jenkins, a fellow planning committee member and another honoree, views the arch as an acknowledgement of pioneers who paved the way for women, such as herself.
"The plaza would have been totally incomplete without the acknowledgement of contributions from African American women," said Jenkins, who earned her Juris Doctor from the UA James E. Rogers College of Law and now serves as senior vice president of human resources for the national health services network Carondelet.
Initial planning for the arch began in 2007, and the official dedication ceremony was held in February.
"That day was a beautiful experience. We were able to bring together women of all different backgrounds," said Jenkins, who in 2008 was awarded the UA Alumni Association Black Alumni Club's Phenomenal Woman Award.
Jenkins has attained a vast amount of professional success, which she attributes to the women of color who paved the way for her, especially her mother, Daisy Strickland Bell.
"My mother had a formal educational comparable to that of a sixth grader, but her intellectual capacity was much greater," Jenkins said, adding "she always valued effort and achievement."
After spending a majority of her childhood in Georgia, Jenkins and her family moved to California when she was 11. Reflecting on her earlier educational experiences attending integrated schools, she admitted that outside of her family she felt the pressure of low expectations placed on her.
"I did well in school but it was always a surprise to others," said Jenkins, noting a time when her high school counselor said: "You're not college material."
Memories like those have kept Jenkins motivated to this day. She hopes the arch will offer educational opportunities and provide encouragement for students and community members alike.
"I hope that other women can view the arch and feel inspired," said Jenkins. "We had an obligation to make this happen."
Similar to Jenkins, Taylor noted her mother, Helena Lawson, as a source of inspiration throughout her life. Lawson raised Taylor and her brother, Daniel, while working as an elementary school teacher. At the same time, Lawson was pursuing her bachelor's degree.
"My mother was always such a force for me. Her drive and tenacity inspired me to mentor and pave the way for other black women. The person that I am today is greatly attributed to her," said Taylor, a Louisville, Ky. native.
She noted other influential women of color that she admires, including Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Obama and late Barbara Jordan, the first southern African American woman to have a U.S. House of Representatives seat.
Taylor, who received the Phenomenal Woman Award in 2004, said she hopes the new arch can serve as an inspiration for generations to come.
"Future students can now look at African American women's contributions to the community. This arch symbolizes the history of who we are in Tucson," Taylor said. "We made sure that we were not left out."