Honoring women in pastoral leadership
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Honoring women in pastoral leadership

On January 30, 2023, Bishop Shirley Coleman and Karen Freeman-Wilson, President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, recognized the contributions of women in pastoral leadership.

The event was initiated with a prayer by Apostle Bridgette Outlaw, who is the CEO of Daughters of Destiny. She also presented each honoree with a gift as an additional blessing.

“I am so happy to be here today to receive a leadership award at the Chicago Urban League. I have recieved many accolades in my career but this award is special,” said Apostle Outlaw.

MWRD President, Kari K. Steele also addressed the audience, emphasizing her open-door policy to provide information and resources to all. She informed the attendees about the internships and opportunities available at the Water Reclamation Department.

During the meet and greet session, Bishop Coleman spoke about the injustice faced by black women in Chicago. She acknowledged the work of Channel 2 news reporter Dorothy Tucker, who collected data showing how Black women are disproportionately targeted when it comes to crime.

Looking at the data from 2022, of the 269,423 crimes reported in Chicago, 67,094 happened to Black women. Everything from theft to murder. That means Black women account for 25% of crime victims while they make up just 16% of the city’s population.

Bishop Coleman shared that the statistics that have been outlined in the report from channel 2 News, are across the country where black women reside.

Bishop Coleman says that black women are overrepresented as victims of crime. “I can’t do anything about DC, New Orleans, and Atlanta. We are here in Chicago! We’re here to work with the Chicago Police Department because we understand the importance of partnership.”

They also want to engage and work with Alderman Stephanie Coleman, chair of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus, to solve the circumstances concerning black women.

Alderman Coleman and Alderman Andre Vasquez, 40th Ward in Chicago, are working together. With their combined efforts and dedication towards improving the statistics.

“It is certainly a blessing to be honored in this area of ministry. The work is great, with many challenges, but it’s just good to take a little time to celebrate what we do. I am truly grateful,” said Bishop Cynthia E. Wesley, of God’s Universal House of Blessings Spiritual Church.

Bishop Shirley Coleman was thankful and appreciative for the day dedicated to recognizing women pastors. She was extremely excited to congratulate all 35 pastoral honorees and express the importance of this day, not only for women but for the church as a whole.

“I want them to know that even if nobody ever recognizes them, God sees what we do at this critical moment in our county, city, state, and country. We have a part in it!”

Pastor Schme Hughes, Spiritual Awakening Church stated, “I am honored to be recognized today. I want to help and  be a part of a task force that will bring change.”

Karen has held the position of President of the Chicago Urban League since January 2020. Although she is known to most as a devout church-goer, her plans to connect with black clergywomen were disrupted by the onset of the pandemic. Nevertheless, she made it a point to communicate her intentions to Bishop Coleman during every encounter.

Karen expressed her willingness to connect with the male attendees at various meetings, but she frequently encountered clergymen in such gatherings. Based on her experience, she acknowledged the commendable work that women preachers were performing in the community, and she sought to meet and recognize them.

“I just want to first thank the bishop for all of her hard work. I also want to thank our Urban League team, particularly Deborah Delk and Pam Watts Harris,” said Karen.

“I practiced law as a public defender for about 15 years and was a private defender for about 20 of those years of my law career. I’ve also been a judge in the criminal court and understand that aspect of the work. And yes, I have been a victim of crime,” said Karen.

“I am being honored today for the work that I have been doing in my community,” said  Pastor Krista Nichols Alston of Pleasant Gift MB Church.

Bishop Coleman reiterated that this was not a political event and that God had blessed her in 1991 to be the alderman of the 16th Ward.

However, serving 16 years allowed Bishop Coleman to get to know the people who came today. Bishop Coleman knows the power of women pastors.

In 1995, while campaigning for her second term, her oldest daughter’s father was one of the last men to be put to death by legal injection in the state of Illinois. Her opponent thought to share that information with the media.

“If she had been given the man what he wanted at home, he wouldn’t have been out raping women, opponent said.”

Bishop Coleman says that one Sunday before her election, Dr. Mildred C. Harris came to her church along with other lady pastors and stood with her.

“We’re not going to allow this to happen to our sister. We are not going to let a man get away with saying that about another sister,” said Dr. Harris,

“I just want to say thank you Dr. Harris, that in 95 you stuck up for me!”

Overall, the event was a celebration of the important work being done by women in pastoral leadership, while also highlighting the ongoing challenges faced by black women in Chicago.

Honorees: Dr. Mildred C. Harris, Pastor Emeritus Ann Barton, Pastor Mitty Collier, Pastor Gay Chisum, Pastor Claudia Watkins,  Rev. Vickie Johnson, Bishop Cynthia E. Wesley, Apostle Lisa Benjamin, Bishop Willodean Benjamin, Apostle Bridgette Outlaw, Pastor Schme Hughes, Pastor Krista Nichols Alston, Pastor ShaVonda Fields, and others.