Black Women Receive ‘Royal’ Recognition at CEF Awards Event

Black Alumni Queens, left to right: Carrboro Town Council Member Barbara Foushee; CEF Executive Director Donna Carrington; Chapel Hill Town Council Member Paris Miller-Foushee; First Lady of First Baptist Church of Chapel Hill Krystal Coleman; and Executive Director EMPOWERment, Inc. Delores Bailey were present to crown the 2023 Black Queens in a ceremony hosted by CEF at the Century Center in Carrboro on Feb. 25.


By Michelle Cassell
Assignment Editor/Correspondent

The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) recognized six Black women in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham as “Black Queens in Our Community” at its Second Annual Awards Ceremony, held at the Century Center in Carrboro on Saturday, Feb. 25. These women were honored for significant contributions to and impact for the area’s fixed-income, low-income and no-income populations.

Yvette Mathews, Office and Community organizer for the CEF felt that strong Black women need recognition and appreciation, so she created this event last year.

Five alumni queens were present to crown their successors. They were: First Lady of First Baptist Church of Chapel Hill Krystal Coleman: EMPOWERment Inc. Executive Director Delores Bailey; CEF Executive Director Donna Carrington; Chapel Hill Town Council Member Paris Miller-Foushee; and Carrboro Town Council Member Barbara Foushee. The sixth previous recipient, U.S. Congresswoman Valerie Foushee, who represents North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, could not attend.

The six new Black Queens are: Community Restorative Justice Circle Peacekeeper in Chapel Hill Lorie Clark; Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) Navigation Specialist Katina Welch; Lab Manager and Research Specialist at UNC-Chapel Hill CGIBD Histology Core Carolyn Suitt; Durham Community Advocate Dorothy A. Hardin; Chapel Hill-Carrboro Coordinator of Student Leadership and Engagement Betty Curry; and Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP President Dwana Jones. Jones was unable to attend the event.

2023 Black Queens, left to right, Lorie Clark, Katina Welch and Carolyn Suitt watch the CEF ceremony from their thrones as announcements are being made. Photo by Michelle Cassell.

Lorie Clark, who also leads the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program for the local school district was recently named a Hometown Hero in Chapel Hill.

Clark said, “I am glad that I  have the strength and support to be able to do things to make a difference. I will continue to advocate for our students and people in our community to create an equitable, just and peaceful place for everyone here.”

An activist who deals daily with poverty and homelessness in her position at IFC, Katina Welch said, “It is a very powerful position to be placed in, to be crowned, to be said, ‘You are a queen.’ A queen lives with grace, bravery and thoughtfulness. She commands peace.”

Carolyn Suitt, a chemist working at UNC-Chapel Hill is known for unselfish generosity by helping those around her. “Every time I get an opportunity to be a blessing to someone who needs me, I want to do that.”

2023 Black Queens, left to right: Betty Curry and Dorothy A. Hardin watch the CEF ceremony from their thrones.

Dorothy A. Hardin spoke resoundingly about her efforts to control gun violence. As a mentor for troubled youth,  she created a non-profit, Endural. She is known for spending her personal funds to purchase food and personal items for those in need, as well as helping them to find housing and navigate the Social Security system to obtain benefits. She was recently accepted to law school with aspirations of becoming a judge.

“If you see somebody in need, don’t judge them. Offer a helping hand and encouragement. I find myself always fighting for justice and equality for all,” Hardin said.

Betty Curry is an activist and advocate in the Black communities of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. She is well-known for her grasp of the area’s Black history.

Carrboro Town Council Member Barbara Foushee said in her introduction of Curry, “Betty is a strong advocate and activist in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities who can always be counted on to do so much. She will tell you the truth in any situation or cause, whether it is education, racial equity or housing. Betty is in the front line dropping knowledge with lots of historical contexts.”

“The frustrating part about being in this community is that my people, my ancestors, went through a lot in this town. I am mad—sad—that [others] still can’t see how [we] are still fighting against what my ancestors died and suffered for in my city spaces,” said Curry.

Curry then spoke about the gaps still facing Blacks today, notably in housing and health care.

Chapel Hill Council Member Paris Miller-Foushee spoke on behalf of NAACP’s Jones. Recalling early efforts and the successes Jones created, Miller-Foushee said, “She is a problem solver, an advocate, an educator and a promoter of human well-being. She is a champion of ethical standards, a change agent and a determined fighter.”

Miller-Foushee added, “Dwana, the leader, is a truth-teller, a motivator and a mentor, leading others to action, leading others to lead history in the making. As the current president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, she asked us to lean into our sense of duty when she spoke at this year’s MLK service.”

Ending with comments on Jones’ spirit, the council member said, “After becoming Duke’s director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture … she showed up boldly Black. Authentic, unapologetic and willing to challenge the status quo. And barely a full year into her appointment, she rose to the position of assistant vice-president while working on her Ph.D.”

The ceremony ended with an interpretive dance by Nichica Johnson and Samaya Mathews, songs by the CEF Advocacy Choir, and a solo by Yvette Mathews.

The CEF Advocacy Choir, led by Yvette Mathews (foreground), was part of a musical conclusion to the “Black Queen” event honoring six area Black women for their leadership in the Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham communities.

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As assignment editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news.

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