A Legacy in Advocacy: Dr. Claudia Curry and Henrietta Hadley

Anyssa Elmanfaa

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It was a cool, crisp day in the Mid-September of 2002; a pioneer in advocacy by the name of Dr. Claudia Curry stood vibrantly, nodding and beaming as the finale of the ribbon-cutting ceremony launched the initiation of The Community College of Philadelphia’s Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Center. 15 years strong, and the W.O.A.C is nothing short of busy- cultivating leadership, trust, and stability in the lives of CCP students and their communities. “The Women’s Advocacy and Outreach center is designed to serve as a bridge and resource compilation for all students, regardless of gender.” Dr. Curry discussed, “The W.O.A.C proudly serves men as well, as some cases may include counsel for [new soon-to-be] fathers, or those initiated into fatherhood.”

Now, Dr. Claudia Curry is no rookie to the game of advocacy hard-ball, nor does she consider this dedication as a simple task of commitment to service. For the Dr., this is a commitment to community, to life, and to safety and the continuity of future leadership. “When I was coming up in [1980’s] corporate America, the term “advocacy” didn’t exist. Instead, what I was called, was a ‘trouble-maker’, [and the fight for advocacy was risky business] but all I did was try to make things right.” Dr. Curry looked upwards, the radiance of memory began painting a vivid canvas of a story hidden behind action. For the young Dr., a woman- let alone an African-American woman during the 1970’s– was not expected to stand up to the corporate giants, and counsel the principles of decent human treatment. As she stated, advocacy simply wasn’t a gift of the times. More specifically, advocacy on behalf of African American women in the corporate work-force was a null dream. “Back then, hiring blacks was a token [move]. Advocacy is [and was] about risk taking, and leaders take [the] risk. I remember a time when the “colored only” side of the major highway was where we had to drive. In my [firm] I was the first black receptionist. I worked there from 1970 and left in 1982.” Claudia did not leave without creating a whirlwind of change. This whirlwind developed into the tempest of inspiration needed to take the next steps of change in her career in advocacy.

Valiantly, she first began a leadership institute resource network, with the mission: “to empower women in a way that they will persist and continue on.” She then beamed one of her ever-brightening smiles and passionately fluted, “[I want] students to embrace leadership. Don’t run from it, seek out opportunity to engage or accept invitations to be in an organization, enhance and develop!” she then turned, seemingly absorbed in a memory, “Leadership is about taking the stand.”

Not only did she make that stand, but lent an air of encouragement to pass the baton of fearless delegation from hand to hand, down the line of advocates throughout the College’s legacy. Among the incandescent, shining wielders of that baton is a Ms. Henrietta Hadley- novelist, lecturer, defender, survivor, and mentee to the Dr. With her Domestic Violence conference and launch of her new novel: We are Free, Ms. Hadley had nothing short of a plethora of guidance in light of this month’s Domestic Violence Awareness. Her voice was an instrument of compassion, pressing firmly onto the discussion of the topic dearest to her heart, “I was on campus as program director for 7 years, working with young men and women who were taking certificate or continuing courses on campus [here at CCP].” Ms. Hadley discussed, “and…what I was finding is that the minute we got close to the conclusion [of their college semesters] I [began] to notice there would be a sudden stop… [this is] what I was finding: students were dealing with barriers that were not being discussed: relationship [trouble], parenting [and so on…] all of these barriers that were not being discussed! [As] a director I had to start digging deeper and started dealing with the person [on a level deeper than simply assisting with courses.]”

There was a brief moment of static over the line of the phone; I could imagine her face calm, suspended in contemplation. “…some of their issues…were intimate violation, molestations. [The students] weren’t able to deal with even [a small] level of success, so when they were starting to make these leaps and bounds of accomplishments, because they were never encouraged or uplifted or made to feel different[ly], [it was a lot of emotions to begin to work on.] So, it was really a lot of backdrop which had not been dealt with which was getting in the way of the [student and their accomplishments.]” As our discussion sailed on. Ms. Hadley reminisced on the tools she developed to rebuild her feeling of worth and pride. “…what I did was I just talked about my own personal growth, and building relationships from a standpoint [of] getting to know one [another better, first] and being able to identity what red flags and the baggage that could get in the way [of a healthy relationship with another or yourself.]” I could almost feel a warm smile radiate over the phone as Dr. Hadley said,

“I am a firm believer that we all carry the answer in yourself…” there was a soft, light laugh like a flute as she said, “…it’s like the Michael Jackson song the man in the mirror you’ve got to take a moment for yourself aside from everything and everyone and ask: what am I hiding from? what am I embarrassed about why do I believe I deserve the treatment that I allowing myself to accept?” “…if it [began as] a childhood message, [or if abuse was] a childhood [trauma], you’ve been brainwashed. You’ve been made to think this is how you’ve been supposed to be treated. It’s time for me to love myself. It come down to self-help, self-love, [and] self-worth. You have to know how important that is to yourself.”  

The Community College of Philadelphia is privileged, and is honored to have the allegiance of all of those valiant individuals-defenders, advocates, protectors- who exercise human decency on a daily, and protect the rights that our ours.

It has become more evident than ever, that the soul of the W.O.A.C, and the heart of all of the dedicated faculty and staff hail to a mission higher than the simple connection of resources for students. Rather, their participation and investment in students is a promise to the perseverance, protection, and enrichment of these individuals for years to come.

The W.O.A.C serves as a collective ‘Mother’ to those in need of guidance, however, effective with the honesty, and humility needed to allow one to review options, get connected, and stay safe. “We consult [with] and give students the opportunity to vent whilst listening openly. Telling a student what to do is not always favorable above listing options for the individual. [That’s] not my role” Says Director, Dr. Claudia Curry, “Sometimes when I listen to myself, a lightbulb goes off” Instead, Dr. Curry offered, “Instead of asking simply, what should I do? [We ask] what are your options, and by working [with the student], we [then] consult the power then to determine options best suited for them.”

The W.O.A.C looks hopefully to the potential of each individual that comes through the doors, whether seeking healthy consult, guidance, or simply stopping in for just a hello. For those who are interested, the W.O.C could also serve as a hub for development academically, or professionally. With an abundance of projects to choose from, one could become an affluent writer and find their voice through participation with the Newsletter WomenSpeak! One could begin to tune loyalty towards whatever mission they stand up, whether through volunteering cooperation or community connection. There is a place for each of us to develop, persist, and take a role as a leader. Father always said, “[You’ve got to become] morally responsible, not [just] ‘psychologically or physically’” Dr. Curry tenderly reminisced. “He always used to say to me, the first law of in the interest of man is self-preservation. It’s plain to see, if we do not find a way to build up and preserve ourselves first, how can we help build up others?”

 

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A Legacy in Advocacy: Dr. Claudia Curry and Henrietta Hadley