During Women’s History month, Chicago State University (CSU) is celebrating the achievements of single mothers.
According to the university, 71 percent of its student population is female and of that number over 30 percent are single parents. In addition, singleblackparents.com cites that 63 percent of African-American households are headed by a single parent and the overwhelming majority of these single parents are women.
The CSU Foundation is presenting five successful women with awards at its second annual “Essence of an Angel” Scholarship Luncheon on April 1.
The luncheon has a dual purpose of celebrating the achievements of women in their professional and personal lives as single mothers, while acknowledging and supporting the impact single mothers have made to CSU and communities.
The CSU Foundation’s 2012 “Essence of an Angel” honorees are Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County; Amy Hilliard, founder/CEO, The Comfort Cake Company, LLC; Leana Flowers, retired executive at Urban Partnership Bank; and Kimmah Shah, CSU student and founder of Get Tight Get Right; and Barbara Bates, local designer and contestant on NBC’s “Fashion Star.”
On March 16, the foundation showcased the triumphs of this year’s nominees with an intimate breakfast at Norman’s Bistro in Bronzeville.
The honorees were selected though an open nomination process by a panel of past honorees and CSU staff. Moreover, the chosen nominees epitomize success and achievement in their careers and dedicate themselves to making their communities a better place.
As Clerk of the Circuit Court, Dorothy Brown is responsible for all judicial records in Cook County and manages an annual operating budget of more than $100 million and has a workforce of over 2,100 employees. Yet, Brown’s most prized responsibility is being a mother to her adult daughter, Detris.
Brown said she and her first husband separated while she was working full-time and attending law school at night. When Brown found herself divorced and raising her adolescent daughter alone, she sought the help of neighbors because the majority of her family lived out-of- state.
“It was very challenging for me during that time,” Brown said of the period following her divorce. “You feel like it’s simply a dark cloud.”
An older couple that lived across the street from Brown helped with her young daughter. They got Brown’s daughter off the school bus in the evening and fed and looked after her until Brown came home.
Brown, who remarried two years ago, admits she has had challenging moments during her daughter’s teen years but together they got through it.
“She became an outstanding young woman, I’m very pleased,” the clerk said of her daughter who is studying divinity. “I have one child and for that child to love the Lord, it’s just a blessing.”
Amy Hilliard, founder/CEO of ComfortCake, LLC says being a single mom isn’t easy. Hilliard, a mother of two, grew up with both of her parents who were married for 60 years. She found it especially difficult to transition to single motherhood after observing the longevity of her parent’s marriage.
Hilliard reluctantly sold her home to finance her company. She said it was a very difficult decision, but throughout it all her children comforted her.
“Mom, don’t worry because a house is not a home, a home is the place you live with the people you love,” Hilliard said her daughter, Angelica, told her. Hilliard said the advice served as inspiration then and still does to this day.
Today, ComfortCake is a national brand and has been featured on The Food Network, CNN and Windy City Live.
Leana Flowers, a mother of two daughters is a widow and says she got through the struggles of single motherhood with the support of family.
Flowers joined Urban Partnership Bank in 1980 as director of human resources, when the financier was known as ShoreBank.
She rose through the ranks over the years and held many executive level positions. In 2010, she became director of community affairs for the newly charter $1.4 billion Urban Partnership Bank, charged with building relationships between the bank and community.
Kimmah Shah is a CSU student who is currently pursuing a degree in management and maintains a B+ GPA. A personal trainer, Shah enjoys helping women gain self-esteem and educating the community about obesity, body image and health and wellness. She is the mother of a teenage son and didn’t graduate from high school but earned a GED.
Shah left college for a short while to care for her son and her mother who was dying of cancer. Equipped with a strong personality, Shah says she didn’t use her unfortunate experiences as a crutch but as fuel to pursue her dreams.
Shah thanked the other honorees for being great examples of single mothers.
“This is such a huge honor to be in the company of women who already paved the way for women like me,” she said.
For Shah, being a parent is her number one priority. “I don’t cry about anything but parenting,” she said.
Barbara Bates is a talented local fashion designer and is currently a contestant on NBC’s “Fashion Star.” Most people aren’t aware that Bates cannot actually sew. However the breast cancer survivor has a fantastic eye for style. The single mother considers fashion a “lifestyle” and began her career as a secretary for First National Bank of Chicago. Bate’s designs grabbed her colleague’s attention at the bank so she began selling her fashions during her lunch hour.
Today celebrities such as Cece Winans, Linda Johnson Rice, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith have worn her clothing. Bates also has a foundation that provides custom prom dresses to young women in the inner city. The designer’s boutique is located in Chicago’s South Loop.
Proceeds from the scholarship luncheon will provide financial support for single mothers currently attending CSU. For ticket information or to make a donation please call 773-995-3839.
By Thelma Sardin