20 Years of Celebrating Women & Girls

As plans are finalized for the 20th The Atlanta Women’s Foundation Numbers Too Big to Ignore Luncheon featuring Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, who also spoke for the inaugural luncheon, it is fun to recall planning the first luncheon.

The impact from revenues generated during 20 years of luncheon success could not have been predicted the first year. Not even everyone on the board for the Atlanta Women’s Fund, for it was a fund then and still under the umbrella of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, was in favor of the luncheon.

There were then two successful AWF evening events – Commercial Real Estate Women and Atlanta Women in Law and Women in Medicine. I proposed the Numbers luncheon to fellow board members as a community-wide event to capture the support of women who were not members of those very specific professional groups and to give those professional women an additional way to support AWF.

The name for the lunch was of course inspired by the iconic Helen Reddy song “I Am Women,” which was, according to the first program, “An anthem for so many of us and conveys the spirit of our strength and determination. While we come together to celebrate our advances, and the rising volume of our voices and our visibility, we know this is only part of the story. Women and girls are still marginalized in the board rooms and on the floor of the General Assembly, in education, the arts, and throughout society.”

The luncheon had many special touches, including a menu designed by legendary chef Alix Kenagy of the then popular restaurants, Partners and Indigo, to highlight the few women chefs then in the city. A group of middle school students wore oversized Numbers t-shirts to escort the guest speakers into the room as a symbol of the “girls” whose lives AWF hoped to improve. Those young women now have eight children between them – proof positive that 20 years of fundraising can change a generation.

The 20 page program was scattered with statistical evidence of how much work was ahead for women to reach equality. The wage gap is still there, but it has improved. Georgia women currently rank 15th among the states – earning 82 cents on the dollar. The Georgia wage gap for African American women is 63 cents and for Hispanic women 48 cents.

Atlanta’s power structure has changed in the last 20 years, with a woman having served as mayor and many women taking the helm of arts organizations, corporations and even the Chamber of Commerce. In 1997, one woman served Georgia in Congress and one served statewide as School Superintendent. Today no women from Georgia serve statewide or in Congress. But, things have improved in the General Assembly – In 1997, Georgia ranked 36th in the nation with 16.5 percent women in the General Assembly and today the rank is 27th, with 24.6 percent women.

As we celebrate this 20th year for the Numbers Luncheon the women of Atlanta remain strong, invincible and more determined to achieve their goal of equality at home, at work and in society at large. We and our daughters can do anything!

Melita Easters is the founding chair and Executive Director of Georgia’s WIN List, a PAC devoted to electing more pro-choice women to the Georgia General Assembly and Statewide office. She is the mother of two daughters and the grandmother of four, three of them girls.

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