The niece and archivist of poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is scheduled to appear in Mount Airy Saturday as part of an event honoring five local women who’ve excelled in their respective fields.
Rosa Malikia Johnson, who also is an author and poet, will be the guest speaker for the second-annual Phenomenal Women’s Luncheon, sponsored by the Mount Airy-Surry County Branch of the National Association of University Women (NAUW). It will highlight “women who inspire,” organizers say.
The public is invited to Saturday’s event, which will be held at L.H. Jones Auditorium at 215 Jones School Road beginning at 11:30 a.m. In addition to the address by Johnson, it will include a silent auction and entertainment headlined by a professional actress known by the stage name “LIFE.”
“Our theme is women beating the odds,” Cheryl Yellow Fawn Scott of the local NAUW branch said Tuesday, explaining that Rosa Malikia Johnson is an example of that.
Originally from California, Johnson is a graduate of Salem College who at age 21 found herself a single mother of four.
Johnson drew much inspiration from Angelou, her aunt. “She said she (Angelou) saved her life numerous times,” Scott related Tuesday.
She has traveled extensively, both nationally and internationally, with artists and songwriters Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Angelou, who died in 2014.
Johnson, now 74, lives in Winston-Salem, where she moved from Puerto Rico to take care of her mother, who recently passed.
“Like Maya, her personal story of ‘beating the odds’ is both compelling and inspirational,” Scott added.
Johnson has autographed and donated copies of some of Angelou’s works for Saturday’s silent auction.
LIFE, who will supply entertainment for the event, is a graduate of Winston Salem State University who has appeared in more than 200 film, television and theatre productions, according to information from the NAUW.
Local artist Marie Nicholson will perform Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” on Saturday.
“It is going to be a dynamic event,” Scott predicted.
Tickets for the Phenomenal Women’s Luncheon cost $15 and are available by calling 336-429-9237 or visiting Airmont Florist at 308 W. Pine St. Those obtaining tickets at that location are asked to provide exact dollar amounts.
Proceeds will benefit a scholarship fund of the Mount Airy-Surry County Branch of the National Association of University Women.
Another highlight of Saturday’s gathering will involve recognizing women who have proven themselves “phenomenal” in the community.
• Sandra “Boo” Joyce, in the field of business;
• Dr. Carolyn McCarther Watkins, education;
• Melva Houston Tucker, the arts;
• Deborah Cochran (former Mount Airy mayor), community;
• Maggie Rosser, altruism.
Scott said the providing of a scholarship, which Saturday’s luncheon will help support, represents “an exciting milestone” for the National Association of University Women group. The local chapter, formed in early 2016, is part of an organization founded in 1910 in Washington, D.C.
Its first scholarship will be presented in May, according to Scott. It will go to a June 2017 graduate of one of the five “traditional” high schools in Surry County (Mount Airy, East Surry, North Surry, Surry Central and Elkin).
The recipient must be a student planning to attend a four-year accredited educational institution who has demonstrated financial need.
Those vying for the scholarship will be evaluated in areas including academic performance, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation and an essay each submits.
“Our community is so invested in helping residents reach full potential,” Scott said in explaining the intent behind the scholarship.
“Being a part of a young person’s dream is like sowing a seed,” she continued. “The enormity of what may flourish is unknown at this moment — but, oh, the possibilities.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation for the scholarship fund to the NAUW, a 501(c)3 organization, may do so at P.O. Box 125, Mount Airy, NC 27030.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.