The Portland Chapter of The Links Inc. is celebrating its golden anniversary on the weekend of Nov. 2. The group serves the community through educational and civic activities that promote equality for all. Pictured here are the 10 founding members: (from L to R) Clementyne Guy, Marguerite Williams, Mildred Reynolds, Carmen Walker, Kathryn Bogle, Jessie Mae Johnson, Anetta Brown, Fannie Chatman, Bernadette Plummer and Marjorie Brown.
Meet a select group of African women who embrace high fashion, art and philanthropy. These women award scholarships to college bound students. They organize gala dinners and wine tastings, parties and presentations. But don't be fooled. They also take HIV/AIDS prevention programs into their local churches and work with high school students from low-income families. Welcome to the Portland Chapter of Links Inc., the service and friendship group that will celebrate 50 years of service to Portland's African American community Nov. 2.
"We are a very small chapter compared to other chapters, but we work very hard and I think our work is comparable," said Myrna Yvonne Williams, president of the Portland chapter. "Our major focus is youth. Whatever we can do to improve life for African American youth is our major thrust."
Born in Philadelphia in 1946, The Links Inc. was started by two friends, Margaret Hawkins and Sarah Scott, who brought together a group of nine women to create a group of clubs "linked by friendship." The idea was to create a social network for Black women that would enrich their own lives and also their communities. Within two years clubs had been established in cities across the country. Today more than 10,000 women are members of 275 chapters — some as far a field as Germany and South Africa.
The Portland chapter of The Links Inc. formed in 1957 due to the organizing efforts of Kathryn Bogle, who brought together the 10 founding members. Their aim was to promote civic, educational and intercultural activities for the group and for the whole community.
The Links built connections between local groups, working with the NAACP and the Urban League and raising money for those groups as well as Sunshine Division, Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation and the United Negro College Fund. Their focus on friendship infused all their activities with warmth and kindness. They made the coffee as well as the policy.
Carmen P. Walker and Fannie Stills Chatman are the two surviving founders of the Portland chapter. Walker said the women set to tackle inequality and injustice so Black children – and all children — would have equal opportunities in life. "It was truly my pleasure," said Walker. "I worked as hard as I could to make Portland a better place for all people. We worked for young people to make Portland a better place for them to live and grow and to make Portland the best city it could be. That was my intention."
A 'Salute to Youth' festival that showcased art and performance by young African Americans was just one of many activities designed to support and encourage teens. And over the years the group has distributed about $110,000 to 150 hardworking students.
After 50 years, Portland Links are still supporting young people. This spring several members of the chapter took four celebrated quilt artists from Gees Bend, Ala., into Rosemary Anderson High School to make a quilt with students. Rosemary Anderson — herself a member of The Links Inc.— created the school to work with teens struggling to stay in education.
Many of those students had never learned how to sew or mend, said Jacqueline N. Brown, chair of the chapter's arts committee.
"The interest was so high and the creativity was even higher. They were happy — you could see that," Brown said. "One student took the time to cut out 150 squares to take home. He said, 'I'm going to make my own quilt.' It was history in the making. You know he will never forget that."
Brown said not one student failed to turn up to the second day of the project. Each one simply resumed his or her seat and continued working. One student layered a pocket over a heart on her quilt square. Another made a beach scene complete with palm tree. The final product, a gorgeous multicolored quilt, is on display at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery alongside quilts crafted by renowned fabric artists, Mary Lee Bendolph Loretta Bennett, Louisiana Bendolph, and Nettie Young.
Through the project, students learned the art and craft of quilting, Brown said. But through working with the Alabama women and hearing the story of Gees Bend and its journey from slavery to civil rights, they also learned about African American history and values.
"I was so happy I was there, I wouldn't have missed that for anything," Brown said.
Many African Americans know the Portland chapter of The Links Inc., as organizers of the Ebony Fashion Fair, the group's annual fundraiser. A longtime collaboration with Ebony magazine, for 39 years it has brought the excitement and glamour of high fashion to Portland.
Johnnie Bell, chair of the fair committee said the event usually draws 700 to 800 people and raises up to $10,000.
"As far as we are concerned, the Ebony Fashion Fair has been a great success," she said. "It has succeeded in raising money for scholarships, but also as a gala event for the community."
Underneath the glitz, lies a tradition of dedicated service that benefits all kinds of Portlanders. Currently the group is made up of 33 women. Members are nominated and must be approved by the national and regional organizations as well as by the local chapter.
"What we look for are women who are outstanding," Williams said. "We look for women who are doing outstanding work in the community and who want to give of themselves in service."
This year, chapter members are working on a project to link seniors of color to an OHSU Aging study. It will offer health care, computer access and training to seniors who participate in the study. Some Links are working with Self Enhancement Inc. to connect middle school children with children in Africa, as pen pals. Others sponsor AIDS and HIV educational activities, health awareness campaigns, and organ donation – more African American donors are vitally needed.
"We are part of a chain of friendship linking together to make a better community for African Americans," Myrna Yvonne Williams said. Her sister Lydia Roy, also a Link, added, "Which makes life better for everyone,"
The Portland chapter of The Links Inc. will celebrate its golden anniversary with two events:
On Nov 2, the chapter will host a community reception at Emmanuel Hospital atrium, 501 N. Graham, 6 to 8 p.m. The Links Inc. Western Area Director Barbra Ruffin-Boston will present Pastor Mary Overstreet-Smith with a 2007 merit award in recognition of her exceptional work with Hurricane Katrina survivors. Darrell Grant, internationally renowned jazz musician and PSU professor will perform. The event is free and open to everyone.
On Nov. 3 the chapter will hold a gala dinner and dance at the Embassy Suites, 319 SW Pine Street. The event begins with a no-host social hour at 6 p.m. followed by dinner and a formal program – including proclamations from Governor Kulongoski and Mayor Potter — at 7 p.m., dancing and music at 9 p.m. Featured speakers are: Sen. Margaret Carter and Portland Link Geneva Jones. Kurt Green will provide music. Cost to attend the gala dinner is $75. Space is limited. RSVP required. Call 503-284-9485 by Oct.19.