PGR Foundation holds interactive discussion to honor Black legacies — past and future

By Violet Lazarus

Over 60 women and girls were admitted into Poised Gifted and Ready’s virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls).” 

The inspirational event titled “Our VP Looks Like Me” was a celebration of Black history and commemoration of Wednesday’s inauguration, where Kamala Harris will become the first Black woman vice president as Joe Biden begins his presidency. 

Debra McClendon, founder and president of PGR, organized the event which featured five successful Black women in addition to questions and answers provided by little sisters, members of the PGR program. Melanie Johnson, anchor of NBC3 News, moderated the event with Gwen Webber-McLeod, Helen Hudson, Gwen Sanders and Adrienne Willis participating, all offering encouraging, insightful speeches. 

“I can’t think of a better way to spend Martin Luther King Day than in a room full of sisters who are poised, gifted and ready!” said Webber-McLeod, who is CEO of her own company. 

PGR, a mentoring group open to girls ages 6 to 18 in Onondaga County, works to connect members to mentors, both adults and other young women in the program. 

Monday’s final speaker was a PGR member herself. Willis is a high school senior with a 4.0 GPA who has been  accepted to Jackson State University in the fall. She encouraged the girls to watch the inauguration on Jan. 20 in order to witness history being made. 

Willis encouraged attendees to repeat the phrase “our VP looks like me” at the conclusion of her speech, and in a chaotically beautiful moment, over 60 women and girls took themselves off mute, repeating in unison.

Harris’ impending inauguration was cause for celebration, but speakers also reminded the little sisters that women, particularly Black women, have a long way to go. 

“I’m having a hard time right now hearing ‘the first’ so much,” Syracuse Common Council President Hudson said. “Black people have been in this country for 400 years. If we’re not sitting at the table, we can’t advocate for ourselves.” 

Above all, Monday’s event was a commemoration of Black female excellence, both realized and potential. 

Alicia Atkins, a 9-year-old little sister, asked Hudson how young girls can make a difference in the world. 

“Miss Alicia, you are the difference in the world,” Hudson responded. “What we need to do is put our hands on your back. We have to mentor you because you are the future.”

Violet Lazarus is a senior studying journalism at the Newhouse School