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A rich, female legacy: NCNW in its 88th year

No recognition of Women’s History Month would be complete without a look at women-led nonprofit organizations.


Recognizing the National Council of Negro Women

No recognition of Women’s History Month would be complete without a look at women-led nonprofit organizations. Through their targeted work, African-American women have specifically focused on vital issues related to their families, communities and themselves.

Through the years, Blacks fought to remove racial barriers that prevented them from joining segregated business, charitable, health and political groups. And historically, Black women — a double minority — had to fight on top of that. They even had to fight to be included in the YWCA, a women’s organization.

Each Wednesday, OurWeekly receives a report from Black Women Rally for Action Los Angeles County. This group keeps a tally on the number of African-Americans in LA who have been diagnosed with COVID-19; those who have received covid shots; and those who have gotten boosted.

The group’s latest tally shows that COVID-19 cases among Blacks in the county were up last week and that 40% of Black seniors have received an updated booster shot. That rate matches the average rate among all the county’s seniors.

Their “Black Wednesday” report also stated that there were a reported 492 new COVID-19 cases among Blacks over the last week. That number was up by 70 residents. The County recorded six deaths among Blacks here since the previous week (down by four souls).

To this date, in LA County, the total number of diagnosed Black cases are 183,416 with 3,170 deaths.

The Black Women Rally for Action group is composed of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), the South Central Prevention Coalition and the San Fernando Valley branch of the NAACP.

“We collect and gather that data as well when we go out and do our outreach for those demographics,” said NCNW View Park Los Angeles section president Fannie Robinson.

NCNW history

So many important Black women are associated with the history of the National Council of Negro Women organization, under its banner of “commitment, unity, self-reliance.”

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875 - 1955) was instrumental in founding the NCNW on Dec. 5, 1935. It was the first Black organization for women and the first national coalition of Black women’s organizations established in the 20th Century.

The NCNW was founded in New York City with 14 Black women’s organizations that came together at the 137th Street branch of the YWCA.

Bethune became its first president, a post she held until 1949.

This writer met Ms. Dorothy Height (1912 - 2010) once when I was working for the YWCA in the 1990s. She was a living legend then.

Height first worked for the Department of Welfare in New York City as a caseworker. She was promoted to the advisory position after the Harlem riots of 1935. And later she became the first Black personnel supervisor for the department.

In 1957, Height became president of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization that aimed to unite and uplift Black women in humanitarian and social action programs. Height remained active in civil rights activities. During the 1960s, she led the organization to become active in voter registration drives in the north and south. At her death on April 20, 2010, President Barack Obama called her “godmother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The NCNW has a local View Park LA section here in South Los Angeles, which was chartered in 1962 by Dr. Meda Chamberlain. After Chamberlain received her postgraduate degree in psychology from USC and later retired from the Whittier Unified School System, she founded

“I think Dr. Chamberlain was very interested in community,” said NCNW member Carolynn Martin. “She founded an organization called Inner City Cooperation.”

Chamberlain ran this program, which trained persons for better employment skills, from an office near what was then the Crenshaw Shopping Center.

“Some way somehow over the years, Dr. Chamberlain united with National Council of Negro Women and combined the efforts,” Martin said.

After the first offices were destroyed in the Watts Riots, the NCNW moved to 54th Street.

Partnerships not new to NCNW

“The food co-op was one of the biggest things they did at that time,” said Martin, noting residents appreciated the free food and water the program provided. Additionally, the NCNW section partnered with the United Way to assist seniors in the area.

“These projects, talking about the CETA program and the co-op that was going on at the council house, really helped the area,” said member Carolyn McGruder. “It made a very strong impact on people, knowing that they could come here and not be looked down upon because they don’t have resources. That gave people some hope that things were going to get better.”

Height saw great potential in this local section. Chamberlain was appointed to be executive director of the Southern California area in the 1980s.

From 1986 to 1995, Chamberlain oversaw the Black Family Reunion celebrations held in Exposition Park. Founded to counter negative images of the Black family, it featured entertainers, athletes, politicians and numerous vendors in three-day festivals.

After serving NCNW for three decades, Chamberlain passed away at the age of 95 in 2011.

The section held a Family Reunion event in 2013 in her honor and the section continues to hold fundraiser and key program events, such as the reading proficiency program for elementary school students; and the Saving Ourselves Sisters (SOS) program, which is tied to the summer night lights and mentoring programs, teaching women aged 18 to 25.

“It's about how we feel about each other, how we feel about ourselves,” Martin said. “You know, about building self-esteem.”

SOS was launched virtually during the pandemic and tackled a slew of topics, including sexual education, communication skills, life roadmapping and covid education.

Project Height Scholarship Program

Recently, the Dorothy I. Height Education Foundation (DIHEF) and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) announced the launch of the Project Height Scholarship Program, supported by Meta, to invest in the next generation of civil rights and technology leaders for a 2023 class.

President of the Dorothy I. Height Education Foundation Alexis Herman welcomed the creation of the Project Height Scholarship Program and said, "Our hope is that our collective effort will advance inclusive technology product and policy development industry-wide, ensuring that the interests of underrepresented groups are counted."

Shavon Arline-Bradley, president and CEO of the NCNW, also lauded the effort, “We are delighted to launch this scholarship together with the Dorothy I. Height Education Foundation and Meta. The scholarships will complement our ongoing efforts to lead, advocate for, and empower students, with its emphasis on supporting underrepresented groups as they pursue this field of study and contribute to a safer and more inclusive tech ecosystem.”

The program will fund the establishment of twenty-six scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students with a career interest in civil rights and responsible technology product development. The scholarships will be open to undergraduate and graduate students of any discipline, with each scholarship awarding students $10,000 towards their studies.

Scholars will be invited to participate in Meta sponsored programming designed to inform students on how to look at the technology field via a civil rights lens in areas such as data science, product management, inclusive design and user experience.

To apply for the scholarship students will be required to submit a personal statement demonstrating that they have a commitment to service through volunteer efforts as well as an interest in the intersection of technology and civil rights.

Applicants will be required to submit applications and required supporting documents by March 3,  at 11:59 pm EST / 8:59 pm PST.

Full eligibility criteria and details of how to apply can be found at

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.