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empty Posted 03-01-02- Shining the Light ON: Celebrating Women
Colleen Birchett
Colleen Birchett, Ph.D.
Strength In The Struggle:
Leadership Development for Women

by Vashti Murphy McKenzie
Reviewed by Colleen Birchett, Ph.D.
Chicago, IL

A recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Report indicates that African American women are under-represented in private industry. While women, in general, make up 47 percent of this work force, African American women are only 7.6 percent of it. While 33.2 percent of officials and managers are women, only 2.8 percent are black. While 51 percent of private industry professionals are women, only 4.3 percent of professionals are African American. While 45.4 percent of private industry technicians are women, only 6.7 percent are African American. Women comprise 56.7 percent of the private industry sales force, while African American women are only 8.8 percent of it. Eighty-eight percent of the clerical jobs are filled by women, but only 13.5 percent of them are filled by African American women.

Statistics such as these raise many questions. For example, what are the variables that cause this disparity? Racism? Discrimination? Lack of qualifications? Or, might some of it also be due to the nature of what Bishop Vashti McKenzie, in Strength in the Struggle: Leadership Development for Women, calls the "jungle" itself: "In this jungle, only the strong survive. The weak end up on the bottom of the food chain. The road to success is paved with broken bodies of competitors. It takes more than know-how to do your job and do it well. A leader must also learn the survival skills and strategies." (p. 41)

Strength in the Struggle: Leadership Development for Women 
She describes how the "jungle" clashes with the realm of God. "The jungle is pompous, arrogant, and proud. The realm is humility (Matthew 5:10). The jungle is looking for the easy way out. It is about getting over rather than going through. The realm is going through hardship to enter in the realm of God (Luke 9:62). In the jungle, you can talk a good game. The realm is more than talk, but power (1 Corinthians 4:20). The jungle is the survival of the fittest. The realm is the salvation of whosoever (John 3:16)...He or she who dies with the most toys wins in the jungle. In the realm, he or she who believes in Jesus shall never die (1 John 11:25). (p. 42)

In Chapter Four, where McKenzie describes the challenges facing Nehemiah, the prophet, in his work world, she says that one of the first things we must do is "Kick But"! McKenzie explains. "A 'but' crops up into the board meeting, and you say, 'Is anything too hard for God?" Kick 'but'! You can't seem to get out of bed, kick 'but', for in Him we live and move and have our being." (p. 48) 

One of the most hilarious sections in the book is found in Chapter Three, "Defining Moments". Here, McKenzie uses the story of Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, to make her points. "Dorothy Leadership Lesson Number One: Be aware of what is happening in your environment...Discern the warning signs...Dorothy got caught by the storm trying to retrieve Toto." "Dorothy Leadership Lesson Number Two: Never get so far away that you cannot get back to safety in time...We have all known women who were not paying attention to their lives and got caught up in a whirlwind." "Dorothy Leadership Lesson Number Three: Be careful where you land...Do not bring anyone down with you. Do not, I repeat, do not kill anyone." "Dorothy Leadership Lesson Number Four: Try to make the best out of every bad situation...Stock is gone? Hold a press conference and announce your sales success. Witch dead? Get the ruby red slippers!" To get the other lessons, and details of the above lessons, get the book (smile).

Using a variety of stories from the Bible, her personal life, and elsewhere, Bishop McKenzie finds a way to illustrate how one becomes an effective leader, with God's help. Throughout, she emphasizes the importance of prayer, particularly intercessory prayer, as it relates both to mentor and mentee relationships.

Dr. McKenzie is eminently qualified to provide this information. For one, she has held so many titles, associated with so many positions of authority, that one is tempted to rotate between them: "Dr.", "Pastor", "Reverend", "Chaplain" and "Bishop." Not only is she the first female bishop in the over 200-year history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she was the first female pastor of the 103-year-old Payne Memorial AME Church, and one of the relatively few pastors to grow a church from 300 to 1700 over a ten year period. The property value grew from $1.6 to $5.6 million, and she led the church to a different concept of ministry that included numerous innovative community outreach programs. 

She comes from a family of outstanding female and male leaders, and grew up working under some of their tutelages. McKenzie's great grandfather, John H. Murphy, Sr., founded the Afro-American Newspapers in 1892. This newspaper grew to one of the largest chains of black weekly newspapers in the nation. Her grandfather, Dr. Carl J. Murphy served as chairman of the newspapers board. As she grew up, McKenzie observed many world leaders. Work at this newspaper preceded Bishop McKenzie's distinguished career as a journalist in her own right. Her great grandmother, Elizabeth Murphy, was one of the organizers of the first "colored" YWCA in Baltimore. Her grandmother, Vashti Turley Murphy, was one of twenty-two founders of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., in 1913. Her mother was among the five Murphy women born to Dr. Murphy, all of whom distinguished themselves as leaders. Bishop Vashti McKenzie is now the international chaplain of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Not Without A Struggle

The tiny 123 page book, Strength in the Struggle is for all women in leadership positions whether in private industry, the church or public institutions. The book is a follow up to her earlier work, Not Without a Struggle: Leadership Development for African American Women in Ministry, (a May 2001 book selection) and is designed for female clergy.

Trinity Trumpet, 2001 All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Colleen Birchett is a native of Detroit, Michigan. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master of Science in Journalism and a Ph.D. in instructional design. As a staff writer for Urban Ministries, Inc., Dr. Birchett wrote and edited two church school publications, Inteen and Young Adult Today. In 1995, she wrote the Bible study applications for the book, Africans Who Shaped Our Faith, by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
This article first appeared in the July 2001 issue of the Trinity Trumpet, a publication of Trinity United Church of Christ. To subscribe send $20 (1 year-12 issues subscription) to: Trinity United Church of Christ, Attn: Media Department, 400 West 95th Street, Chicago, IL 60628.

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