Rhinestones studded everything — candles, centerpieces and 60th anniversary pins, perched on the chests of lavishly dressed women in fabulous hats.
Even the chandeliers glittered.
The Greater Miami chapter of The Links, a service organization for accomplished women of color, celebrated its Diamond Jubilee 60th anniversary on Sunday at Jungle Island with champagne, a luncheon and a keynote speech from civil rights icon Andrew Young.
Decked in a sequined green cowboy hat, U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson introduced Young to the crowd of almost 700.
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“In 1972, he was the first black congressman from the Deep South since Reconstruction, yet he remained a man of God first,” she told the audience. “He was the first African-American U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but he remained a black man first.”
But when Young, former mayor of Atlanta and friend of Martin Luther King Jr., gave his speech, he made it about anything but himself.
He singled out a woman in the audience who endured physical violence with him in St. Augustine in June 1964. Her nose was broken in the racial scuffle, which Young called the roughest he had seen.
“That was the only movement I was a part of where the hospital bills were greater than the bonds for bailing people out of jail,” he told the audience.
Young is uniquely qualified to speak about the organization that was once known, as affectionately as possible, he stressed, as the black bourgeoisie.
“They try to come together as sisters and do things for other people,” he said. “They are women of substance and of vision.”
Young’s mother was one of the founding members of her Link chapter, his sister was a Link president and both of his daughters and both his first wife (who died in 1994) and current wife are Links. In the lingo, he’s both an “Heir-o-Link” from his mother and a “connected Link” from his wives.
“So I know you all. I know what you stand for and who you are,” Young said. “You’re the best that we’ve got.”
It starts with an ornate letter. Then comes the induction ceremony.
Donna L. Ginn remembers watching The Links in her community as a child, and when she received her own letter she was ecstatic.
Eight years later, she is the president of the Greater Miami chapter.
Ginn calls herself “one of those kind of people compelled to serve her community.” And she isn’t alone. The mandatory 48 hours of service a year individually add up to a collective national effort of 500,000 hours of service a year.
I know what you stand for and who you are. You’re the best that we’ve got.
The idea of being a part of something greater pervades The Links. The Washington-based nonprofit organization, born in 1946, gathers nearly 14,000 women of color under the banners of 281 chapters.
Service falls into five facets for The Links: the arts, services to youth, national trends, international trends, and health and human services.
They partner with big names like AARP and the Girl Scouts of America, or host their own health fairs, organ donation drives, voter registration efforts and childhood obesity prevention initiatives.
The Greater Miami chapter in particular boasts its own highlights, including hosting the first Links assembly on foreign soil, in 1964 in Nassau, the Bahamas. Inductees have built a home for a family in Honduras and collaborated with the Overtown Neighborhood Youth Center to launch the art-themed “LETS Draw Project.” In May, the organization awarded nearly $15,000 in scholarships to graduating high school seniors.
After Young’s speech, the Greater Miami chapter presented Volume 2 of its book series “Linkages and Legacies,” profiling influential African Americans in Miami.
“Anywhere you go, you hear about the impact of Link,” said Dr. Glenda Newell-Harris, national president of The Linkls.
Shepherded on and off stage by standing ovations, Young regaled the crowd with his thoughts on the importance of women police officers, the destruction of the black nuclear family and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Most of the people who’ve been in the struggle, and that includes all of you, are not there to be seen, not there for any attention,” he said. “You were there because you happened to be caught up in the time of history when you either had to stand up and be counted or you had to put your tail between your legs and hunker down and say you were nobody.
“But this organization was not made up of people like that.”