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Observer and Eccentric Newspapers – Hometown Life
By Sharon Dargay, Community Life Editor
November 12, 2006
If you only associate the American Association of University Women (AAUW) with its annual book sale, think again.
Members of the Birmingham-Bloomfield branch say their work with education and equity will be more important than ever since passage of Proposal 2 last Tuesday. The ballot issue bans race and gender preferences in some government and public university affirmative action programs.
“I don’t think we quite know how it (the affirmative action ban) will be interpreted. We do things like scholarships. It affects us indirectly,’ added Charlotte Mahrt, branch president.
AAUW recording secretary, Sally Doty, who worked against the proposal, said educational programs, such as the organization’s annual science and technology Explorathon for girls, will be more important in light of the proposal’s passage. The program draws more than 700 girls annually to Detroit Country Day for workshop sessions led by professional women in math and science careers.
“When I was working against it, someone told me, ‘Oh, my daughter said she would never have gone into research had it not been for affirmative action. She said her professors had to tell her about it,’” Doty said, adding that school counselors don’t necessarily direct girls toward science and technology careers. “Explorathon is going to be very important.”
They and other members of the Birmingham branch celebrated the organization, its mission and programs during an anniversary luncheon Wednesday at Forest Lake Country Club in Bloomfield Hills. The national organization, with 1,500 branches across the country, is celebrating 125 years. The Birmingham-Bloomfield branch, with more man 300 members, was founded 86 years ago. It offers a variety of study groups for its members, scholarships, aid to women who seek career training and transition, and serves as an advocate for women through AAUW’s public policy program.
“To me, it’s continuing education for all women of any age,” Gash said of AAUW’s mission. “And we are very interested in diversity, opportunities for everyone.”
Attorney Richard Bernstein focused on the group’s advocacy role in addressing the branch last week. Bernstein, blind from birth, is a practicing attorney in Farmington Hills, specializing in representing victims of personal injury or disability discrimination.
He talked about advocacy and disabilities in a spiritual context, using case examples from his own experience.
“I’ve come to believe that people faced with the greatest challenges, the greatest obstacles, are the ones who have developed the greatest gifts - the gifts of empathy, understanding and of relating to other people,” he said. “The greatest hardship ... is the hardship that comes with having everything you’d ever want without having to work for it, without having to know struggle.”
He said people who experience difficulties, yet who empathize and understand others, are blessed with “perspective” and can recognize true priorities in life. He said those advocating for a just cause, for the welfare of others, find heavenly assistance even in the darkest of times.
“Everyone at some time in our lives will encounter difficult people at different times,” he said. “The thing I would ask you is to always follow the signs. The signs are always there. Whenever you’re going through a difficult patch and a challenging process, did you not always have exactly what you needed when you needed it?”
When Bernstein challenged the city of Detroit’s lack of wheelchair-friendly buses, that divine intervention seemed to come in the darkest hour. The city was poised to strain the law firm’s resources in the case, when the U.S. Justice Department stepped in, adding oversight and a few lawyers of its own to aid Bernstein and his colleagues.
“As hard as things get and as powerless as you think you are, there will be events and circumstances that will happen that will change everything. That’s how you know you’re doing something right, something that is meant to be.”
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