Overcoming Challenges Through Strength
(RIALTO, Calif.) Rialto celebrated Women’s History Month on Saturday, March 5 by examining what local women have done, and still need to do, to improve life in the Inland Empire.
The Fifth Annual Rialto Women’s Conference highlighted the contributions of four women who currently serve as elected officials representing the Inland Empire, and three younger women. These seven women made up two panels whose discussions tied into the national Women’s History Month celebration theme of “Our History, Our Strength.”
The elected officials were State Assembly Member Wilmer Amina Carter, San Bernardino County Fifth District Supervisor and Board Chairman Josie Gonzales, Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren and Rialto Unified School District Governing Board Member Joanne Gilbert. These women shared how they serve their community in their elected office, what challenges they have faced, and what they hope for the future.
State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod had also been confirmed to speak at the conference, but did not attend because of a family illness.
Rialto Unified School District voters re-elected Gilbert to the Board of Trustees in November. Although she received the highest number of votes, and almost 1,000 more than any other candidate, Gilbert said she wasn’t certain of her re-election during the campaign.
“By electing me, we were able to maintain a female voice on the Rialto school board,” Gilbert said. “It is very important that we maintain diversity, because while we have done much for our students, we are still striving for excellence.”
Gilbert also noted voter support of Measure Y, which allows Rialto Unified School District to obtain funding for school modernization, will help the district to improve children’s education.
Voters elected Mayor Warren as Fontana’s first-ever Black mayor in November. She had previously served on the Fontana City Council since 2002.
During the conference, Warren emphasized the importance of all women working with each other to improve their communities.
“As women, we all have to help each other,” she said. “Women make the difference, but we are not active enough. If we don’t stand up for what we believe, the result could be bad for everyone.”
Warren urged all women attending the conference to be concerned not only about their own communities, but all of the Inland Empire, and to be advocates for their families.
“We have to take those little jewels we are raising and make sure they get what they need,” she said. “We only have one chance. If we don’t get it right, we will leave behind a generation of uneducated, uninformed and illiterate people.”
Supervisor Gonzales also urged women to support each other. She likened a network of people who work for each other’s best interests to a warm blanket.
“A continuum of support keeps us warm and safe,” she said. “It takes every single one of us, and the God-given strengths we have been blessed with.”
Gonzales acknowledged needing support from others recently, including the only other woman on the Board of Supervisors, Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford. Without Rutherford’s support, and that of Fourth District Supervisor Gary Ovitt, Gonzales would not have been elected chairman of the Board of Supervisors in January.
“There is a brick wall that is camouflaged as a door,” she said. “Prejudice still exists in 2011.”
Gonzales urged women to overcome prejudice they face, for whatever reason, by exerting the same reliance on support from others as she does.
“We’re not quitters,” she said. “To get what you need, figure out who you need to network with. Who do you need to identify with to build a base of strength?”
“You are intelligent. You are strong. I am proud to count myself among you,” she said.
Assembly Member Carter urged women to focus on the needs of a larger area, the entire state of California. She also assured participants the state government can still be a resource in helping to meet residents’ needs.
“We don’t have any money right now, but I still serve, and I still can provide some hope,” she said. “We still have resources. My job is to find them and bring them to you. I serve the whole state. What works for one district works for the whole state.”
National Council of Negro Women Inland Empire Chapter President Lois Carson moderated the elected official’s panel discussion. Carson, the recently retired executive director of Riverside County Community Action Partnership, is herself a former elected official, having served as a member of the San Bernardino Valley College Board of Trustees.
Rialto Council Member Deborah Robertson and City Clerk Barbara McGee hosted the conference, along with the Inland Empire Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women.
Susan Doyle, executive director of the chapter’s Bethune Center in Rialto, moderated the younger women’s discussion. These women, who took part in the Bethune Center’s job preparation program as high school students, shared how that program has shaped their careers since then.
Deborah Robertson’s daughter Milele Robertson, associate transportation planner with the California Department of Transportation, and her granddaughter Lelia “Charli” Harris, a media arts major at California State University, Dominguez Hills, were two of the three speakers on the panel. Anita Iglesia, a senior accounting assistant for the City of Rialto, also spoke.
For Deborah Robertson, the Women’s Conference was a family event. Not only did she host, and two members of her family speak, but her mother, two toddler-aged granddaughters and their mother also were among the approximately 120 women who attended.
Other female elected officials attending include Rialto Mayor Grace Vargas who gave a welcome address, and council members Susan Olivas of Colton, Debbie Franklin of Banning and Lydia Wilbert of Fontana.
Although the City of Rialto is located in the middle of one of the nation’s fastest growing regions, it has retained a small town atmosphere and similar quality of life. Rialto is an ethnically diverse and progressive community, which boasts several unique community assets including its own police and fire departments, a city-owned fitness center, performing arts theater, nine beautiful parks, a community center and senior center. Rialto is near mountains, beaches, deserts and other recreational areas.
Rialto’s housing mix and home costs are some of the most affordable in the southern California region. First-time homebuyers find Rialto more affordable than almost any other comparable community in the region. Executives and those seeking high-end homes also find they can purchase much more home for their money in Rialto. This lower cost translates into more discretionary income for residents, thus benefiting retailers and service providers.
For more information about Rialto, go to www.rialtoca.gov or call (909) 820-2525.
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