CONCOURSE VILLAGE BRANCH
As with all things there are beginnings. It is incumbent upon one to reach back to original sources and make a connection, to the extent one can, when documenting history - otherwise, one might only be telling a story. It is fitting therefore to note, that Key Women of America, Inc. was begun when a compassionate, committed, and astute woman saw a need to improve the lot of children in the foster care system and of those in the penal institutions, and acted upon her concern. This visionary woman, Rev. Bertha Nelms Harris, established a vehicle to implement her vision and Key Women of America, Inc. was organized in 1954. The certificate of incorporation was signed by founder Rev. Bertha Nelms Harris, Grace Alexander, Mae Harris, Mae Thomas and Mildred Webber.
Today there are twelve branches nationwide.
The Concourse Village Branch of Key Women was founded October 8, 1972, with Sylvia B. White as president and Lillian Smith, vice president. It was formed primarily to involve the women of that housing complex with the needs of the youth of the community. The first group of ladies were installed by Mrs. Ivy Louard in the presence of founder Rev. Bertha N. Harris on October 8, and received their charter on October 15, 1972. The charter members were: Fontaine Bradley,* Ruby Byrum,* Arlene Clark,* Louise Gibbs,* Gertrude Hawkins,* Babette Jones*, Estelle Kennedy,* Lucille Lewis, Catherine Lindsey,* Olive Morrison,* Mary Omen,* Doris Simon,* Dorothy Semionson*, Julie Showery,* Eulalie Smith,* Lillian B. Smith,* Bettye Terry,* Alva Waters* and Sylvia B. White.*
These dedicated, enthusiastic women met in the community room of 779 Concourse Village West. Word of their activities spread and the group grew, having a formal installation of the newer members at a luncheon at the Holiday Inn in East Elmhurst, New York on October 5, 1974. Founder Rev. Bertha Nelms Harris gave the Invocation and Assembly Woman Helen Marshall installed the members.
Our early programs and projects included: a Thanksgiving dinner for a needy family, Christmas toys for underprivileged children, send a child to camp, a bus outing for senior citizens and visits to Hudson Training School for Girls, where a cottage was adopted.
The first successful project for this new branch was a “Couture Fashion Show” in Harlem to raise funds to save Harlem Prep School. It was a First!!! The first time a famous 7th Avenue designer, Pauline Trigere, allowed use of her name, loaned her complete line of samples and house models to this fashion show in Harlem. Our guest speakers were Alma John of WWRL, Nelle Basset of WLIB and our founder, Rev. Harris. This event was the beginning of our use of couture fashion shows as a scholarship Fund-raiser.
The other early successful project was the “alternative to prison” court program. Volunteers went into New York City Family Court to work with youths in the office of probation, providing cultural and social activities, tutoring, home visitation and a parent communication workshop. This project was so successful it was granted funding and was given “A Key Women Room” in the Bronx County Court. With this success, however, also came a turning point in our structure and our Branch.
The rich history of the Concourse Village Branch reverberates at monthly meetings where charter member, Lucille Lewis astounds us with her presence and involvement. This resounds even more when one reflects that Sylvia B. White served twenty-nine consecutive years as president of the Concourse Village Branch, before resigning in 2001. It is also important to note that Lucille Lewis has served in significant capacities, such as treasurer, historian, ambassador and as needed through the years. Lucille Lewis recently resigned as treasurer and historian and is now residing in Georgia. She still remains as a dedicated Key Sister as a Member-at-Large.
It is important to mention that Key Women: Beryl Allen*, Mary Hill, Lila Hunter, Helen Lawrence and Janet Mitchell are among those who joined the Concourse Village Branch early, and are still present and actively involved. This is a testament to both the apparent outstanding leadership of our former president Sylvia B. White and the allegiance and interest of the long time members.
The first scholarship luncheon was held May 19, 1973 at Patricia Murphy. The net proceeds of $356.90 went into a separate scholarship fund. This event was the basis of our annual Scholarship fund which has enabled us over the years to give four year Grants of $500.00 to many young people.
Through the years, we have awarded more than $100,000 in scholarship grants, stipends and contributions, raised through luncheons, journal ads and raffles. Through the support of Victor Julien and Anheuser Busch Companies, an amount of $1,000.00 for a scholarship as a memorial to Fontaine Bradley has been granted every year since her death, along with alabaster eagles for our honorees, thus enabling the Branch to grant both one and four year scholarships.
After Victor Julien’s retirement, we no longer received the grant, but the members of Concourse Village decided to continue the tradition. Since the death of Sylvia B. White, the scholarship has been renamed to, Fontaine Bradley-Sylvia B. White Scholarship. These $1000.00 grants are given to college and university students. Our scholarship recipients have attended such schools as Brown, Howard, Rutgers, Morehouse, Syracuse, Cornell University, Bard College and various other national universities and colleges.
Other endowments have been made over the years to the East Bronx Family Service, St. Augustine’s Scholarship Fund, Epworth Methodist Church, St. Phillips Church, LaValle School for the Blind, the Arthritis Foundation and the Pamela Galiber Memorial Fund and numerous other organizations.
Our fundraising endeavors and our support of organizations and worthy causes follow:
Continue our Thanksgiving dinners to 6 needy families, yearly.
Held a yearly “Second Chance” White Elephant sale and bazaar.
Sponsored numerous Atlantic City bus trips.
Donated an assortment of toys to the children’s ward at Harlem Hospital and to Hale House.
Worked as a “Donation/Patron” aiding and comforting women in the New York Prison System.
Cared for our adopted 92 years old senior citizen, shopping, cooking, cleaning, doctor’s visits and, “on call.”
Supports/supported the National Key Women Annual drive for the United Negro College Fund, Harlem Institute of Fashion, Cabrini Hospice (cares for terminal cancer victim), Mahogany Sisters” Network (African American Cancer Survivors Support Group), The New York Women’s Agenda.
Donated Altar flowers, yearly, at Riverside Church - Memorial to Fontaine Bradley.
Sponsor a member in 7K Mile “Share Walk,” for breast cancer survivors.
Continue to give to our members through member donations to our Sunshine Fund, to remember Birthdays, Sickness, and Death.
Our outstanding honorees through the years are too numerous to mention. It is important, however, to mention that former City Clerk, Hon. David Dinkins whom we honored, became the first African-American Mayor of New York City. Another New Yorker who we have been proud to recognize is Hon. Helen Marshall, the first African -American President of the Borough of Queens, who as was noted, performed our formal installation of our newer members on October 5, 1974. We would also like to note other outstanding honorees, such as Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, Rev. Al Sharpton, Hon. George R. Dixon, Cheryl Wills, Herman Bagley and numerous other dedicated recipients. We are indeed proud of all of our honorees, dais guests, keynote speakers, outstanding guests and others, who have shared our experiences and supported us. Their backgrounds, professions and achievements are vast and varied. Represented fields include Clergy, Businessmen, Presidents and Vice Presidents of Banks and Corporations, Founders/Chairmen of Foundations, Teachers, Journalists, Commissioners, Doctors, Outstanding Citizens of their Community, and Politicians, to name a few.
Through the years, we have had the opportunity to have Lynda Gravatt, actress/entertainer, educator; Patricia Thomas, formerly of AT&T/Businesswoman, educator; Hon. George R. Dixon, District Leader, 35th AD, Queens County, Businessman; entertainer, Harry Burney;, Nikki Williams, producer, served the branch well as its mistress and master of ceremony for many years, and have been an honoree and or a dais guest of our branch, as well.
Concourse Village Branch is a small, tight knit group of really dedicated women who work well together. Most of these ladies are from the original splinter group and three are the original charter members. Members who joined later are: Gloria M. Dixon, Gladys James, Diana Payne, Barbara Jackson, Dorita Clarke, Delphine Faison, Suzanne Frazier, Sister Shirley Dye and Karia Hill. Our members-at-large are: Terri Sheffield, Madge Jones, Allyson McDowell, Gabrielle McDowell, Terry Williams and Zilda McCue.
Gloria M. Dixon was elected president in 2001. Under her administration, the Branch continued many of its traditions, scholarship luncheons and support of worthy causes, with its focus towards, “Investment in Children.” Our immediate past president is Gladys James. Our present president, Janet Mitchell, will continue this legacy.
Concourse Village Branch continues to reach out and to participate in the issues in our community to support worthy projects and initiatives.
President Janet Mitchell
1st Vice President Mary J, Hill
2nd Vice President Barbara Jackson
Recording Secretary Diana Payne
Assistant Recording Secretary Gladys James
Financial Secretary – Parliamentarian Gloria M. Dixon
Treasurer – Corresponding Secretary Delphine Faison
Public Relations Dorita Clarke
Historians Lucille Lewis, Lila Hunter
Chaplain Helen Lawrence
Youth Coordinator Karia Hill
Outreach Liaison Susie Ann Fraizier