Dr. Tammy Hicks, founder of 300 Black Women is helping to change perspectives for good in unprecedented times. Dr. Tammy Hicks, saw a need for a communal change and answered the call. We sat down with Dr. Tammy to discuss her journey for creating a space for black women in Chicago and beyond.
Chante’ Gamby (CG): Thank you for spending time with us, Dr. Tammy. To get us started, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Dr. Tammy Hicks (TH): Sure, my name is Dr. Tammy Hicks; I am a single mother with a Ph.D. in Social Work. I’ve worked in the human service sector for about 18 years. I started the Chicago 300 Black Women five years ago. It began with an emphasis on high-earning black women in our community, then evolved to include black women from many backgrounds. We celebrate the achievements of black women who are not necessarily popular, not the socialites, and women who are educators, leaders of our community, and women who have not been recognized for their contributions. We started an awards ceremony; the All-White Ceremony and the Black Gala. We started with one hundred and something women, and then it just blew up, where we literally had to put a limit on the number of women who could attend. It was just something that we thought would be fun. I had no idea how God would expand this.
From there, we started the membership, and now, not only do we have 300 Black Women Chicago, we are now in six other states. The ultimate goal is for us to grow globally. Not only do we have the awards ceremony, now we have the network. It has been an educational kind of thing where we can help one another and educate one another. We have over 1,000 women currently, growing from ten women. It’s amazing what God can do with just an idea.
CG: What motivated you to move forward with this idea?
Dr. Tammy Hicks (TH): With my experience in Social Work as an African-American woman, I noticed that each of those organizations was run by people who did not look like me, but the people that we served did [look like me]. When I did see women who did look like me, there was a sense of division and competition amongst us. Society tends to pit us against one another. I wanted to change the trajectory of how we operate in leadership. We have so many women who are doing great things and need resources. That was the groundbreaker for me.
I experienced so many different things that kept us divided, and I wanted to make the Chicago 300 Black women space where everyone is well-respected and appreciated. Every woman has the same purpose and passion. Everyone has something great going on, even if it is just being a mother, she still has great gifts and talents. It is such a dope melting pot. Here, just because you may be a doctor or lawyer makes you better than the unemployed, stay at home mom. There are women from every aspect of life that has something to bring to the table, and that was goal. It’s not about what position you hold. We genuinely have to have a safe space to be that trust to be vulnerable. We’ve had some challenges, but we’ve been able to keep pushing and grow through our mistakes.
CG: You mentioned seeing a limited number of black people in leadership positions within various organizations. There a lot of chatter about diversity and inclusion in regards to representation among organizations nationwide. What are your thoughts on this?
Dr. Tammy Hicks (TH): We must have representation. There’s a mass number of people who have experienced trauma and homelessness; to do this work, we must have some people who have the experience and compassion in regards to those issues. If we do not have people with that compassion at the forefront, we end up with what we have today. Any entity is doomed if you don’t have people at the forefront who are inclusive of everyone. We do need people who can meet people where they are. We cannot move forward without that proper representation.
CG: Going back to the idea of the black woman and that competition-it sounds like your organization has moved from that competition to create a sisterhood. How did you get to that point?
Dr. Tammy Hicks (TH): First, we started building that trust through establishing trust through confidentiality-the lack of trust. It has been an issue within the black community. The basis of building a sisterhood is being able to trust the people that you are sitting at the table with. The second would be the understanding that there is no one less than you. In our communities, we have so many different judgments against one another that we can’t get to know the person because we have a pre-judgment. We focused on really trying to treat people how we want to be treated. All of us want respect and love, but not everyone is willing to give that. Everyone projects what they want, but you must be willing to provide that. We work to create a space that is safe and remembering that everyone can learn something from someone. My grandfather told me that only a fool stops learning, so we try to learn from each other.
CG: You mentioned identifying women who are the unsung heroes. How does that impact the community, and how do you deal with a woman feeling less than?
Dr. Tammy Hicks (TH): We create a nomination process where we focus on women who are being overlooked. By hosting these events twice per year, we try to honor as many unsung heroes as possible. We’ve honored almost over 400 women to date. We try to impart the message of not forgetting who you are and how God sees you. Social media has created such as false narrative. We have a gang of people doing extraordinary things, some who don’t even have a Facebook page. Growing up, it wasn’t those that were always trying to be seen; it was the people who were doing the things behind the scenes. We want to shed light on those people, including those who are more in the limelight and doing good work within the community. We try to build the character and integrity of our women to impact the community positively.
CG: Having character and integrity are part of the backbone to our community-how is your organization exemplifying those aspects of human beings during our time of COVID and social unrest?
TH: We have implemented a few things to help keep that at the core of our work. Recently we did a trunk drive-we raised $10,000 in we were able to bless 25 girls with $500 college trunks. Some of the girls received $300 cash, and others received the trunks. My daughter and I just came up with an idea. I remembered when my daughter was going to Hampton, and now she is graduating, but I remember scrambling around for things. We gave away TVs, school supplies, etc., and now we will do it annually. What blessed me is that many of the girls wanted the cash due to their parents being unemployed and wanting to help their families. This COVID thing bum-rushed our communities. Seventeen girls needed the money. We also recently gave away $2,500 for single moms who needed a place to stay, rental assistance, etc.. We have implemented these things to ensure that we do not forget about the women within our community in need. We try not to forget that even in our current situation, there are still people in need, and we can apply tangible gifts to those in need.
CG: Right now, it is challenging to stay encouraged, but it sounds like you are saying that changing your perspective can help the community move forward even now…
TH: That’s absolutely right. There are so many women in our organization who were discouraged trying to open a business when the pandemic. It put some perspective on learning how to learn how to pivot. I believe that God wanted our attention right now. People are now looking at their finances, their health, their families. There seems to be a great appreciation for life and connection to others. It was a challenge-the fear of the unknown kicks in, and you start to question if this is the right, but it is a blessing to focus on gifts and your purpose; it opens other doors.
Regarding 300 Black Women, we are a group of women who fellowship, and since we can’t meet in person, we have virtual conversations that were needed. We were still able to stay connected in a time in which it might be expected that we would be disconnected. Now when we do come together in smaller groups, it is more intimate and appreciated.
CG: Are there any additional upcoming events within your organization?
TH: Our members meet monthly, and our annual event is coming up in January, where we do the Gala-we are trying to figure that out at this time since we may not have as many people due to COVID. It is a little stressful, but we are still scheduled to have the event.
CG: If people are interested in nominating women, donating, or joining, how can they connect?
TH: Reach out to us via email at email@example.com to nominate or donate. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram@chicago300blackwomen for nominations or donate at chicago300blackwomen.org. We are open to women joining and providing their expertise. We are open to anyone open to give back.
CG: Finally, do you have any words of encouragement for folks experiencing a difficult time right now?
TH: Absolutely-stay the course. We can get so discouraged when things aren’t turning out the way we expect. When we started the organization, we had a lot of pushback. People would say, “What exactly is women empowerment?” and judge us. If there is anything positive that can reach one person, it can benefit more people. I want people not to be discouraged, continue moving forward. If God has preordained something for you, it will come to fruition. Yes, I have made mistakes-I am human. But, at the end of the day, God destined for me to do great things. He will not let you fail in your purpose regardless of how people may feel about you. We all want to be accepted by people. God does not need people’s opinion or approval of you. If God wants to use you-He will use you.
More information on 300 Black Women can be found at chicago300blackwomen.org/.
Chante’ Gamby is a writer and therapist passionate about social justice and empowering others to live their best lives. You can follow her on Facebook at Fringefam, Instagram@fringegram, or on her website, www.fringefam.com.