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"Rubies, Diamonds and Pearls" event spotlights local she-roes

Early and Butler agree that creativity brings us together and provides a way for women to move forward.
Julia Meek/WBOI
Early and Butler agree that creativity brings us together and provides a way for women to move forward.

In honor of Women's History Month, BIPOCA Incubator and Art Gallery is hosting a city-wide celebration this Saturday, March 16.

The event, titled Rubies, Diamonds and Pearls: In Celebration of Genois Wilson Brabson, Fort Wayne's First Woman Firefighter will spotlight four other history-making local she-roes as well as Brabson with an evening of music, art, reflections and inspiration.

WBOI's Julia Meek discusses the significance of the occasion with BIPOCA founder, Clydia Early and one of the event's honorees, local author and social advocate Carol Butler, and the benefits such empowerment brings the entire community.

Event Information:

Rubies, Diamonds and Pearls: In Celebration of Genois Wilson Brabson
BIPOCA Incubator & Gallery, in Wunderkammer Company, Fort Wayne
Saturday, March 16
6: 00 p.m to 9:00 p.m.

To find out more and connect, visit the BIPOCA Incubator & Gallery Facebook page.

For tickets information, contact

Author Carol Butler with Genois Wilson Brabson
Author Carol Butler with Genois Wilson Brabson

Here is a transcription of our conversation:

Julia Meek: Clydia Early, Carol Butler, welcome.

Clydia Early: Hello.

Carol Butler: Hi, Julia.

Julia Meek: There is always lots to celebrate during Women's History Month. You two have spearheaded the movement locally for years. Thank you for that. Before we get into this year's details for your celebration, very basically, why is this movement critical right here, right now?

Clydia Early: I would say that this movement is critical because of what is happening in history in our country, and with women, especially.

There's a lot going on with the history of women in this country and a lot want to go deep into Roe v Wade, and all the in-vitro and all those different things. But right now, in particular women's history and where we've been and where we're going, and where we got to is very important.

Julia Meek: Okay historically, our community boasts a lot of super she-roes, and it isn't easy to narrow it down ever, yet you have for this occasion, Clydia. So let's start there, first female firefighter. What does this designation mean, would you say to our community?

Clydia Early: First of all, it's a big piece of history that I don't necessarily know, or feel has been acknowledged. I say that because I didn't know about the first female firefighter here in Fort Wayne, who is also a BIPOC person, so she is a person of color.

And to know that it just helped me to, you know, think about the shoulders that I'm standing on and who did that, who was the person that started it. And so, it is one, been an honor to work with the first woman firefighter of Fort Wayne, and to help to make this event happen.

Also, our history here in Fort Wayne doesn't always talk about well, let me say everything that women have done and accomplished to make things change here. I have learned many things about this fire fighter, that she was a part of the Safety Village when they moved from, I think at the Y where they were first, and moved out south, that Ms. Genois Wilson Brabson was a part of that.

That there was a fire where kids had died in a house; she and another woman that worked with her, I want to say her name is Edith Kenna, Edith and Genois came together with other people, and they went with the moms and PTAs into the different schools, and they gave out smoke detectors to families and homes.

That is history here that is positive, and it needs to be spotlighted, in my opinion and with the committee that I'm working with. And so, we are doing an event, and it is entitled, Rubies, Diamonds and Pearls: A Celebration for Fort Wayne's 1st Woman Firefighter Genois Wilson Brabson.

We are so excited to be putting the celebration together and bringing that history for it to let people know about it.

Julia Meek: And as a social advocate, Carol, you brought this story of Genois to our attention. Why share it as a young readers bio, why go to that age level?

Carol Butler: I wrote the book, Genois Wilson, Firefighter: She Dared to be First. The only objective was to inspire children, boys and girls, it was for inspiration.

Julia Meek: Was it a challenge to tell a complete story like that to that age group?

Carol Butler: Yes, it was, Julia. I had never written any book before and writing a children's book, and you want to have all of the facts. It isn't really easy to do that. But I read a lot of books to see how it was done, to get myself acclimated to it. And I was able to do that. And I think we told the whole story.

Julia Meek: Very nicely. And it continues to tell the story and continues to circulate for that very reason. Now, this event honoring progress made here by those who follow Genois, many courageous people out there doing many courageous things. How does this resonate with the group, the day and that history being made?

Clydia Early: It is inspiring, and it is inspiring and uplifting us as women, that we can move forward and do things that we maybe never think we could do, or somebody told us that we couldn't do or that we weren't qualified to do. This event shows us that women can do a lot of things that people say you can't.

And it's history that's being created. This is history that has happened. I think if more women and more people in our community were aware of that it would help them to move forward in their lives and become some things that they never thought they could become, like firefighters and police officers and many different opportunities.

Julia Meek: The sky's the limit.

Clydia Early: Yes, the sky's the limit.

Julia Meek: And as a matter of fact, Clydia you are not stopping there because Rubies, Diamonds and Pearls also honors Carol as an author, Teresa Yarbrough, the illustrator as well.

And we have two more history making women also being honored at this event, magistrate Lori Morgan, and educator, Dr. Verna Adams, these are all local she-roes. How hard was it to narrow this list down just to four? And why did these particular legends make that cut?

Clydia Early: Well, it's always hard to narrow down the she-roes because we have so many of them in our community. Okay, so to narrow that down, the committee just met and we talked with Miss Genois about people that had resonated in her life, how they had made her feel, and just the different things that had happened and who they were.

And one was Carol, Miss Carol Butler, the author of the children's book. She was so sensitive and so into it, and even though she says she's never written a book before, she wrote that book like a she-ro, and then Teresa Yarbrough, who is a fantastic artist, I've known her for so many years and I bought her stuff many years ago.

But her being the illustrator, it just shows how things can come full circle, and you see it happen. And her father was the first minority firefighter man in Fort Wayne; Ridley, she's originally a Ridley, so there's another connection.

And then Dr. Verna, she is a legend in the Fort Wayne Community School system. She's taught so many people, when she talked to me, she's like, people just walk up to me and I forget who they are. I've taught them since sixth grade.

And then Magistrate Lori Morgan, who is a judge now, you know, I know Lori's family, she may not remember me, but we went to Concordia together. And I want to say a lot of first stuff happened here in Fort Wayne. But we are definitely honored that she has stepped up to the plate to become the magistrate that she is, working in our community.

And you know, and we'll say being the first? Being the first there and helping us to help other people come along. So, all those women will be honored. And we are thankful for them. And thank you for saying that, Julia.

Julia Meek: It's a wonderful assortment of honor that you're passing out. And certainly there's never a shortage of she-roes in our community. I'm fortunate enough to be sitting here with to actually. Now who do you expect, hope to see at this glorious occasion?

Carol Butler: We have extended the invitation to the entire community. And we're hoping that not only women, but men will be there. And certainly we would like to see young girls, the tweens who are thinking about even the career that they might want to pursue, and younger children so that they will be inspired.

We hear that there will be women firefighters from different communities coming. We're not sure if that's going to happen. But if they do show, it will be an evening to remember for everyone who attends. There'll be music, there'll be reflections from different people.

We're just hoping that it'll be an evening of honoring everyone, and that they feel that they have received their flowers while they are still here to see and feel beloved.

Clydia Early: I am so in agreement, just how it has been put together and the committee and everyone working on it. It's a heart and a love event and it is going to celebrate everyone that's been a part of it. But it's a celebration for our whole community.

Julia Meek: And now Carol, having brought the whole International Women's Day celebration to Fort Wayne, it was right about 2005.

Carol Butler: A long time ago. (chuckles)

Julia Meek: Yes. A lot of young women got together. Where have you seen us come from, and where are we headed, would you say in the big scheme of International Women's Day and in Women's History Month?

Carol Butler: Well, the one thing that inspired me when I wanted to do the International Women's Day celebration, and you were a volunteer, Julia, on that committee and served so well at our local every year, it was just wonderful.

But I was inspired by the quotation that, "humanity has two wings, one is male, one is female. Until both wings are strong, humanity will not fly, it will not thrive, it will not be as good as it can be until those two wings are strengthened."

And so, I see everyday examples of things that are going well and that we need to continue to see the positive and the positive strokes and things that women have accomplished and are still doing today.

Julia Meek: And entities like the Women's Fund, Creative Women of the World, Sister Cities International and more are making big headway in the cause of women's equality. So how might we maximize that right now in the spirit of Women's History Month, International Women's Day?

Clydia Early: I would say by supporting those groups, for sure. The foundation has put together the women's group and they need support, they have gone out, the director's Cassie Beer; Cassie has worked really hard to put together information about women in our region and in our community, and where they are.

And I think all those pieces need to be seen by different businesses and corporations so that we can support them and work on changing it for the better and making it the best. Creative Women of the World have stepped out and they're doing different entrepreneurial workshops with women and creatives.

It's something that hasn't necessarily not been done in our city, but maybe haven't been done by those specific groups. And so, with them reaching out, it gives other people opportunities to join them that aren't necessarily involved but can become involved from the community.

We have a lot of different groups here in Fort Wayne now that are working to empower women and to use the resources that we already have and play upon them.

Julia Meek: Which is long time overdue, a lot of people would say and Clydia, you you directly embrace the arts as a powerful equalizing tool with the very business that you have founded and run. How can we maximize the effectiveness and the good work that art does?

Clydia Early: I would say, including all artists, not in just one space, not just one person, not in just one area. The city of Fort Wayne has seemed to me taken on art as a directive.

And we are putting art in that whole downtown area, the whole city is an art landscape. And that we as people involved in our communities and neighborhoods, I would love to see us a part of making the decisions on the art that happens in where we live in our communities. So that's for me.

Carol Butler: Mmhmm. I think we can also visit places, I think that we should support the places like Clydia's gallery, BIPOCA and different single artists that are trying to make a difference in our community.

You know, people appreciate art when they drive down, like Pontiac Street and see the beautiful mural that Teresa Yarbrough placed there on the side of the building honoring the tragedy that happened in that community. It's all beautiful.

And we can do more to support the individual artists so they can keep going with what they're trying to do.

Julia Meek: It does make a statement.

Carol Butler: It does, it does. And like Clydia said, Fort Wayne seems to have decided that they want to have more art on buildings, landscapes, statues and things of that nature that we'd never had years ago. I just think it's beautiful.

Julia Meek: It is great and historically, Fort Wayne is also a city that survives. We're known around the nation for that. What should we be honing in on right now to keep the relevancy and the progress of this 21st century going strong? What we're talking about right now, how can we make it stronger?

Carol Butler: Well, I think that it would be good if people were getting together more than they do. We have so much polarization. And one of the things that we can come together on and through is art, music, drama, things like that.

And I just feel like when we recognize our humanity and recognize that we are all one people and come together that way, that we are all much better off. That's what we were trying to do with the International Women's Day celebration, and the final Walk of the Women--100 women who were dressed in their native clothing?

Everybody who sees that was just so touched. And anytime we talk about that now, that procession of women dressed as they were, it just brings back so much memories of community and really how we should be.

Clydia Early: I would say really quickly, during the pandemic, we lost a lot of time together. And humans are meant to be with humans. And losing all that time, it's been kind of difficult to find ways, I mean, a lot of things happen then.

But creativity, in my opinion brings us together, because we don't have to use words to be creative. We don't have to use words to paint together. We don't have to use words to draw together. Music, music, we don't have to use words to do music together and feel good about it.

The Creative Arts for me have always bought up positive feelings and positivity so I feel like the creative arts is a way for us to move forward in this century in the time that we are now and the polarization that's going on, because if you know about the polarization, also, a lot of things have been taken away from the arts, the art moving away from the art.

And I see that as you know, not good. So, I got a role, I need to bring them back into focus. And that's what I'm working on.

Julia Meek: Good for you and dialing inward now, and really back to basics, what remedial work, including literacy needs addressed to really make all of this be a change maker, to make things different for women and for the entire community? In your minds. Is it doable? And if so, what do we need to do?

Clydia Early: That's a big question Julia, and remedial work? (chuckles) I don't even know if we could do the remedial work that needs to be done. But let me say this, as a woman, I am open to other women. And I know that women can come together because I've seen us do it before.

With the opportunity and the women out there that are interested, I know that we can make a change, I keep seeing it happen. All these women are coming together to create change.

And I'm not saying that men aren't a part of it. What I'm saying is that we know that we're stronger together. And so, bringing us together, we can bring other people together, it just takes a few of us a little bit to make it bigger.

Julia Meek: So, in the medium- and long-term range of things, what do you dare to dream to be next? Dream big.

Clydia Early: Okay! So, I dare to be this speaker that's motivating people to do art and to be themselves and to be creatives, wherever they are.

Women all over the world, especially women, it's important to me that they have a voice. It's important to me that women have a voice because I didn't feel like I had one for a long time.

So, I would love--the big big picture is I'm traveling all over the world, and I'm speaking to women, and I'm inspiring them to be the creative selves that they already have deep inside them, just bringing it out. That's what it is-- taking BIPOCA worldwide!

Carol Butler: I love it. I love it! I love it! (all laugh) I would do the same thing, and I would just see you flying around the world, Clydia, that is exactly what we need to do! Thank you! (chuckles)

Julia Meek: Good luck to everybody on that, and yes, it's wonderful dreams and dreams do become reality. And bottom line, the two of you have and likely always will work incredibly hard to make a difference. And you don't have to work nearly so hard or so much, but you do it.

We know what it means to the whole community that you have. So last question, at the end of the day, what does it mean to you? What does it do for you to do what you do?

Carol Butler: Well for me, I'm always happier when I have other people working with me. I never did anything on my own. Never. I always had willing volunteers, people from the community, friends, relatives, and I just feel like as long as we can connect with each other, support each other and work on things together, then I am at my happiest.

Julia Meek: Clydia?

Clydia Early: You know, you can talk talk, talk, talk, talk. Talk is cheap, that's the saying, but I can show you better than I can tell you. And so at the end of the day, I like to show that I'm a community builder, and not just do the talk, but walk the walk. That's what it means to me.

Julia Meek: Clydia Early is founder and creator of BIPOCA Incubator and Gallery and Carol Butler, an author and social advocate. Thanks for sharing your story, thanks for the work that you do and all of your passion, do carry the gift.

Carol Butler: Thank you, Julia.

Clydia Early: Thank you, Julia.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.