African-American women’s clubs support students
by Sue Ellen Ross, Post-Tribune
Joyce Martin of East Chicago is proud to be associated with the nation’s oldest African-American women’s organization.
The National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Inc., developed in 1896, is the umbrella organization for many offshoots.
There are two clubs based in East Chicago — the Women’s Improvement Club and the Ladies Excelsior Art Club.
Martin belongs to the latter.
“It is an honor and privilege to belong to the oldest African-American women’s club,” Martin said. “LEAC is an important face in the community. I have grown and learned so much from the members, the struggles to bring the organization together, and the struggles to continue to keep it alive.”
Membership also gives the opportunity to offer role models for girls and young women, she added.
The main focus of the Ladies Excelsior Art Club is to help local students in furthering their education, LEAC president Pearlie Eatman said.
“The association strives to promote the education of women and youth through local, state, and regional workshops, seminars and scholarship assistance,” Eatman said. “The primary goal for the LEAC, since its inception in 1931, has been to award scholarships to local graduating seniors.”
Eatman first became involved in the club after her son Gene received a scholarship in 1992.
“I was impressed with the commitment of the ladies,” she said. “And I also recognized the need to assist students with college expenses.”
The most enjoyable part of Eatman’s position is watching the happy faces of the students and their parents when they are notified of winning the scholarship money, she said.
“It’s not a lot of money, but it can help buy books and supplies and also cover other incidentals necessary to make the transition from high school to college.”
LEAC holds an annual fund-raiser each spring to support the scholarship fund. Funding come from individuals, companies and organizations.
“This year we received assistance from Lawrence Lineker, vice president and chief sales officer for the central region for HUB International, Chicago,” Eatman said. “Thanks to his generosity, we were able to give two $1,500 scholarships. The Foundations of East Chicago also has been generous in helping us with our fund-raisers over the years.”
This year’s scholarship winners are Dante Dinkins and Travis Hunter. Both have graduated from East Chicago Central High School.
Sandra Collins of East Chicago is president of the other East Chicago organization, the Women’s Improvement Club. She has been a member for six years.
The club’s purpose and goals are similar to the LEAC. The focus is on the youth of the area and fund-raising events vary from year to year.
“Every two years, we have a cotillion,” Collins said. “Participants are introduced to society. They show their talents and are eligible for scholarships.”
Other fund-raisers in the past included a mother-and-daughter tea and a fashion show.
Collins first became aware of the Women’s Improvement Club when her daughter was a participant in one of the cotillions.
“As a result of understanding what this club’s purpose was –continuous service to the community using educational venues and character-building for the youth — I was impressed and wanted to become involved,” she said.
In addition to the two East Chicago Clubs, there are three clubs in Gary, two in Hammond and one in Fort Wayne.
The LEAC in East Chicago is always looking for new members, according to the group’s president. “That is our biggest challenge,” Eatman said. “To that end, we will be having a recruitment drive this fall.”
If you go
What: Recruitment tea for Ladies Excelsior Art Club
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: East Chicago Public Library, 2401 E. Columbus Drive