Wisconsin Women of Color Network, Inc.
Raising funds to help minority
women go to school
|Debby Tewes is Asian
Writer in the Milwaukee area
auction bidding by the roughly 60 guests in attendance. The vendors were also given a chance to introduce
themselves and their products. Serving as event co-chairs were Phyllis Sanders, Rachel Byington, P. Emraida
Kiram, and Celsa Rodriguez.
With proceeds going to benefit the WWOCN’s scholarships, the fundraiser brunch presented a unique opportunity
to do some holiday shopping while supporting a great cause. Named after founders of the WWOCN who were well
known for making a difference in their communities, the scholarships serve a variety of purposes. The Mabel Smith
Memorial Fund and Cammer-Hill Grant are designed to provide assistance to women of color continuing their
education at a vocational, technical, or community college, the Hattie J. Hilliard Scholarship Fund is for women of
color pursuing an education in the arts, and the Future Leaders Fund allows those in middle school or high school
to get involved in educational activities that will promote their roles as future leaders.
Co-chair Celsa Rodriguez, who has been involved in the organization for five years, says the scholarships were
what initially attracted her to the WWOCN. “I noticed a lack of scholarships for students of color,” Rodriguez says.
The scholarships, in addition to being created for minority students, are often awarded to students who may be
considered unconventional applicants for other scholarships, including older and returning students. In regard to
how scholarship recipients are chosen, president Jan Saiz says, “We look for what the person is working towards,
their grades, as well as someone who’s going to be responsible and follow through.”
While modestly sized, the scholarships can certainly make a difference when purchasing books and other
supplies, especially in these times of economic difficulty.
While awarding scholarships is one of the main functions of the WWOCN, it is just one of the many ways the
network is working towards its goals of assisting women of color in accessing educational resources, health care,
social services, and political participation. Each WWOCN meeting has a different topic of focus. One example is
the annual employment and training conference held in June, which offers workshops on how to find jobs,
leadership development, career planning, resume writing, as well as a variety of other resources. Other topics of
discussion include the WWOCN scholarship fund, as well as any important issues brought up my members
throughout the year. Members are constantly passing on valuable information to one another about chances to get
involved in the community, job opportunities, and a range of other available resources. By doing so, they ensure
that women of color stay well informed represent a strong presence in the community.
What sets the WWOCN apart from many other cultural organizations is that it emphasizes an alliance between all
minority ethnic groups, the four main groups being African Americans, American Indians, Asians, and Latinas.
Co-chair and member of 30 years, Emraida Kiram, says “we make sure that all four groups are represented at
every meeting.” Kiram, who is also an active member of the Wisconsin Organization for Asian Americans, the
Filipino American National Historical Society, and the National Association of Filipino Americans, clearly
understands the value in being involved with cultural organizations that celebrate one’s own culture, as well as
organizations that recognize the diversity among people of all backgrounds. Kiram believes “it’s important to
understand the values and cultures of other ethnic groups, and if we don’t, it’s our loss.”
However, what brings the members of the WWOCN together is not so much embracing the diversity among them
but recognizing their commonality. As Saiz says, “Women of color share common goals and common obstacles.”
Her statement embodies a line in the WWOCNs vision and mission statement which proclaims, “We are women
of color who believe that we have so much in common that we transcend our ethnic differences.” These similarities
are the reason the women of the WWOCN have been able to develop close friendships in addition to their
professional relationships. The members’ collective determination to overcome the shared obstacles of minority
women has made the Wisconsin branch of the Women of Color Network one of the most active nationally.
Still, the WWOCN is continuously interested in expanding and gaining new members. In particular, the organization
lacks a younger demographic. According to Saiz, younger members such as college students or recent graduates
have the potential to offer “inspiration, energy and new ideas that they’ve gained in school.” Also, Saiz says one
needed area of expertise that the upcoming generations possess is technical abilities, which will become
increasingly important for the success of the organization in the years to come. In return, the WWOCN can offer this
younger generation a network of support, a rich supply of resources, and a new awareness of the connections
between seemingly dissimilar people.
For those who wish to get involved with the WWOCN, Saiz says the best way is to simply get in touch and ask,
“What can I do for the organization?” To learn more about the Wisconsin Women of Color Network’s mission,
events, scholarships, or to contact them, visit their website: www.womenofcolornetwork-wis.org.
From left to right: Rachel Byington, Wendi Sun, Emraida Kiram,
Jan Saiz, Celsa Rodriguez.
By Wendi Sun
The Wisconsin Women of Color Network
(WWOCN) holds its annual scholarship
fundraiser brunch every December (during
the Christmas Season), usually at the
Doubletree Hotel of Madison. I was present
at WWOCN's most recent fundraiser and
glad to know a lot about this organization.
The event featured a buffet brunch, silent
auction, raffle drawing, and an array of
vendors selling their products including
jewelry, tupperware, ceramics, tapestries,
nutritional supplements, in addition to a
variety of other goods. A welcome and
introduction was given by current president
Jan Saiz, followed by browsing and silent