We live in a time where the images of African American women often exist in extremes.
On the one hand we have First Lady Michelle Obama and all that she brings that is so positive and powerful about us, and on the other we have “Basketball Wives,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” and the “Housewives of Atlanta” depicting us as strident, raucous and downright mean.
We rarely see the image of Black women in balance, harmony, service and restoration. We rarely see average everyday working and professional black female Nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers, tech experts, artists, entrepreneurs, ministers, engineers, hairstylists, make-up artists, journalists, and small business owners come together to heal themselves and in doing so, heal others who are less fortunate and in need.
I had occasion as a journalist to witness over 50 ordinary hard-working women engage in extraordinary efforts to restore themselves to wholeness, rest, wellness, and balance. We laughed, we cried, we shared, we swam, we ate, and made merry–and in doing so, we also helped to “restore hope” to school aged children ages 4 through 12 in one of this hemisphere’s poorest nations: Dominican Republic (which after the Haiti earthquake of 2010 is now home to many Haitian orphans and families).
What made restoration so meaningful for me, however, wasn’t the fabulous spa treatments, sister fellowship, or the five star resort we were staying in (The Sanctuary in Punta Cana, Dominica, a property now managed by Salamander Hotels & Spa, owned by philanthropist Sheila Johnson). All of that was wonderful, but what made this trip meaningful for me was that Michelle Hargrove, the founder of Restoration Weekend, understood that the women who came to the Caribbean to restore themselves, also needed to leave their “heart print” with hundreds of school aged kids, who needed school uniforms, and school supplies. Hargrove wanted to change their lives, if even in a small way, for the better.
And change it she and her band of “restored” sisters did!
The night before we all traveled by bus to Centro Educativo de Nazareth School, a bunch of us were stuffing bags, and sorting school supplies. As Michelle looked humbly out over the sea of 200 gift bags, and the dozens of blue polo shirts, school supplies, skirts, pants and shoes she said, “This is just an incredible outpouring of love these women have demonstrated with their gifts. Every child will get a bag with something in it and that will make such a difference in their lives if even for one day. It gives them hope that someone cares.”
Mrs. Jean Dye, who is part of the International Circle of Friends, and met Hargrove through a mutual friend in Newark, New Jersey, was onsite for the Restoration visit. She told me, “The cost to educate each child is approximately $7.00 per child, per month or in many cases the kids go for free or out of the generosity of the Guzman’s—sometimes bartering for work or skills takes place in order for kids to go to school.” Dye, who is a philanthropist and wife of International Golf Course Developer PB Dye works with the school founders, Victor & Neri Guzman to support their incredible efforts. The school which is self financed, started in December 2006, and serves approximately 250 poor children in Bavaro-Punta Cana, more than 50% of the children are Haitian.
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As Dye watched the children swarm the women with hugs she had tears in her eyes and quipped, “I hope these ladies know the enormous feeling of self-esteem each child will have now that they have their own shoes, back pack, clothes. I am just overwhelmed by the generosity. A good thing has happened here and will never be forgotten by this community.”
As for the women who attended and had a chance to experience personal restoration and project Restoring Hope:
“Restoration proved to be a time to not only restore my mind and soul, but it allowed me to sow good into the lives of children.” Said Atlanta based social media expert Robin M. Ware. Another event speaker, Mia K. Wright Co-Pastor the Fountain of Praise, in Houston said, “Going to the school reminded me of how blessed we are and that we have a humane responsibility to help the less fortunate. My heart was pricked to see the smiles on their faces. They felt our sincerity and love, we felt their gratitude.” Renowned OB/GYN Dr. Tomeka Strickland noted: “As a busy physician I rarely get to rest, it was an opportunity to take a rest from an intense schedule. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of and the quality of connection with 50 other amazing women. Amidst this phenomenal experience our time was balanced with an emotional and rewarding visit to the Centro de Nazareth School.” And lastly, Dianna Jones, Esq. added, “My experience during Restoration and at the Nazareth school we visited was life changing. Restoration weekend renewed, restored, and revived my spiritual, emotional, and mental foundations.”
Sister Sunday Take-Away: These women made a difference by first taking care of themselves and then by having enough love, compassion and spirit to share with these children. There is a life lesson here for us all who are often too busy, too harried, too worried and too stressed: Restoration really does lead to hope.
Sophia A. Nelson is an award winning author, Essence.com contributor and Freelance journalist who covers the White House and Politics in Washington, DC