At their last regular meeting in March, Oakland County Commissioners paused to recognize notable women from across the county.
Although this is part of a Women’s History Month, these women are making a difference every day. Commissioner Angela Perry, D-Pontiac, invited her fellow commissioners to nominate a star in their respective communities. Most of the 2022 winners expressed surprise and joy at being selected.
District 14 Commissioner William Miller, D-Farmington, chose Rev. Dr. Patricia W. Coleman-Burns for her lifelong advocacy of freedom from all forms of oppression and violence. An assistant professor emeritus of nursing and black studies at the University of Michigan, Coleman-Burns is the coordinator of Farmington’s Beloved Community Initiative and leads a truth and reconciliation policing project. She is co-chair of the Farmington Hills Multicultural Multiracial Council.
District 16 Commissioner Penny Luebs, D-Clawson, picked city resident Char Larson, who retired as president and CEO of Clawson Community Credit Union only to start Larson Consulting. She is the current Chair of the Board of the Clawson Chamber of Commerce and an active member and leader of the Clawson-Troy Optimist Club. Her reputation as a warm and engaging leader makes her feel like she’s everywhere – raising charity poker funds, co-hosting auction dinners, and events promoting Claws & Paws and Farmer Market events.
District 12 Commissioner Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham, chose Dorothy Conrad, a resident of Birmingham since 1963, calling her the epitome of what it means to be an engaged citizen. The former mayor of Birmingham has long been active in community affairs and local politics. She has served on the Birmingham City Traffic and Safety Board, Planning Board and Commission. Conrad has long volunteered with neighborhood associations and the League of Women Voters, and in 2014 she received the Birmingham Bloomfield First Citizen Award.
Two Southfield Democrats, District 21 Commissioner Janet Jackson and District 17 Commissioner Yolanda Charles, chose “Southfield’s mother” Barbara Talley, who joined the meeting via video chat.
Southfield voters elected her to the city council in 1983, making her the first African American on that council, and she spearheaded the creation of Southfield’s Affirmative Action Plan. As the first African American to run for mayor, she nearly beat a 29-year-old incumbent mayor. In 1986, Talley founded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force, organizing Michigan’s first peace march, and led a delegation to Mexico each year to participate in a celebration of peace. She is currently the project director for a traveling exhibit titled “Pathways to Freedom in the Americas: Shared Experiences Between Michigan, USA and Guerrero, Mexico.”
District 9 Commissioner Gwen Markham, D-Novi, selected Novi resident Tia Marie Sanders, an activist working for equitable financial access and inclusion for Black Americans, women and children. She founded the Tia Marie Sanders Foundation, which provides grants, training and capacity building to small nonprofits focused on ending racial, social and economic disparities.
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She is co-founder of Novi’s Feed the Need summer lunch program, which has provided more than 13,000 lunches to children under 17 since 2015, during the 11-week summer break. During the pandemic, services expanded to provide fresh produce, meat and dairy through community partnerships.
District 3 Commissioner Michael Spisz, R-Oxford, chose Oxford resident Constance Miller for her decades-long commitment to the community. Actively campaigning since the 1990s, on issues ranging from building a new public library to funding police and fire departments. Miller’s activism from 1997 to 2005 in the Friends of Oxford Public Library earned her being named “friend of the year” in 2005.
Miller, former president of the Oxford Women’s Club, runs the Immanuel Congregational United Church of Christ’s free lunch program. Since the pandemic hit, she and a team of dedicated volunteers she recruited have distributed free prepared meals and grocery bags to those in need. When not busy volunteering, Miller works at Oxford Community Television, where she has won awards for hosting shows.
District 13 Commissioner Marcia Gershenson, Township of D-Bloomfield, chose Jennifer Graham, an elementary school teacher and active volunteer, for her commitment to the development and advancement of young people inside and outside the classroom. She has coached colleagues, parents and students on leadership and purposeful engagement. Outside the classroom, it is served on June 16 and united we walk committees, including serving as President of United We Walk since 2016. United We Walk brings the community together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with various activities.
District 6 Commissioner Eileen Kowall, Township of R-White Lake, chose White Lake history buff Barb Allison, who served as president of the township’s historical society for six years. She is currently the organization’s communications director.
Allison researched editions of the Milford Times from 1871 to 1978. Her work as a local historian also led to the creation of a White Lake Driving History Tour, complete with an accompanying booklet. The Fisk Farm Festival volunteer also assists with all Fisk Farm open house events. Currently working on a book chronicling the history of the police and firefighters of White Lake, Allison is also preparing a book on the history of local veterans. Kowall said Allison has spent countless hours researching the community’s history to educate the public while preserving knowledge of the community’s past.
District 10 Commissioner Angela Powell, D-Pontiac, chose Pontiac resident Portia Fields-Anderson for “her reputation for being selfless, energetic and passionate about people from all walks of life.” »
Fields-Anderson’s efforts primarily benefit residents of Pontiac, but some of her work has impacted people across the state. She was Director of Community and Social Services for the City
of Pontiac, Therapeutic Recreation Program Supervisor for Oakland County, Assistant
superintendent of Huron-Clinton Metroparks and teacher of dance and art. Powell notes that Fields-Anderson lives by the motto “don’t just count the days, make the days count.”
Gershenson, the board’s vice chair, and Markham led the March 24 meeting — the first time in recent memory that two women have done so, Charles noted in his comments at the end of the meeting.
Markham and Gershenson allowed big smiles and exchanged a high-five to the applause of the other commissioners.