By Paul Rozycki
It’s been a long and winding road, but the sculpted busts of the six women honored as “heroines and humanitarians” have now found their way to permanent residence at Flint City Hall.
In a well-attended ceremony at Flint City Hall on April 28, statues of Clarissa Shields, Edith Prunty Spencer, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Sybyl McPeake Atwood, Frances Wilson Thompson and Olive Beasley were officially installed as the central part of the front hall.
The project began over three years ago under the direction of Flint sculptor and Flint Art Institute instructor Jane Trotter. Nearly 15 years ago, Trotter sculpted a bust of Sybyl Atwood, the powerhouse of the Flint community, and in the years that followed, she realized that Atwood wasn’t the only woman to have contributed a lot to the community and to be recognized.
Working with her sculpture students at the Flint Institute of Arts, Trotter selected six women who were the “heroines and humanitarians” who made a major difference in the Flint community.
Yet even though the clay models were made three years ago, it would take time, energy and money to convert those models into final bronze sculptures and find a home for them. The COVID pandemic has added more delays.
For the past three years, before Flint City Hall was chosen for the display of the six busts, suggestions were made that they be placed in the new Flint Public Library, or with the bedroom of commerce, or among several potential locations in downtown Flint. . Ultimately, the goal was to keep the six together, and the Flint City Hall lobby was chosen as their permanent home.
Mayor Sheldon Neeley welcomed those in attendance, saying that women deserved to be honored and that although April was not Women’s History Month, “every month is Women’s History Month. women”.
Flint City Council members Dr. Ladel Lewis (2nd Ward) and Allie Herkenroder (7th Ward) read a proclamation from the City of Flint recognizing the accomplishments of the six women and praising their contributions to the city.
In addition to the efforts of sculptor Jane Trotter and her students, one of the other active forces behind the “Heroines and Humanitarians” project was the Court Street Village Nonprofit, run by Doris and Norma Sain, who described the story of the project and some of the obstacles and challenges she has faced over the past three years.
Each of the “Heroines and Humanitarians” was presented by a colleague or friend, and most were fortunate enough to respond to this honour.
- Shields of Claressa, was presented by Pastor Robert McCathern, who described her as an inspiration to many. Boxer Flint is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and holds 12 professional titles and the only boxer in history to be an undefeated two-division champion. She became a role model for many young people in Flint County and Genesee. Sculptor Dee Moreno created the sculpture of Shields.
- Edith Prunty Spencer was introduced by Flint Public Library Director Kay Schwartz, who spoke of Spencer’s many years of commitment to the library. Spencer has been a leader and active member of the Flint NAACP for over 60 years. Her plaque describes her as an advocate for justice, equal opportunity and the right to vote. She had been involved with at least 14 civic and charitable organizations that promoted education. Jane Trotter made the bust of Edith Spencer.
- Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, was presented by Ingrid Halling. Dr. Hanna-Attisha has become one of the foremost voices for those harmed by Flint’s water crisis. By defying her critics both in and out of town, she became a leader in the campaign to address Flint’s water crisis. She advanced efforts to mitigate the effects of lead on children in Flint. Artist Jan Hanson made the statue of Dr. Hanna-Attisha.
- Dale Weighill, Associate Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Mott Community College, described his working relationship with the late Sybyl McPeake Atwood, at the Resource Center.
Atwood has worked for more than 40 years advocating for the poor, the sick and the aged. In her role at the Resource Center, she has motivated and organized countless volunteers for causes and projects that have improved lives in Genesee County. She is remembered with the SYBYL award given to those who make a difference in their community. It was Jane Trotter’s completion of the Atwood bust that started the project.
- Karima Amliani was scheduled for the introduction of Frances Willson-Thompson but Sue Peters, vice president of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, filled in. Frances Willson Thompson was a donor and philanthropist for many causes and projects in Flint, especially those with the University of Michigan-Flint. She had been the main motivating factor behind the Frances Willson Thompson Library and Critical Issues Forum at UM-Flint. As her bust was completed, her granddaughter Susie said of her, “She loved Flint so much and was so grateful for everything Flint had given her family and her that she wanted to give back.” Trotter sculpted Thompson’s bust.
- Olive Rankin Beasley was portrayed by Ernelle Taylor, who described Beasley as one of Flint’s foremost civil rights leaders. She had been called “the matriarch of the civil rights movement in Flint” and had dedicated her life to racial equality and racial harmony. She championed efforts to make Flint the first city to pass a fair housing ordinance. Carole Goyt is the sculptor who made the Beasley statue.
Concluding the event, Mayor Neeley, Doris Sain and Jane Trotter thanked everyone who supported the project with their time and money over the past three years. Many of those involved in the project attended and shared their experiences and thanks personally after the formal introductions.
The busts will remain on permanent display in the lobby of Flint City Hall.
EVM columnist Paul Rozycki can be reached at [email protected]