marsha_henderson_web.jpgMIAMI SHORES — Robbie Bell said she’s not ready. That was how she felt after learning about the financial, health and policy issues that African-American women age 50 and older generally face, through the AARP’s Are You Ready? initiative.

Today, Bell helps spread the knowledge she’s gained about these matters as AARP committee co-chair for the Greater Miami Chapter of The Links, Inc., one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of African-American women.

Despite hosting several workshops and discussions about these topics, the Links wanted to do more to raise awareness of women’s health and wellness matters in South Florida, particularly among other organizations and faith-based groups, members said.

The chapter took its first step on April 16, in partnership with Barry University, by hosting Marsha Henderson, assistant commissioner for women’s health at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

During the evening reception at Barry’s Andy Gato Gallery, 11300 N.E. Second Ave., in Miami Shores, Henderson spoke to an audience of university officials, Barry students, and members of area organizations about the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health Take Time to Care outreach initiative.

The initiative aims to protect and advance the health of women through policy, science, and outreach by providing free educational materials through outreach activities and collaborative partnerships with national women’s health organizations, health professionals, and universities as well as community and faith-based organizations.

Bell said Henderson was a “perfect match” for what the Links chapter was seeking to do locally in connection with the AARP initiative. Renée Jones, the chapter president, said the goal now becomes sharing the information Henderson provides with the broader community.

An international not-for-profit, the Links got its start in Philadelphia in 1946 with the purpose of promoting civic, educational, and cultural advancement. Today the organization boasts 12,000 professional women of color in 274 chapters in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and the Bahamas.

The Greater Miami Chapter was founded in 1955 and, like its parent organization, is committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and persons of African ancestry. On Saturday the chapter hosted its annual Book & Author luncheon, with Terri McMillan as this year’s author.

In January, Bell and Kay Sullivan, who co-chairs the AARP committee for the chapter, contacted their alma mater about hosting Henderson.

“When we started this project, I found out Robbie also went to Barry,” said Sullivan, who earned her bachelor of science in

business administration in 1988 and her master of science in ­­human resource management in 2008 at Barry. Bell earned a master of science in human resource development and administration at Barry in 1997.

The two reached out to Victoria Champion, Barry’s director of major and planned gifts, to talk about holding Henderson’s discussion at Barry. Sullivan and Champion are both Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters and, even though they pledged at different

universities in different years, the two struck up a friendship after meeting at a sorority related event.

“I feel very proud to have made a Barry connection with Victoria and that my college reached out to me and gave me an opportunity to do this,” Sullivan said.

Champion’s boss, Thomas P. Severino, associate vice president for institutional advancement at Barry, said it was hard to turn the event down.

Founded as a Catholic women’s college in 1940, Barry is “very much in tune with women’s issues and minority issues where they are misrepresented,” Severino told the South Florida Times. “We saw it as a natural match to the mission of Barry University. We admire The Links, Inc. for bringing people together to find solutions that are positive, that are uplifting, and that maximize the talents of the diverse community that is South Florida.”

Barry University President Sister Linda Bevilacqua echoed Severino’s sentiments as she told the audience how much she appreciated the synergies between the FDA’s outreach initiative, the Links and Barry. “I’m a firm believer that whoever comes and places their feet on our grounds leaves a blessing,” she said.

Sullivan told the South Florida Times that Monday’s event was a precursor for a larger panel discussion on women’s health issues that the Links hopes to host sometime next year with Henderson as a participant.

Barry undergraduate student Latoya Luke, who is studying biology and pre-dentistry, attended Henderson’s discussion on behalf of Barry’s Organized Alumni of Tomorrow, a student organization that focuses on preparing future graduates for life after commencement.

Luke said she valued the opportunity to meet Henderson and members of the Links. “This is what we may do someday,” she said.


Marsha Henderson: The Links, Inc. hosted FDA official.