Gloria L. Taylor
Community Women Against Hardship
St. Louis, Missouri
Gloria Taylor's commitment to community began with family, taking root in the Atlanta home of the grandmother who raised her. Her great-grandfather presided over dinners where family members of all generations discussed what was in their minds and hearts. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was sometimes a visitor to the home as well. It was at these gatherings that young Gloria formed her values-a strong work ethic, a focus on the positive, and most importantly, a desire to help people in need.
"I grew up listening to the talk," she recalls of those formative years. "There was nothing negative, no bad language. The conversation was always positive, always about figuring out what we could do. And there is a stick-to-it-iveness about all this stuff from the past. It was an interesting beginning."
What has emerged from that beginning is more interesting still. Believing that local communities can thrive on those same values today, Gloria started Community Women Against Hardship (CWAH) in 1988 in St. Louis to assist single women in need and their families; 33 percent of the city's African Americans then lived below the poverty level. "When I saw the stats on how many children go to bed hungry, that was my dramatic moment," she recalls. "I knew there had to be something we could do."
The volunteer-based program starts at home. "Food was always important, and so was the kitchen," she says. "Someone comes in hungry, you hand him a sandwich. You don't ask questions. It's about finding ways to share." Since its beginning, CWAH has offered food and clothing to more than 5,000 women and children; it has sponsored health-care programs, computer training, academic tutoring, and jazz programs; and it has purchased (for $1) and renovated (with some 30,000 hours of volunteer help) a former elementary school for a family support center.
Gloria became a Catholic at age 16, and her faith fuels her work. "There are days I just think I need to pray a whole lot more," she says. She recalls one girl who became pregnant at 14 and was kicked out of school. "Her mother had her own set of problems, and they lived in the projects. Our caseworker got her back into school, stayed with her, took her to church, and she graduated from high school with honors. She went on to major in math at St. Louis University." Today, that same young woman is working on her masters degree and has volunteered at CWAH, using hip-hop music to teach math, reading, and grammar skills, perfectly reflecting Gloria's conviction that "God gives us these skills so we can give back."
Among Gloria's biggest challenges now is the permanence of CWAH. "What bothers me the most is that I can't be here forever." It's likely she'll face this challenge the way she does the others, one step at a time. "I don't go after the big things," she says. "I don't ask for iPods. I'd rather see families coming together, so I ask for games-Scrabble, Monopoly. That's what I go after. And books."
It's one of the few points Gloria could stand to be corrected on. It's clear, after all, that she is going after the big things.