Western Area, The Links, Incorporated:
Connecting the Chain of Friendship
When The Links, Incorporated adopted a national structure in 1949, a vital geographical link was missing — chapters from the West.
In September 1950, three chapters were chartered in California (Los Angeles, Oakland Bay Area and San Francisco), connecting the chain of friendship from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The organizers of the three chapters were: Vada Sommerville–Los Angeles, Loraine Rickmond—Oakland Bay Area and Hortense Thomas—San Francisco. Sarah Strickland Scott, Co-founder and National President, appointed Loraine Rickmond, Oakland Bay Area Chapter, to chair the cluster. From there, the Western Area spread Linkdom from the southern tip of Texas northward to Alaska and westward across the Pacific to Hawaii.
The Western Area became a formal unit in 1954, when The Links, Incorporated was organized into four geographical areas. At the first Western Area Conference in April 14, 1954, six chapters participated—Los Angeles (CA), Oakland Bay Area (CA) and San Francisco (CA) joined by Phoenix (AZ) and Sacramento (CA) (chartered in 1952), and Denver (CO), re-zoned from Central Area to Western Area in 1953. Loraine Rickmond was elected Western Area Director, and her conference theme, Communications, served as the foundation for conferences into the 21st century.
Today, the Western Area’s 60 chapters are characterized by leadership, award-winning programs, and warm, interpersonal relationships between and among members of their respective chapters and beyond. The Western Area is known for innovations.
The Western Area’s innovative and meaningful projects can be traced to the distinctive leadership of the Area Directors. Translating purpose into performance is the measure of great leaders. Like the navigators of the age of exploration, great leaders always have one eye fixed on the horizon and the other on optimism and promise of a better tomorrow. The past leaders of the Western Area of The Links, Incorporated are to be commended. An elite group of women distinguished by their courage, fortitude, vision and brilliance, that represent the best of The Links, Incorporated and leave an indelible imprint on the great history of the area and the organization by transforming visions into reality.
The concepts of cluster workshops and umbrella programming originated in the Western Area–fruit of the sharp intellect and fertile imagination of Julia B. Smith, 6th Western Area Director and former National Program Coordinator.
Other practices initiated by Western Area Directors that have become traditions in the West include:
• Institution of simultaneous activities for Connecting Links during conferences and assemblies;
• Practice of documenting the recognition of 25 years of membership;
• Initiation of a $5,000 Community Service Award to a worthy organization at the site of the Area Conference;
• Establishment of the Western Area Meritorious Service Award, which acknowledges efforts by individuals (adult and youth) who exemplify the ideals of our organization through extensive community service and involvement;
• Induction of the Living Legend Pacesetter and Emerging Leader Awards honoring trailblazers in their fields;
• Funding of the Western Area School in South Africa ( Education Across the Miles);
• Selection of the African American Museum-Dallas as the repository for the Western Area Archives;
• Implementing “Links to Success, Children Achieving Excellence,” a signature program funded by the Exxon Foundation headquartered in the Dallas-Fort-Worth Metroplex;
• Using a $100,000 State of Texas award for three (3) Texas chapters to provide programs specifically tailored to improve the lives of women and girls in health, education and/or welfare;
• Hosting national programs, including the Wade in the Water Traveling Exhibition and the 2nd Annual National Walk for Health and Hunger (Walk-a-Thon);
• Collaborations of chapter clusters and community entities to support such programs as the “Uganda Tour of Light,” and the prevention of violence against women and girls—“The Vagina Monologues”;
• Developing the Scholarship Endowment Fund for Historically Black Colleges and Universities located in the Western Area through which chapters contribute annually; and,
• Launching STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math — as the primary programmatic focus with the initial financial support of seven corporations.
The Western Area has demonstrated its commitment to the development and implementation of innovative and transformational programs in each of the five National program facets. The Black Patriot’s Memorial, a Denver (CO) Chapter initiative (The Arts) and the Dorie Miller Campaign for Recognition (National Trends & Services) were embraced by the Western Area and ultimately supported by the organization as national projects. Throughout the Western Area, chapters nurture and mentor young people through achievers (male) and cotillion/debutante (female) programs (Services To Youth); promote health awareness (Health & Human Services); encourage volunteerism and civic engagement (National Trends & Services); build appreciation and expertise in various art media (The Arts); and provide support to children and families though the establishment of a school through the Education Across the Miles (South Africa), School in A Box (Rwanda) Mama Kits (Uganda)and several other African countries(Services To Youth and International Trends & Services).
Chapters recognize that The Links, Incorporated does not operate in a vacuum and therefore value and seek opportunities to collaborate and partner with businesses, organizations and community groups. Examples of collaborations include initiatives such as Project ALERT- Alzheimer’s Link to Education, Research and Treatment in partnership with University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; Heart Links, a Cardiovascular Partnership with the University of California Davis; the Mayme Clayton Library in Los Angeles; and, Portland (OR) Chapter pilot of the National Program, Project LEAD: High Expectations, a partnership with Portland Public School District under the direction of Dr. Matthew Prophet, District Superintendent.
The Western Area has produced two national presidents. Marion Schultz Sutherland, Greater Seattle (WA), 7th Western Area Director, served the organization as the 10th National President and is credited with the development of a strategic plan that guided the growth and development of The Links, Incorporated through the 1990s and into the 21st century. Glenda F. Newell-Harris, M.D., Alameda Contra-Costa (CA) Chapter, currently serves as National President.
Drawing on the synergy generated by women who are committed to friendship and service, the Western Area now has 60 chapters, located in ten states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Washington. Moving forward into the 21st century, Western Area Links are reminded that the legacy of service and friendship provided by the first three chapters continues—as Links make a difference in transforming the lives of people of African ancestry and of the global community.