In days of segregation, African American women had few options. They were limited in terms of where they could go and what they could do.
Instead, they relied on their own tight knit communities to create a network of support. Abra Lattany-Reed says those bonds laid the foundation for relationships of the future.
“For women of color, the only place to gather was their living rooms for tea. They would don their best dresses and hats with their beautiful purses. They would bake their best cakes,” Lattany-Reed said. “But it wasn’t just coffee talk that happened when they got together — they took real action to make lives better.”
It’s a heritage and legacy that makes Latany-Reed and other members of the Brunswick chapter of The Links Inc. very proud. Those poised women sitting in parlors helped to lay the framework of their organization, and it is because of them, the world today is very different. The members of the international nonprofit service organization are all women of color with professions and powerful voices.
“Links INC. is an international nonprofit, established in 1946. The Brunswick, Georgia, chapter was established in 1966 ... we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2016. Our local chapter has 25 active members and 10 alumni members,” said Lattany-Reed, the current local Links INC. president.
“The membership consists of over 15,000 professional women of color in 288 chapters located in 42 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the United Kingdom. The goal is to bring together women of like minds and interests. We are a little different than sororities and other service groups in that we are ‘linked’ in friendship. We bring together our resources to strengthen our community.”
They have been spearheading local causes in the areas of children’s services, healthcare and the arts.
“Our international arm recently won an award for work we’ve have done in Ghana and Haiti,” she noted.
Their reach at home is also impactful.
“We work locally to help the community grow economically to offer a better quality of life., Lattany-Reed said. We hosted a community arts festival in 2017 at Mary Ross where we brought children together. We have a partnership with the College of Coastal Georgia providing our LIFE student program that not only encourages student to go to college but to major in international studies.”
The Brunswick Links Inc. was recently awarded a grant to work in HIV and AIDS education and to raise awareness.
“We will unveil that after the first of the year. We intend to work with the Coastal Health District on that. So we are not just doing things that are cute and ‘artsy’ ... we are doing something that really impacts the community in long run, focusing on hearts, souls, minds, spirit and a holistic view of the family.”
Lattany-Reed has helped lead that charge for the last four years. Since being elected as the group’s leader, she has focused on carrying the group’s legacy into the future while maintaining a sense of history.
“It has really been a privilege to help move us from the last 50 years ... to propel us into the next 50 years and to set that trajectory. For me its about bringing in more distinguished women who are doing great things in the community,” she said.
One of those women currently on the member rolls is Elaine Griffin. The Brunswick native and Yale alumna has seen great professional success as an interior designer in New York City, as well as abroad. She was the winner of NBC’s design reality show, American Dream Builders. Griffin is also the author of the bestselling book, “Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator.” Griffin’s mother, Ethel, was a charter member of the Brunswick Links.
“My mother, Ethel Griffin, who was truly a civic dynamo in her day, is the last founding member of the Brunswick chapter of the Links, Inc, an organization she held close to her heart. It’s such a pleasure for me to continue serving in her footsteps today,” Griffin said.
Griffin is lending her international experience and expertise to an upcoming Links event. She will be the hostess of an afternoon tea, which will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. at Sea Palms on St. Simons Island. There will be a silent auction and hat show. Tickets are $50 and the proceeds will go to directly benefit programs in the community.
“We are very excited about the tea. We began 70 years ago and a lot of that work is still alive. For us in the Brunswick chapter, we came through segregation and this tea really touches the roots of who we are ... this is our opportunity to let the community know about us and our legacy,” she said.
“Legacy is not just about a period of time, it’s an evolving measure of transformation. That’s what the Brunswick chapter is doing. We are moving our community forward through service. But the tea is also an homage to our roots. We are still strong and still working to make a difference. If you put women together in a room with the best teas, hats and shoes ... you can change the world.”