Donning formal church hats to modern fascinators and elegant lace gloves while sipping an assortment of tea and enjoying fine dining, ladies of the mature and miniature were adorned in their very best fashions as they celebrated bright beginnings and a brighter future for deserving college students.

The Tullis Arena of the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Physical Education Center on the campus of Claflin University was the scene for the elaborate affair as women dressed in hues of spring were escorted by Claflin’s 100 Men into the March 18 gathering for the purpose of uniting in sisterhood during the eighth annual Hats and Gloves Tea benefiting the Alice Carson Tisdale Scholarship fund.

April showers came a few days early but didn’t damper the enthusiasm for the cause, “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.”

The signature event for the university’s Women’s History Month activities, the annual tea featured Visionary Award honoree and Orangeburg Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter and was presided over by WIS-TV News anchor Judi Gatson.

Claflin’s first lady, Alice Carson Tisdale, said the atmosphere in the arena was overwhelmingly powerful.

“An amazing group of women ... mothers, grandmothers, educators, religious leaders, advocates and entrepreneurs, all who strengthen the fabric of our communities and our nation.”

Widely respected on both sides of the aisle and dubbed “the conscience of the House,” Cobb-Hunter was the first African-American woman in Orangeburg County to be elected to a state-level office in 1992.

Her commitment to progressive issues aimed at making communities a better place for working families to live was honored.

“We recognize Rep. Cobb-Hunter for her commitment and inspiration to all women everywhere,” Tisdale said.

“Growing up in Gifford, Fla., I never thought about anything other than trying to make a difference,” said Cobb-Hunter, executive director of CASA/Family Systems, a family violence agency serving residents of Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties.

Cobb-Hunter attributes her belief in “a higher power” to being who she is.

“My husband and best friend, Dr. Terry Keith Hunter, has been a great contributor and supporter to who I have become,” she said. “There’s nothing special about me. It’s by God’s grace that I am where I am.”

Past recipients of the Visionary Awards were Alice Carson Tisdale, Orangeburg City Councilwoman Liz Zimmerman Keitt, U.S. Judge Karen Williams, Dr. Clemmie B. Hatchett, Dr. Anne S. Crook, Dr. Vermelle J. Johnson and Bernice Tribble.

This year’s tea paid homage to Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.”

“Purple symbolizes spirituality and dignity,” Tisdale said. “The color urges us to find the power within that is only rooted in the spirit.”

Gatson thanked Tisdale and the community for their “visionary work.”

“One thing that my mother used to say to her daughters was that we could be pitiful or powerful, but not both,” Gatson noted. “Because of the support of this event, our women are going to be a powerful generation.”

Tisdale was surprised when she was presented a check for $25,000, which endowed the scholarship.

In a captivating display of music and dance, Annette Dees Grevious, associate professor of speech and drama at Claflin, transformed into Sojourner Truth, inviting the audience to take a journey with music and dance from the Middle Passage, into slavery and beyond emancipation.

Throughout the monologue of the historical heroine, Grevious shares Truth’s thoughts about race relations, gender equity, freedom, and civil and equal rights for all.

During the event, awards were presented to two freshmen recipients, Glotavia Morris, middle level education major, and Alexandria Wells, early childhood education major, who were selected from a pool of applicants.

They each received a scholarship check for $1,500 and new laptops courtesy of Moses and Emma Harvin of One Source Office Products.

Cobb-Hunter told the recipients and attendees “there is nothing you cannot do or be. The only face that will stop you is the face in the mirror.”

“I believe in the power of collective women,” Tisdale said. “There was Ms. Celie, poor, uneducated and abused; Sophia, spunky, defiant and sentenced to a life of servitude; Shug Avery, the flighty lounge singer and mistress. But they each reached an epiphany and pressed on with dignity.”

Tisdale said women carry children and burdens, but still carry happiness, love and joy.

“You smile when you want to scream; you sing when you want to cry; you cry when you are happy and laugh when you are nervous,” she said. “Women come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Women do more than just give birth ... the heart of a woman makes the world go ’round.”

Contact the writer kdavis@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5552. Follow on Twitter @KimberleiDavis

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