‘Gnats to eagles’: Hosting and promoting talk in SC brings new confidence

August 26, 2019
‘Gnats to eagles’: Hosting and promoting talk in SC brings new confidence

Conceived by Baha’is in upstate South Carolina and delivered by an international economist, a July talk on the importance of gender equality was three months in gestation. Those 90 days proved that the local Baha’i communities in greater Greenville are gaining the capacity to make their mark in any realm of community involvement.

The best thing that came out of this intensive period of learning to make connections with community leaders was “we were gnats and now we’re eagles,” says Dorcus Abercrombie. Working on behalf of the Spiritual Assembly, the Baha’i governing council serving Greenville County, she and Bernadette Cooper were pivotal in marshaling the time and talents of many Baha’is, friends and new partners.  

To be sure, there were many “now what do we do?” moments for the Assembly after Augusto Lopez-Claros, a former World Bank official, accepted an invitation to speak about his 2018 book Equality for Women = Prosperity for All: The Disastrous Global Crisis of Gender Inequality, a collaboration with writer Bahiyyih Nakhjavani. 

After all the planning, there were anxious hours when the Lopez-Claros’ flight into town was rescheduled and he arrived with little time to spare.

But there he was in front of 70 people at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities on July 20, sharing statistics and stories on how stunting the contributions of women hurts individuals and society alike. Later that evening he spoke less formally at the local Baha’i center.

From panic to growing confidence

All these efforts began when Abercrombie read Equality for Women = Prosperity for All and imagined the impact the book’s message could have on people’s thinking about gender equality. She mentioned it to Cooper, who thought the author’s name rang a bell. It turns out Cooper’s son in New Zealand had attended a talk Lopez-Claros gave there.

Augusto Lopez-Claros (center), in Greenville, South Carolina, on his speaking tour, is flanked by (from left) Marc Rivers, Dorcus Abercrombie, Bernadette Cooper and Andrea Abercrombie. Photo by Phillip Abercrombie

The pair contacted contacted Lopez-Claros, who accepted.

That’s when panic set in, says Abercrombie. But despite trepidations she and Cooper set out to secure a venue and promote the appearance. 

Finding a location proved to be the easy part. It wasn’t long before they found a person at the Governor’s School who not only agreed to host but offered the space without charge because she agreed with the book’s premise.

Wielding a flyer designed by a local Baha’i and refined in many conversations with Lopez-Claros, they visited organizations, city and county offices, and business leaders asking that they place the talk on event calendars and lend it word-of-mouth credibility.

Some contacts resulted from Abercrombie and Cooper’s awareness of other currents in the wider community. A minority health summit yielded the names of folks they could speak to, as did a televised forum of experts on domestic violence.

Ready to spread their wings

Perhaps the biggest success of Greenville County Baha’is, though, was in learning how to work together at a high level. And Abercrombie and Cooper personify that collaboration. 

In promoting the talk, “Bernie stood up … with the flyer. I stood up with the book. And you know my knees were shaking and her knees were shaking, but we did it,” reflects Abercrombie. 

In a rejoinder to Abercrombie’s “gnats” and “eagles” comment, Cooper says, “I’m not sure about eagles, but we are trying to fly. Some of the things I was very scared to do, and you did it. Some of the things you didn’t like to do, and I could do it. So it was hand in hand. And it wasn’t perfect, but it was OK.” 

Author Augusto Lopez-Claros signs a copy of his book “Equality for Women = Prosperity for All” for Tanoka Acker after his talk in Greenville, South Carolina. Photo by Dorcus Abercrombie

Says Abercrombie, “She would start a sentence or I would start a sentence and the other person knew exactly how to finish it. A couple of times people asked us, how do you two know each other? Because we’re so different,” this African American and this Swiss immigrant. “But we’re not different. Not anymore.”

Yes, there are ways a future event could have an even greater impact, the two organizers acknowledge. Give media outlets more advance notice. Get the word out to people in such nearby areas as Atlanta, Charleston and Charlotte. Schedule it for a time of year when school is in session.

But the sky’s the limit now, they say. 

“One thing I learned from Bernie, Bernie utilized just about everybody in the community,” notes Abercrombie. 

“She got people to do stuff. It was amazing to me. She really taught me that everybody has something to contribute. Be patient, be calm and let them bring forth their gifts. 

“That’s a lesson I’ll always take with me.” 


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