By Joel Hall
Laughter, sobs, praise, and encouragement were heard on Thursday afternoon when Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon shared her life story with a group of women, during Clayton State University's Women's Forum February Luncheon.
The forum, which hosts five luncheons a year, uses them as an opportunity to gather women for fellowship, to raise scholarship funds for needy, local, female college students, and to share encouragement from men and women who have triumphed over adversity.
Wynn-Dixon overcame teenage pregnancy, single motherhood, attempted suicide, homelessness, and extreme poverty, to eventually obtain a doctorate degree in public health, and win election as the mayor of Riverdale. She took office this year.
"I am a living testament that, if you believe in yourself, you can do anything," said Wynn-Dixon. "Even if you make a mistake, you can dust yourself off and have a new beginning."
Wynn-Dixon shared anecdotes about raising four children on her own, learning how to accept the kindness of others, and resisting negative societal pressures.
She also shared the low moments of her life, such as when she had to walk nearly six hours from Pryor Street in Atlanta to Scottish Rite Hospital (now Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston) to have her daughter treated for a clubfoot. She carried her daughter the whole way in a Radio Flyer wagon taken from a neighbor.
"Sometimes, it gets hard," she said. "Your lights get cut off, the gas gets turned off ... but it's how you look at it. How bad do you want to make a difference in your life?"
"I think she shows everyone that not only hope, but perseverance can play a large part in your success," said Terri Taylor-Hamrick, vice president, logistics, of the Women's Forum.
For the last six years, the forum has given three scholarships a year to women within one or two terms of graduation, who face unexpected financial hardship.
Taylor-Hamrick said Wynn-Dixon's speech highlighted the need for the scholarships.
"I think she got to people's hearts and some of the people could relate to what she was saying from a personal standpoint," said Taylor-Hamrick.
She has a "powerful spirit", said former state lawmaker, Gail Buckner, who heard Wynn-Dixon speak for the first time.
"A lot of people that had the obstacles that she had would have just given up, but she was so determined ... I believe she's just getting started," Buckner said.
"You have to have hope and set your mind to the goal that you want to accomplish," said Dolores Cox, a past president and founding officer of the Women's Forum. "She is a living example of that."