On the afternoon of Aug. 13, three days after the release of the much anticipated movie The Help, W.I.L.D. (Women’s Institute of Leadership Development) Women hosted a discussion for nearly 100 women of faith. From various backgrounds and members of several Charlotte-area churches, the women gathered at Forest Hill Church on Park Road for a discussion about the movie, a film that explores relationships between black maids and their white employers in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement.
For about an hour, the women, who were separated into groups of eight at tables throughout the room, explored the many themes presented in the movie.The discussion required them to make connections to the movie using their own experiences, examine the barriers that divide the women in the movie and determine how fear united the women in the movie.
Making a connection
Most of the women who shared their connections to the film had a mother or grandmother who had worked as a maid. But the connection was much more personal for Mary Ann Harrington, a member of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and a Chester, S.C. native.
“I was Suga in the movie,” said Harrington. “I started working as a maid when I was 12 years old. [Like Suga], one day my mom dressed me up in a maid’s uniform and sent me to work with the white family she worked for. Some of the stuff I saw in the movie, I experienced [while working there]. My experience was good and bad. I knew I was the help, but I also knew I didn’t want to stay there.”
And she didn’t.
While working as a maid, Harrington said she developed a relationship with a white male medical director who worked at what was then NCNB (now Bank of America). He helped her get a job with the company; she continues to work for the company today.
Big chasms: Race, class, truth and religion
As the conversation turned to the division between the women, many commented that race and class were obvious dividers, but there was one that wasn’t so obvious, and almost surprising.
“Religion,” said Carolyn Henderson, a member of The Park Church. “Religion was a barrier that divided them. It was interesting to see how religion was different for the women by race.”
The ties that bind
In the end, The Help showed that despite the many things that forced its characters to live in different worlds, there were also things that brought them together.
“They learned how to trust,” said one participant. “The black women learned to trust a race that historically was the enemy. They had to overcome their fear and learn to trust each other.”
In closing, Rev. Nicole Martin of The Park Church, who led the event in partnership with Lisa Allen and Dr. Cassandra Jones of W.I.L.D. Women, challenged the group to continue relationships with those that don’t look like them as they go about their lives. Chatter began to fill the room as the women exchanged information. One group decided to meet monthly for a potluck lunch to continue developing their bond.
“I am excited about this opportunity,” said Kathy Storm, one of the women whose group planned to meet each month. “I am grateful for these opportunities to see each other’s world because we are all one in Jesus’ eyes.”