Merlene Davis: UK chair for researching violence against women named for former state Sen. Georgia Powers

Former state Sen. Georgia Davis Powers
Former state Sen. Georgia Davis Powers

Along with being the first woman and the first African-American elected to the Kentucky senate, Georgia Powers can also now say she is the first African-American woman to have an endowed chair at the University of Kentucky.

"It is a wonderful honor," Powers said. "The endowment will go for the research and scholarship needed to end violence against women."

The chair, established by the Center for Research on Violence Against Women at UK, will focus some of the center's research on the experience of women of color. Its establishment is being announced Friday at UK.

The Georgia Davis Powers Endowed Chair of Study on Violence Against Women is the first of its kind in the country, according to a release from the center.

Carol Jordan, the center's director, said the reason for such a focus is because African-American women are overrepresented among battered women, and overrepresented among battered women who experience the most severe violence.

But they are not alone. About 40 percent of women from South Asia, living in the U.S., report violence from their intimate partners. And Hispanic women endure abuse longer than women of other cultures.

"In addition to these points, we know that African American women are less likely to call the police in response to violence and less likely to flee to a battered women's shelter," Jordan said. "What all these things tell us is that race/ethnicity and culture matter. And so we are creating an endowed chair to ensure that this important area of research is addressed. We will not end violence against all women if we don't do this."

I so agree.

Powers, 87, said she, along with her eight brothers, grew up in an environment that didn't accept violence against women.

"But I have read more about violence against women, and against children, in the past 20 years than I ever did before," she said.

By endowing this chair, "At least we are going to have research to find out the root cause of the violence and then when we find out, we can search for solutions," Powers said.

Helping the less fortunate and oppressed was always the standard in Powers' political career as well as her work for civil rights prior to politics.

Before her historic election, Powers was an organizer of the March on Frankfort in 1964, which brought the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Jackie Robinson to our state. By then, she had already fought for statewide fair housing and employment laws.

After her election in 1968, the first bill she sponsored was for statewide fair housing. For 21 years, she sponsored legislation that fought against all forms of discrimination, including physical impairment.

Having the chair named for her, Powers said, "is very suiting for me. There has always been a fight in me and always will be until the injustice to women and minorities is finally put to rest. But I don't think I'll ever see that."

In addition, Powers is donating more than 2,000 newspaper clippings, photos, speeches and legal pads filled with the legislator's handwritten thoughts to the UK Libraries, along with oral interviews conducted over the years.

"With the collections and endowed chair, the University of Kentucky will capture Senator Powers' history and hold up her story as an inspiration to the next generation," UK Provost Kumble Subbaswamy said in a release.

"In doing these things, we will achieve what we know Sen. Powers would want us to do: directly improve the lives of Kentucky families."

The Powers chair is the fourth of six planned for the research center. Each chair is funded with donations of $1 million.

The first three, all of which are funded, are the Verizon Wireless Endowed Chair, which studies the health effects of intimate partner violence and sexual assault; the Women's Circle Endowed Chair, which studies psychological aggression and cases of domestic violence where the woman kills the offender; and the Cralle-Day Children-at-risk Endowed Chair, which will focus on the effects of domestic violence on children.

Two other chairs will be announced in the future.

The Powers chair has secured $720,000 in donations so far and Jordan says she has a year to raise the rest. That may be a difficult feat in a slowed economy, but Jordan said she is determined.

"People want to be involved with a successful program and with work that really means something," she said. "We offer both.

"I really do need help with this fourth endowed chair, though," Jordan said. "I only have one year to finish raising the funds, and that's a significant challenge."

For the sake of women of all cultures and colors enduring domestic violence in this state and around the world, everyone needs to unite to help get this done.