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Olympic athlete helps honor local women at Stars Over Longview

Megan Hix

By Megan Hix
Jan. 11, 2018 at 5:57 p.m.

Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee speaks during Longview Regional Medical Center's annual Stars Over Longview luncheon, on Thursday January 11, 2018, at the Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Before she won Olympic gold in Seoul and Barcelona and earned the title of greatest female athlete of the 20th century, Jackie Joyner-Kersee knew she wanted to give back to her community in East St. Louis, Illinois.

Joyner-Kersee, who won six Olympic medals as a long-jumper and heptathlete, came to Longview on Thursday to speak at the 18th annual Stars Over Longview luncheon to speak about overcoming obstacles and the inspiration for her community work.

The event sponsored by Longview Regional Medical Center, which attracted a crowd of about 800 people, honored 12 women working in business, education, nonprofits and other areas who are making a positive impact in the community.

Joyner-Kersee said she often finished races in last place as a child, but the encouragement of staff at her local community center helped push her to get faster and inspired her today to improve children's lives.

"What stayed with me was that community center," she said. "These were individuals volunteering their time to make a difference for people like me and my neighbors. ... They never gave up on us."

In 1988, while still focused on her athletic career, Joyner-Kersee launched the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Community Foundation to provide after-school sports and activities to children. She also helped create the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club in East St. Louis.

Joyner-Kersee said the group of women reminded her of her own mother, who died when she was in college but worked tirelessly behind the scenes to see Joyner-Kersee succeed.

"She is the one you didn't even see, you don't even know about," she said. "Today, Longview allowed your stories to shine, not just today, but forever, because of the lives you will continue to touch."

Joyner-Kersee also challenged the audience to celebrate and encourage community service year-round.

"The investment you make today will have a return no one can take away," she said.

Earlier in the day, Joyner-Kersee met with a few female high school track athletes and shared encouragement and advice for taking their performance to the next level.

She said at the end of the day, having strong morals and foundational values is more important than accolades.

"This is really about the women we're here celebrating, and the work that they are doing and the work they will continue to do," she said. "This is just a moment, but the work continues on."

This year's ceremony, honored community members Shalonda Adams, Lori Ball, Crista Black, Sharon Bradley, Mary Collier, Carmela Davis, Gerrie Forbis, Carol Manley, Dawn Martin, Pamela Mercer-McWilliams, Mary Morris and Julie Woods.

Each woman was honored with a video featuring co-workers, friends and family, and while each offered a different insight into the women's motivations, they often showcased a recurring theme: women working without expectation of recognition and spurring positive change in Longview.

In the videos, the women focused less on their accomplishments than on encouraging others, particularly young women, to step up and get involved.

"Find that which breaks your heart, find that which you're passionate about and go after that," said Adams, principal at Pine Tree's PACE campus.

Candace Prosser, who works for Adams at PACE, said honoring this group of women for their work helps encourage others to follow suit. She said they serve as inspiration for Longview's young women, in particular.

"By honoring those behind the scenes, it honors those who we don't recognize, as well," she said. "These women are the movers and shakers who are driving change at all levels of the community."

Stephen Kitchings attended the event to show support for his boss, Davis. He said Davis was deserving for her work on behalf of special needs children and local leadership organizations, while also running her business.

"She doesn't sleep, she just takes naps," he said of her work ethic. "It's a great token of appreciation from the community to say 'thank you' to those who do so much."

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