YWCA Greater Charleston

A Story of Two Women

Empowerment leads to the White House
A story of two Charleston-area women


As part of the YWCA's annual Stand Against Racism, we asked our members and supporters to share their stories about the empowerment of girls and women of color.

Women's rights advocate and nonprofit consultant Jennet Robinson Alterman and Sabrina Jenkins, a human resources specialist at the US Department of State, were among those who answered the call. They told their story together:

"In 2008, I decided to obtain my master's degree in human resource management and make a career move," says Sabrina (to the right of First Lady Michelle Obama in the photo above). "As I was finishing my degree, I interviewed for a position with the Charleston County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. At the time I was living in Virginia, but I was willing to relocate to the Charleston area, where both of my parents had grown up. I received a job offer and moved here in August 2012.

"Growing up, I had never seen African American women in high positions such as CEO, and I was determined to do my part to change this."

Meanwhile, Jennet (shown at left) was also at the Charleston County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, having been appointed one of its commissioners by Charleston County Council.

"As the director of the Charleston Center for Women at that time, I knew it was important to serve, and this was one way I could contribute to the community," she says. "I enjoyed learning about low-income housing issues and getting to know the staff."

A board member takes an interest

Jennet was the first board member to take special notice of her at the Authority, Sabrina remembers. "She asked me what had brought me to the Lowcountry, and about my career goals. I told her I came from parents who weren't able to attend college, but always stressed education to my sister and me... and I in turn stressed it to my daughter."

In 2013, Jennet was asked by the staff at the Shriver Report on Women to identify a woman in South Carolina who had known struggle and had overcome it. The woman's story would potentially be used in a national report shared with President Obama. 

Jennet was the first board member to take an interest in her, Sabrina remembers.

"I immediately thought of Sabrina," Jennet says. In addition to being a single mother, Sabrina shared the struggle of many women in bearing a staggering load of student loan debt... in her case, $90,000 of student debt.

Jennet sent Sabrina's bio to the Shriver Report team, and they assigned award-winning photographer Callie Shell to document a day with Sabrina. Callie followed her at work, at home, and with her family.

The Shriver Report chose Sabrina's story to include in its report, which received national attention and appeared in print and online editions.

A call from the White House

Sabrina vividly remembers the evening of January 24, 2014. "That Friday was a normal day until around 7 p.m., when I received a call from one of the Shriver Report editors telling me I would be receiving a call from the White House," she recalls. "Maria Shriver had presented the report to President Obama, and he wanted to bring some of the women's stories in it to the forefront in his State of the Union address."

Sabrina and her daughter flew to Washington, DC on January 27, and the next day they took their seats with First Lady Michelle Obama in her box at the US Capitol.

"Seeing Sabrina seated next to First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2014 State of the Union address took my breath away," Jennet says.

Her time in the Capitol box was just part of the incredible experience. "Upon arrival at the White House, my daughter and I met the other guests and were taken on an official tour of the White House," Sabrina says. "The best parts of the evening for me, though, was that I got to share it with my daughter, and I got to meet Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and of course President Obama himself."

"Women, especially women of color, are still not in as many board rooms as we could be, and we are still not able to run for and be elected to public office on a regular basis," she says. "I believe this is an economic issue. If not for Jennet and organizations that support women, too many women would still be fading into the background."

Inspired to continue the fight

"It is my goal to continue to work with Jennet to fight for women — not just African American women, but all women," she says. "Part of my fight is to ensure that little girls who look like I did have the same opportunities as everyone else. The other part is to change the business landscape so that women who look like me have the same opportunities as everyone else... and also to ensure that the gender pay gap is closed."

"Looking at all she had accomplished, it was obvious Sabrina was an exceptional human being and a role model for many, including her daughter," says Jennet. "Her story just needed to be told."

SHARE YOUR STORY: Take a Stand Against Racism by telling us about a time you empowered a woman or girl of color ... or how you were empowered as one! Share it on our Facebook page or email our executive director, LaVanda Brown.