Three Afo-American Women I Admire


The Bible says that a woman is the better half of a man. I agree with that estimation of man and woman, particularly within my own family where women outnumber the men. I come from a family of strong, ambitious, and accomplished women who are the backbone in marriages and single parent families. It’s no surprise, then, that I am accustomed to and prefer women in my personal relationships that reflect the values and character of my mother and grandmother. There are three women in history that I most admire, three women who stand head to toe with any man. That would be Yolanda King, Sonia Sanchez and Phyllis Hyman.

Yolanda King–or Yoki as she was called by family and close friends—possessed the character and values of her father, Martin Luther King, Jr. She and I met while she was a student at Smith College in the early 70’s. What impressed me the most was that, although she was royalty, she never presented herself as the daughter of MLK, but rather as a down to earth young woman with the same ambitions and needs as the next person. She was charming, warm, and compassionate, the type of woman you would enjoy having a cup of coffee with. Yet, the resemblance to her father was striking. She had the same wide nose and full lips of her father. She talked with the same tone and charisma of her dad. Sadly, Yoki died of a heart attack on May 15, 2007. She was 51 years old.

I was a young, aspiring writer in 1969 when I met poet and professor of English, Sonia Sanchez. Here is a tiny woman who is no taller than 5’2 and weighing perhaps a mere 100 pounds that speaks with a big, assertive voice that commands audiences when lecturing or reciting her poetry. Her civil rights activism dates back to the sixties when black voices in literature were angry and passionate. Sister Sonia, who is currently a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is a woman of character and intense devotion to educating young students to become leaders in their communities across the country and around the world. She is a mother and role model to all young students she teaches and has never backed away from her African-American roots.

Singer Phyllis Hyman is the most tragic of the three. I’ve had the honor of being in her company many times before she committed suicide at 46 years old on June 30, 1995. The extent of her depression will never be fully understandable. Her legacy is not just her vocal talents, but her love of children as well. She often donated money and volunteered her time to children and young mothers around the country. Her charitable work literally went unreported while she was living. I believe that one of her greatest disappointments in life was that she never had children of her own and could never achieve a lasting relationship or marriage.

If I had a daughter instead of a son, I would have wanted her to be a Yolanda King, a Sonia Sanchez or Phyllis Hyman.

Ron Alexander is a Philadelphia journalist and author. Visit his website at


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