Shirley Readdean speaks

Shirley Readdean speaks during the 16th annual Black History Month celebration at the YWCA of Schenectady, where she was honored Sunday afternoon.

SCHENECTADY — Life has not been a bed of roses or peaches and cream, according to Malinda Myers, 89, a Schenectady woman who was being honored for her achievements by the YWCA Sunday. But she has learned to “roll with the tide.”

Myers and two other black women were given the 2009 Unsung Heroine Award Sunday during the 16th annual Black History Month Celebration at the YWCA.

“We have fabulous women in this city,” Rowie Taylor, executive director of the YWCA, said.

Last year's awards recognized women who had made a national contribution to the YWCA; this year the awards were given to Schenectadians who were “women of firsts,” Taylor said.

In 1968, Myers was appointed to the committee to study the possibility of starting a community college in Schenectady, and in 1979 was the first black woman to serve as a trustee of the Schenectady County Community College.

Myers was also the first woman to serve as president of the Schenectady Chapter of the NAACP.

The program also recognized Shirley Readdean, who was the first black woman to be elected to the Schenectady City School District's Board of Education in 1979, and Cassie Cox, the first black woman hired as a teacher in the Schenectady City School District in 1947.

Readdean served for six years on the Schenectady School Board, including as its president. She was elected during what she called a “horrible” teachers strike. Readdean said the memories and pain of that strike still exist in the school.

Cox's niece, Paulyn Cox, of Schenectady accepted the award and spoke on her behalf Sunday. Cox, who is 88, lives in Milwaukee, Wis. Her niece believes Cox first taught at the Riverside School, which has been turned into apartments in the Stockade.

The event has been organized for 16 years by Marsha Mortimore, vice-president of the YWCA's Board of Directors.

“We are so blessed to have these women who have had these experiences that we can learn from,” Mortimore said.

YWCA is concentrating on encouraging young women to become involved and serve on their board, Mortimore said, so the mission of the organization will live on.

A few young women attended Sunday's event, including Tasha Williams, 19, of Ohio, who is currently living at the YWCA.

Williams said she thought the women's stories were inspiring and encouraged her to become more involved.

“I want to be involved, but sometimes you just don't know how,” she said.

Ebony Belmar, a social worker for the Schenectady City School District, said this is her third time attending the awards presentation, and she hopes more young people will attend in the coming years.

“There is so much violence in our youth, and this sends a very inspirational message,” she said.

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