Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

January 31, 2014

Inspiring others: Making life better for all tops Winfrey’s goals

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Rowena Winfrey learned early in life the importance of helping others.

Today, in both her professional and personal life, she is true to the principles she learned from her mother and grandmother, and others who influenced her life.

Winfrey, 52, is the proud president of the Navarro County Chapter of the NAACP. And, the 1979 Corsicana High School graduate is now in her 14th year of service with the Corsicana Police Department, where she works in the Records Division.

She approaches both with a passion and commitment.

Born Rowena Green, she’s the oldest of three children born to Ted and Norma Green. She has three brothers, one of who is deceased.

Winfrey is the mother of three — Jonathan, 25; Brittany, 24; and Kezia, 22. Her youngest daughter has brought a granddaughter to the fold, Nylah.

She said her own mother, and grandmother, taught and encouraged her through her youth how to grow and succeed.

“She always encouraged me to at least ‘try things,’” Winfrey said of her mother. “She also told me ‘if God gives you gifts, you use them to better yourself, your community, and your life.’”

She’s taken that advice to heart in every turn her life has taken, sometimes being “pushed” in that direction, she said.

“My great aunt had me teaching Sunday School at age 5,” she recalled with a laugh. “They saw qualities in me that I had not yet seen in myself.”

Winfrey also credits a couple of college instructors at Stephen F. Austin University for their leadership in her college years, including Dr. James Townes.

“He really made me focus on who I was, and what I wanted to do in my little corner of the world,” she said.

“I didn’t have this scheme that I could change the whole world, but if I could change this little part of it, let me see what I can do to do that,” she said.

A poster in the office of another instructor — Ben Hobbs — also sticks in her mind from her college days.

“He had a poster that said ‘If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes,’” she recalled. “I decided that I wanted to lead.”

Winfrey graduated from college in 1983 with a double Communications major in reporting and writing, and public speaking. She also has a minor in photography.

After years spent raising a family, she decided she wanted to put her leadership skills to work to make her community a better place.

In 1998, she began a three-year stint with VOICE, working as a program specialist for youth in the community. She joined the Corsicana Police Department in 2001, beginning as a dispatcher before moving to her present post as a records clerk.

Winfrey became involved in the NAACP in 2007 after attending a community event on behalf of the police department.

“From the time that I was there, I was active with the education committee,” she said. “The longer I was there, the more I started doing.”

She moved up through the leadership ranks of the organization, becoming president in 2013.

It’s an organization, she says, that is an important one to people of all races.

“Everybody deserves to be treated with decency and dignity,” Winfrey said. “In cases where that doesn’t happen, no matter who the person is, the NAACP is usually the organization that will step up and ask ‘Why?’ when nobody else does.”

Changes in laws, procedures and policies have been changed, she said, due to the NAACP involvement, and not just for African Americans.

“There are almost as many white people involved in the NAACP as there are blacks,” she said. “Everybody’s welcome.”

And making the community a better place is always top of mind for Winfrey.

“It can happen when people try and work together,” she said.

Breaking the “us against them” mindset, Winfrey says, is an important part of the process, saying the problems of today are “more political now than racial” in nature.

“If we all ask ourselves ‘what is best for Corsicana’ and work together to make that happen, then we won’t have so many divides ... if we pull together, there is no strife.”

In a talk she gave at the recent NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet, Winfrey spoke of the legacy of lifting people up in life to help them succeed, as those before her did. She also stressed the importance of education for those who will follow in the next generation.

“Educate yourselves,” she said. “Because you can’t work for what you don’t understand. And have the courage to take a stand for what you believe in.”

Editor’s note: In observance of Black History Month, the Daily Sun will feature profiles of leaders in the community who themselves benefited from the guidance and counsel of those whom they admired.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com