By Tj Dunnivant
Staff writer

In most cases when the words museum and historic contributions are combined, the immediate thought of past heroes from times of yesteryear come to mind. Very seldom is the acknowledgement that many trailblazers, especially Black women in San Diego, are alive and well today! And that is exactly what the” Beautiful, Brilliant and Brave” exhibit displays at the Women’s Museum of California.

Last Saturday, March 8, there was a special VIP press luncheon where many of the women honored in the exhibit spoke about their journey and how they became a San Diego trailblazer of our time. It was a unique opportunity for journalist to get up close and personal with the “brilliance” that often get’s set aside, overlooked, and unfortunately many times forgotten altogether.


Starla Lewis, long-time advocator of self-love and recently retired black studies professor, was commissioned by the Director of the Women’s Museum, Ashley Gardiner to be the curator for this exhibit. “So when Ashley asked me to curate a museum exhibit for Black History and Women’s History month…I was like alright…alright,” Starla exclaimed, “Why? Because sometimes as women we forget to see ourselves in one another. This exhibit is the opportunity for women of all ethnicities to see themselves and their journey and their experiences and their accomplishments and their greatness!”

Starla is one of the women exhibited in the museum as well. Rightfully so, Starla is known by many of her students as the one person that influenced them to be the great leaders that they are today. One of Starla’s former students said, “It was my first black studies course with Starla that lead me to transfer to UCSD. The first day she made us repeat the words “I am brilliant, I am beautiful, and I am brave” that was all I needed to hear to keep an almost 4.0 GPA and get into the UC schools that I applied to.”


Starla’s light adds to the brightness of the other women recognized in the museum. Among those that were present that day were Louise Dunbar (Retired Administrator in Education), JoAnne Cornwell (Proprietor of Sister Locks and Professor at SDSU), Mariea Antoinette (African-American Harpist), Frances K. Jackson (San Diego’s Earliest African-American Real Estate Agents), Leah Goodwin(Founder of African American Artist and Writers), Judy Sundayo (Founder of rites of passage for African-American Girls), Aminisha Cunningham (African Dance Teacher), Sandra Foster-King (Stories of Black Women through Dance), Delicia Sonnenburg Turner (Director of the Women’s Theater at Moxie), Vicki Butcher (Water for Children Africa) and Sheryl Gee (VP of Training and Development, NHA).

As the honorary women took turns speaking about their life inspirations, many gave respect to their ancestors by explaining what they got from them. When Sister JoAnne Cornwell stood up, she spoke about the doll on display in the museum that belonged to her grandmother. The original white porcelain doll is now painted brown. JoAnne explained that her grandmother wanted to see herself in the world that surrounded her. JoAnne also told a story of her grandfather explaining his use of a cane. “…in asking my grandfather what happen to his knee,” Cornwell told the audience while apologizing for any offense, “One of the owners of the jewelry shop he worked in was giving him a hard time on a regular basis. So he told us that he got his bad knee from put his foot so far up that “Cracker’s (blank).” The crowd broke out in laughter. JoAnne said her reaction was one of shock but his words told her that he wasn’t always the old-decrepit man she was used to seeing. “He had a life, he had a struggle and he handled his business somehow,” she proclaimed, “So he was still standing…and so when we look to our heroines and heroes they are really a lot closer than you think. And that is really what I take with me.”
As each woman stood up they gave a verbal rendition of what was inscribed on their exhibit panel. The beauty of it was the love they all had and shared with one another. The boldness was their ability to pass it on to all in the audience ready to receive it.


The “Brilliant, Beautiful, and Brave” exhibit will only be on display until March 30. Dr. Shirley Weber (First and Current African-American State Assembly Woman from SD), Dr. Constance Caroll (First Black woman Chancellor of SD Community College District), Dr. Carolle Jean Murat (First African-American Female OBGYN in San Diego) and many others are also being recognized within the exhibit.

To find out more about the exhibit visit To see more quotes from the heroines that spoke Saturday, follow


Pictures by TJ Dunnivant: