Veteran Feminists of America
I was born Muriel Nikki Brink in Detroit, Michigan, on March 7, 1928. My dad, Stanley Elbert Brink, was a well known professional basketball player. My mother worked outside the home, so a housekeeper took care of me. When I was two, I got typhoid fever and the housekeeper, deciding I was contagious, put me in a basket and shut me in a closet. I cried and cried, and she ignored me. I never forgot this.
My brother, Stanley, was born when I was four. My Dad, who because of his work was away a lot, told me I had to take care of the baby. I didn't always want to watch over him and once told my dad that. He didn't like me talking back to him and he threatened to lock me in the closet. This fear affected me for most of my childhood years, and influenced my life in the future. Still, I became committed to making sure my brother was ok all the time. We fought every once in a while, but I was devoted to him.
I was very athletic and particularly good at baseball. Sometimes I was a shortstop and a good batter, but whatever position I played, I always hit home runs. Once, my dad chastised me for losing a ball game, so I ran away from home. I took the streetcar to Northville, near Detroit, a small town where my friend, Margaret Walborn, had moved with her family. Her parents called my folks to report that I was there, leaving me in fear of what my Dad would do to me.
Once, when my family was at a lake near Detroit, Stanley fell into the water. I pulled him up by his hair and on to the shore. He cried profusely and I told him he had to grow up and stop being such a crybaby. He later told our mother that he’d almost drowned. From then on she put him on a leash and made me hold onto him whenever we were outside. This provoked me to anger and I pouted--until my Dad threatened to put me in the closet.
After I graduated from Noble Grade School I went to Tappan Intermediate. And I loved it. Later I went to Cass Technical High School where I majored in art, and again was active in sports. I took Jewelry, Charcoal Design and Oils, wrote for the school newspaper and joined the swimming team. There were African Americans, Jewish kids and students from all walks of life at the school--and lots of boys! I liked my teachers and loved the school. I really liked being so independent.
I made many friends at Cass. One, Alice Jones, a gifted painter, was African American. Mom said it was ok to have Alice come to dinner so we could finish our art project together. I didn't realize that I had never told Mother that Alice was African American, and mom had never had an African American in her life. When I introduced Alice, my mom’s jaw dropped. But she managed to say, “Welcome Alice. Muriel has spoken so much about you and your project with her." From then I became a strong advocate for the rights of African Americans.
In 1946 I met Richard A. Beare. We fell in love and married June 15, 1946. We lived first in Detroit, and a few years later moved to Traverse City, Michigan, where we built a summer resort on Spider Lake. Our daughter, Sandra Lee Beare, was born May 30, 1947. Sandra was a child of nature. All animals were drawn to her like magnets.
Those years were precious. We were living on top of a huge hill. We built summer cabins for people to come and enjoy nature and I helped the other owners of summer cottages. I also helped form the Forest Lakes Resort Area. We were a very close family. There were no children nearby so Sandi grew up with wild animals. We started a farm and greenhouse and Dick raised and sold hanging begonia baskets. Then we started an organic garden. This was a new way of life for us.
Pretty soon, the Grand Traverse property appraiser came and when he discovered we were "Organic Gardeners," he told everyone we were "Commie Pinkos," as we didn't support chemical poisonous sprays and fertilizers.
We lived in Michigan for a decade, and in 1956, when our folks retired to the Florida Keys, we moved to Florida. Sandi attended Florida Keys schools and I wrote for the Key West Citizen newspaper. In 1960, when Hurricane Donna hit we were visiting family in Michigan. The hurricane destroyed the schools on Key Largo and Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys, so students from Upper Keys had to be bused back and forth to Marathon, which meant less time for education. So we moved to Miami so Sandi could attend a good school
And that is where I became a feminist activist.
In 1968 I was writing for the Women's Page of the Miami News. One day a woman named Roxcy Bolton came into the News office and shared with me her bag of groceries--telling me that "No one pays any attention to what women want. We are supposed to be concerned with what is in the food and the importance of what we are feeding our families. No one tells us that women’s rights are not considered at all, that we are second class citizens and must mind our husbands."
I was astonished! I’d never even considered any of this. Roxcy invited me to cover a meeting in her home in Coral Gables that next evening, where they would found the Dade chapter of the National Organization for Women. Little did I know this was going to change my life.
Several women were already there when I arrived at her home. I soon discovered that these women wanted equal rights with men and were organizing to make that actually happen. From all walks of life, some of the women were single and some were married, many with children in the teens, twenties and on up. A few were senior citizens who remembered when women got the right to vote.
Next thing I knew we were having election of officers. Another reporter, Martha Ingle, was there, representing the Miami Herald. I was there for the Miami News. Guess what? After all the discussions Martha was elected President of the Miami NOW chapter, and I was elected Vice President. The next morning I received a phone call from Martha. Seems her boss, the managing editor, told her she had to resign immediately or be dismissed as a reporter. Thus I had suddenly become President!
I decided to resign from the Miami News as I passionately wanted to make the world a better place for women. And this truly changed my life. From then on I worked with members to change the classified advertisements in the two daily newspapers, including the Miami News which, along with the Herald, was still separating jobs by Male/Female, which was definitely discriminatory. And of course jobs for females were menial, while all the good, well paying jobs were in the male section.
We set up an appointment with the Miami Herald advertising manager to discuss this with him. When we explained our position, he laughed at us and said, "See that huge computer there,” pointing to a large machine about 12-15 feet long. "It will cost us thousands of dollars to make any changes in this computer. Sorry--that means we will not be able to comply with your demands."
So we decided we would focus instead on the employment agencies which knew the importance of the Equal Employment federal legislation and thus would be more willing to comply with our issues.
Several women agreed to apply for jobs designated in the Herald as male only. When each applicant was refused the position we held meetings. Then we wrote letters to the employment agencies telling them we planned to file a sex discrimination case against them. We had about seven letters written to seven employment agencies ready to go.
I knew Dan Paul, the attorney who represented the Herald, and made an appointment with him. I took the numerous complaint letters to the meeting, telling him that we would not send these to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission if the Herald would reconsider its position in refusing to change the categories from Male, Female and Male & Female. He took the letters to his management and they capitulated immediately.
The very next day, the Miami Herald touted its new classified advertising policy and declared it had changed its categories to Job Categories. We had won! This was deemed meaningful by the Commission on the Status of Women in the State of Florida. In 1994 I received recognition for my efforts and was honored by induction into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
I was very active in NOW for several years, and after leaving NOW participated in founding the Dade County, Florida, and Capitol Women's Political caucuses. Over the years I continued to help women become business owners, get appointed and elected to public office, or whatever they wished to accomplish. I was a pioneer in helping elect several, including the late Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry, Dade County’s first female black attorney, to the Florida House of Representatives in 1970. She introduced the Equal Rights Amendment there in 1972, chaired the state's committee for International Woman's Year in 1978, and co-authored Portraits in Color.
Around that time I opened my own public relations business, Nikki Beare & Associates, Inc., still have it today, and I continue to help women in politics and business. For eight years I hosted Florida’s first talk show for women. I founded the Women’s Almanac newspaper, created Florida’s first feminist credit union, and was privileged to become well known for my efforts to pass the ERA in Florida.
In 1992, during Hurricane Andrew we lost our house, and thus decided to move to Gadsden County, where there are fewer hurricanes.
My daughter, Sandi Beare, who had been an airline flight attendent, moved to Miami and then joined the National Organization For Women (NOW) and then several years later was selected as Director of the Florida Commission on the Status of Women activities (FCSOW) and served for several years. She coordinated the recognition of many great women who had helped make a difference in many women's lives in Florida.
My husband and I are now in our eighties, and have been married 64 years. Our daughter, Sandra, lives nearby with her husband. Life is quieter now, but we are still active with our farm and I, with my political interests. Gadsden County is the poorest county in Florida, so I work to help make a difference in this small town and continue to do what I can to help women.
Contact Nikki Beare: firstname.lastname@example.org
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