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My first piece for Midlands Anchor in 2017 was a recap of the previous year’s major achievements by South Carolina women, including Nikki Haley, Katrina Shealy, Margie Bright Matthews, Mia McLeod, Sandy Senn, the leaders of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, and, of course, every Palmetto resident’s perpetual #WomanCrushWednesday, Dawn Staley.  I ended the column by saying: 

2016 was full of milestones for women in South Carolina.

Now, welcome to 2017. What will we make happen this year?

Here now, at the outset of 2018, I can’t help but to smile when I reread that. 2017 launched with a series of women’s marches; the Washington Post declared that more than one million protestors joined this movement, making a vow to stand up for the rights of women legally, socially, professionally, spiritually, medically, educationally, and culturally.  We all watched as horrifying victims’ stories were given the spotlight, including those who had been silenced for many years.  As the year drew to a close, TIME Magazine named “the silence breakers” the Person of the Year for 2017.

Let’s digest that.  From 1927 to 1999—that’s right, less than twenty years ago—“Person of the Year” was actually called “Man of the Year.”  Thisfit columbia esteemed title is given to the individual who is centered in the most important news stories each year; in the past, it has been awarded to public figures as diverse as Gandhi, Adolf Hitler, and the Apollo 8 astronauts.  Men in positions of great power, such as presidents and international leaders, have long dominated the list of winners.  But this year, the individuals who spoke up against sexual harassment and sexual assault, who dared to talk about these uncomfortable issues in the public eye, who gave a very audible presence in the news on behalf of all their shushed fellow victims—these individuals collectively compromised TIME’s “Person of the Year” for 2017.  This award is so largely representative of the efforts we made this year to finally begin hearing women’s stories.

As 2017 wrapped, TIME’S UP was launched by over 300 women who work in Hollywood as writers, executives, producers, actresses, directors, agents, and other roles.  This massive project seeks to help those who may not be in the film industry but have endured experiences with their own Harvey Weinsteins.  The fund has already garnered support outside Hollywood from public figures like Michelle Obama and Anita Hill—not to mention enough major financial backing that it can already boast a $13,000,000 legal defense fund for women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workforce.

Allison Willingham takes over in 2018 as Publisher at Midlands Anchor. (Photo by Allen Wallace)

Meanwhile, here in South Carolina, this start-up publication thrives on.  At Midlands Anchor, our motto is “Midlands stories, told well.”  Our features center around hyperlocal issues, giving voices to those in the community who may not receive them in other outlets. I am extremely proud that our most-viewed story for 2017 was “The Thinking Belle: Why I’m Cleaning Out My Closets for Shelters.”  This wasn’t a press release, an investigative feature, or some hot news story—it was a personal column I wrote about my own life and perspectives.  I started “The Thinking Belle” a year ago this week; its intention was to be a reflective series about real issues I have experienced as a woman in the South.  This particular “Thinking Belle” piece detailed my life as a survivor of abuse and violence, and concluded with a list of items needed by nonprofits providing aid to women and children in need, including Columbia Women’s Shelter, Hannah House, Sistercare, and St. Lawrence Place.  This column was a call to action, a community-wide cry for help.  And our readership felt that and welcomed it.

I would like to proclaim, on behalf of Midlands Anchor: Time’s up.  This is our battle cry.  This publication vows to continue its mission of spotlighting hyperlocal issues, giving voices to those who previously had no outlet, and bringing a new understanding of this community that is both passionately affirmative and also devoutly critical.  Time’s up.  The future is here, and we are its voices.

The runner-up for Midlands Anchor’s most-viewed story of 2017 was “Sixteen and Homeless: Two Young Columbia Women Share Their Stories.” For this article, I did in-depth interviews with two females who had survived being homeless as teenagers.  The resulting article was both heartbreaking and inspiring, and it pressed a magnifying glass closer to the invisible needs of other young women and girls suffering from homelessness and poverty in the community.  And again, our readership identified with this article.  We received a strong response to both of these pieces.  Silence wasn’t just being broken in major national headlines—we were doing it right here in the Midlands, too.

Women march at the Mayor’s Walk Against Domestic Violence in Columbia.  (Photo by Allen Wallace)

I was fortunate enough to tell the stories of many Midlands women this year, first as a columnist and then as the Assistant Publisher here at Midlands Anchor.  I am still amazed that I was able to interview a female Holocaust survivor (the stepsister of Anne Frank) about her experiences.  When I look back at the stories I told this year, I feel humbled, grateful, and absolutely amazed by the women I interviewed.  Some of the highlights that stick out to me include:

When you do a recap, it is clear to see what the building theme of the last year was for me in my role at the Anchor.  So I began 2017 as a columnist, posing the question to our readers, What will we make happen this year?  A year later, I write to you as the woman who is taking over the role of Publisher at Midlands Anchor.

This glance back through the last year has focused on giving voices to women in the Midlands.  But it is not just women who need the microphone passed to them, or who deserve to be the feature of a story in an online publication like this.  There is great cultural diversity in the Midlands, with multiple religions, ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyles coexisting together, blending as one regional identity. To lead a publication that provides an honest perspective of its community, for me, means to recognize the unmet needs of different groups in the community, and to provide voices to all residents.  Midlands Anchor is an inclusive publication.  There may have been great strides made nationally and locally for women in the last year, but going forward, the Anchor will maintain its goal to depict life in the Midlands through as many lenses as possible.  We want to recognize as many unique perspectives, individual struggles, and group identities as we can.

Like many other “thinking belles,” I approached 2017 with optimism and, yet, admittedly low expectations.  I watched month after month as awareness and appreciation for issues affecting women grew, percolated, and rose to a mighty roar by the year’s end.  So as 2018 begins, I would like to proclaim, on behalf of Midlands Anchor: Time’s up.  This is our battle cry.  This publication vows to continue its mission of spotlighting hyperlocal issues, giving voices to those who previously had no outlet, and bringing a new understanding of this community that is both passionately affirmative and also devoutly critical.  Time’s up.  The future is here, and we are its voices.

South Carolina State House (photo by Allen Wallace)

For those of you who are interested in some other impressive headlines grabbed by Midlands women, check out these memorable links from the last year:

WREN continues to work to build nest for women’s rights in South Carolina

Miss Gamecock works to empower young women

Women Build brings community together to help single mom

Take a walk with me: Domestic violence is a public health concern

“We stand with you, rain or shine”: Mayor’s Walk makes domestic violence a public issue

Featured photo: Midlands Anchor’s leadership.  From left to right: Allen Wallace (Advisory Board Chair); Allison Willingham (Publisher); Caroline Surrett (Social Media Coordinator); Tia Williams (CEO/Founder)

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