Women of the Dream (WOD) was born in 2011 when two women, Denise Morrison, Former President and CEO, Campbell Soup Company, and Leslie Morris, Founder, WOD, were attending a high school get-together. Denise, in her discussion with Leslie about her climb up the corporate ladder, mentioned having met and worked with a number of phenomenal Black women graduates of Simmons College–a small private women’s college in Boston and Leslie’s alma mater. “Lots of successful Black women have come out of Simmons College,” Denise said. She mentioned having met and worked with Ann Brown Fudge and Paula Sneed, who are considered among the most powerful Black women in business and corporate America. “Is it something in the water at Simmons?” Denise asked. They both laughed and knew they were on to something.
Leslie had been tracking the success of Black women graduates of Simmons for the last 20 years. And she was known to frequently call upon her Simmons sisters to speak with African-American girls in her own work and mentoring activities. At the same time, Leslie was gradually developing her vision to document the success stories of Black women to inspire, energize, and support struggling Black youth, and not just a few here and there, but nationwide. She simply needed the resources to take her vision to the next level.
Back to the conversation at the high school get-together, Denise, with her passion for also giving back to young people with limited opportunities, encouraged Leslie to submit her vision to her in the form of a proposal. Within a few weeks, Leslie delivered the proposal and identified a group of Black women graduates of Simmons College who were willing to share their stories in a focus group format.
In June 2012, this cohort of 32 Black women graduates, representing the classes of 1965-79, met at the Campbell Soup Company headquarters in Camden, NJ, for a focus group that involved guided discussions on where they began in life, their experiences at a predominantly White women’s college during the Civil Rights movement, their personal and career challenges and successes, and how their stories can be used to guide a new generation of girls of color.
Following the success of the focus group, a survey was developed to expand the findings of the June convening, and was disseminated to nearly 200 Black women graduates of the 1965-79 classes. More than 50 percent responded to questions about the people and factors that most contributed to their personal and career success. The results of the survey were presented at the Simmons College Black Symposium on April 13, 2013.
With ongoing support from the Campbell Soup Company, Women of the Dream has evolved from a research project to a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping African-American girls achieve their fullest potential and lead purposeful, healthy lives.