International Women’s Day Seeks to Develop Equality and Activism

By: Karen Dybis | March 5, 2021
International Women's Day

Photo Courtesy of Bundled.

International Women’s Day has become a significant moment for individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations and other groups to come together and honor the contributions women have made to all parts of life: Home, work, society and community. Metro Detroit has a variety of female leaders who will participate in the event, which occurs March 8 and is part of Women’s History Month. 

This year, the International Women’s Day organization selected the 2021 campaign theme to be “Choose to Challenge.” The idea is that if people feel they can challenge gender bias, inequality and other issues, the world will be more inclusive and offer a way to highlight women’s achievements locally, statewide, nationally and globally. 

That is why International Women’s Day is considered a global day of celebration and activism. It also is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. As part of this year’s campaign theme, the day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

Some history: International Women’s Day has occurred for more than a century with the first gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific, organizers say. 

Here are some notable Metro Detroit women and how they “Choose to Challenge” as part of their professional and personal lives.


Saunteel Jenkins is the CEO of The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW), a nonprofit that provides energy assistance to Michigan residents in need. Last year they provided $25 million in assistance to more than 25,000 households. Jenkins served on Detroit City Council from 2009 to 2014. While there, she headed several initiatives to prevent youth violence. Jenkins also formed the Jovan Foundation, named after her brother who was killed at 14 in a dispute over a jacket. In October of 2020, Saunteel revealed her diagnosis of stage three breast cancer in order to inspire other women going through similar ordeals. With her warmth and compassion, Saunteel has shared her story openly, hoping to convince women to get regular mammograms and take charge of their health. 


Lisa Nuszkowski is a leader in Detroit’s mobility industry. With a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan, Lisa worked for the CIty of Detroit and for Wayne State’s office of economic development before launching southeast Michigan’s first nonprofit bike share program, MoGo, in 2017. Transit and equity are always on her mind. In 2021 she took up the leadership of Detroit’s QLine as its president. 

Business promoter

Jennyfer Crawford, of Ask Jennyfer and All Things Marketplace  is a powerhouse when it comes to persevering and doing all she can to shed light on small-business owners and black-owned businesses. Then, the pandemic hit – and it hurt not only her business but those she supports through her work. By June, Crawford decided to put on her walking shoes and go on a four-mile walk down to Detroit’s riverfront. That exercise gave her hope, got her thinking and put her in the mindset to get innovative. She partnered with the Downtown Detroit Partnership to hold the first all Black business market at Detroit’s Cadillac Square in late 2020. “It made me feel so good about the future,” Crawford said, and she is looking forward to many more weekend markets at Beacon Park and Cadillac Square as well as All Things Detroit in 2021.


Courtney Taylor and Chelsea Gheesling started Bundled with one simple mission; to use small business owners to create unique, easy to give, personal and business gifts. Each product and vendor Bundled partners with is carefully selected and each bundle is hand packed by the company’s team of individuals with disabilities at Services to Enhance Potential, providing them with a genuine job opportunity. From start to finish, the experience with Bundled is guaranteed to be a simple one while leaving a lasting impression on the recipient.

College leaders 

Heather Bateman joined Cleary as the school’s new Director of Athletics on August 21, 2019. In January 2020, Bateman was promoted to the role of Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs in January 2020. She oversees student housing, student life, food service, and facilities in addition to her role as Director of Athletics. She had to help students and athletes alike learn how to cope during coronavirus with virtual learning and on-campus changes. “Supporting student-athletes and coaches building consistency in the Cougar athletics programs is important,” Bateman said. Encouraging student success goes beyond just participating in one’s sport, she said. Student-athletes are supported in their studies, within the community and on the Cleary campus by all staff.


Hazel, Ravines and Downtown in Birmingham was hardly open two years when the pandemic hit. As a result, its two female leads have worked hard to adapt to the changes this pandemic has put forth throughout 2020 and into 2021. Co-Owners Beth Hussey and Executive Chef Emmele Herrold revamped their menu to suit new restrictions and make carryout or food delivery a special experience across Metro Detroit. They offer contact-free and easy Curbside Carryout and have just expanded the restaurant’s local delivery. 


Jessica DeMuro sees art in everyday life. As she says, “there’s no escaping it.” A multimedia artist living and working in Detroit, she uses photography at the core of her contemporary work, which includes installations, collages and mixed media. Surrounded by creativity from the start, her family produced painters, woodworkers and ceramists. A chance encounter with her first camera would pave her way toward a creative career. “I found my father’s old camera in a linen closet,” DeMuro said. “I took it to my high school photography class. The light meter didn’t work. I still have that old camera. It likely spawned my love for old, vintage cameras – which is something I still collect.” DeMuro identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and currently lives with her fiancé in Detroit’s North End.


A generation of Jewish children in metro Detroit grew up on the tunes and words of Elaine Serling. Now, Serling takes her music to children and the people who love them in cities across America and around the world, showing through music that identity, connection and heritage are easy items to own. Singing since she was 10 years old, Serling was the kid teachers could count on to stand up in school on a rainy day and perform for her peers when recess was canceled. By the time she was 19, Serling had written 10 original songs and built a reputation in her community for sharing ideas and stories through song.

Through her tunes, a new generation of Jews grew up on melodies and meanings made for modern life. She sought to convey stories of Jewish pride and strength, and the beauty of the holidays and rituals. “Music makes you open, inclusive and non-opinionated,” Serling said. “It forces you to be sensitive while welcoming everyone to sing with you. As Hans Christian Andersen said, ‘When words fail, music speaks.’”


Divorce lawyer Alisa Peskin-Shepherd chose to practice family law after spending the early years of her life witnessing family dysfunction, relationships that came and went, and yearning for security through strong family dynamics. “My early personal experiences taught me empathy and an easy connection to people experiencing family struggles,” she said. A strong leader with an open mind, Alisa teaches others that they can cultivate strength to get through difficult times. Determination, perseverance and discipline are core traits she teaches clients, with a healthy respect for family.


Dr. Regina Banks-Hall, SHRM-CP, is Cleary University’s Dean of Graduate & Professional Studies and Professor of Business. In this role, Dr. Banks-Hall focuses on program creation, faculty development, student retention, recruitment, and learning outcomes for graduate programs. Dr. Banks-Hall is a certified professional with the Society of Human Resource Management, a Distinguished Toastmaster, and a certified speaker, trainer, and coach with the John Maxwell Team. Dr. Banks-Hall began working as an adjunct professor in 2014 and joined Cleary University in January of 2018. Dr. Banks-Hall is the owner of two family-owned businesses. She has authored several books on leadership, motivation, vision and entrepreneurship. Her most recent book is entitled, “Handle Your Business: A Step-By-Step Blueprint for New Business Startups.”


Dr. Rachel S. Rohde is one of only two female physicians at Michigan Orthopedic Surgeons. Women only comprise about six percent of all orthopedic surgeons. She returned to Michigan following completion of medical school at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, residency at The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a fellowship at Hospital for Special Surgery, Hand and Microvascular Surgery in New York, NY. Dr. Rohde is an associate professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. She serves as a PRISM mentor to the medical students. 

A passionate advocate for patient and provider education and mentorship, she initiated the first Perry Outreach Program in the Midwest, a program focused on encouraging more women to enter the orthopedic field. Having led over a dozen of these programs, Dr. Rohde has taught more than 500 young women about engineering and orthopedic surgery as potential career choices.