The year was 1953 and two Memphis teachers – Josephine Bridges and Dr. Sarah Chandler – were in their twenties when they founded a group called Just Us Girls.
Now the women's organization is known as Justice, Unity, Generosity, Service International - J.U.G.S. And this year, Memphis was the host site for "A Diamond Celebration" – the group's 60th anniversary.
"We renamed it Justice, Unity, Generosity, Service after we started having charity balls and needed a more serious name," said the 81-year-old Bridges, who conceived the plan to improve the lives of children using a small group of committed women.
Today, the organization has more than a dozen chapters across the country and in Nassau, Bahamas. Dr. Chandler said neither she nor Bridges had any idea that J.U.G.S would endure so many decades.
"We really didn't put any thoughts like that into it," said Chandler, 83. "We were dealing with issues at that time, particularly for unwed mothers and children's charities. We were all school teachers and we saw the plight of the children. We couldn't solve all the problems, but somebody had to do something."
The Memphis Chapter hosted the 44th International Convention of J.U.G.S. on June 26-30 at the Memphis Marriott East. It included the members-only Tea with the Queens honoring Bridges and Chandler at the home of Judge Jayne Chandler; a get-acquainted event called "60 Shades of Blue" at the home of Joe and Estella Greer; as well as "A Diamond Celebration" black-tie gala and the "Lady Sings the Blues" Champagne Brunch and Community Awards Luncheon at the hotel.
More than 100 people attended the gala. Among them were Ruth McKinnie LaValle of St. Louis (Dr. Chandler's sister) and chapter members from Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Columbus (Ga.), Nassau (Bahamas), St. Louis, and Memphis. Three couples celebrated wedding anniversaries – Rhodis and Willie Thompson, Denise and Jerry Moore, and Rhonda and David Porter. Jerome Chism and the M-Town Band, also featuring James Sexton, Courtney Clark, Courtney Taylor and Deon Lofton, performed.
The awards luncheon celebrated the life and music of Billie Holiday. The Sunny Side Up Band performed, with Joanne Joyner in the role of the renowned jazz singer. Many of the luncheon-goers adorned their hair with flowers, a tribute to "Lady Day," who was known for her signature gardenias.
All J.U.G.S. wore white. And, Josephine Bridges was among those modeling furs from Fur Vault at Macy's. Narrator Cliff Stockton weaved history and legend with the songs.
Four awards were given out. Ruby Bright, Middle Baptist Church-Whitehaven and Cargill Inc. accepted community service awards for their work on behalf of children.
Charlotte Foster received the Marie Bradford Service Award. The award acknowledges Bradford, the only one of the original eight charter members who has actively participated for 60 years. It is bestowed on a deserving member with 15 years of continuous participation. Foster, who has served as VP, secretary and treasurer, was inducted into the Memphis Chapter in 1994.
All J.U.G.S. chapters raise funds for college scholarships and philanthropic children's causes. For example, the Memphis Chapter with just 17 members has donated over $1 million to various charities in the Memphis Community. The most recent recipient being The Bridges-Chandler Kids Café at Girls, Inc., where hungry kids get fed as a result of the generosity of J.U.G.S., Inc.
Led by President Florence Hervery, they announced a $5,000 donation to Girls Inc. during the June 29th luncheon. The International Chapter headed by President Valerie Long, also a Memphis Chapter member, presented Girls Inc. with a $1,000 check. The local chapter also gave a $2,000 college scholarship to Rico Bratcher of Oakhaven High School while the International Chapter gave a $2,000 scholarship to Clivana Burse of Overton High School.
Other chapters, some with as few as eight members, do as much. Most recently, the Detroit Chapter contributed washers, dryers and a playground to a boys and girls home. They also purchased a furnished apartment for a homeless family. Detroit's Lenore Evans said, they annually give out sizeable four-year scholarships and students need only prove they are still in school.
The Columbus Chapter provides scholarships to graduating seniors, supports the local Ronald McDonald House, other organizations and a community center while sending at least three kids to camp each summer.
As Rev. Lester Basken of Middle Baptist-Whitehaven noted in his acceptance speech: "The more you give of yourself, the bigger you become."