Q & A with Sioux Taylor

Sioux Taylor
In our first installment of profiles of African-American living legends, we spoke with Sioux Taylor. A 73-year-old, born-and-bred New Yorker who graduated from Fordham University in 1952. FOX Fan sat with Sioux to learn about her journey, and her insight into today's most controversial political issues.

Why did you decide to make social work and community activism your life’s vocation?

Seriously, I think I just got caught up in it. We are placed on this earth to make a difference, and that is what I’ve always strove to do. It was very natural for me to get into social work because it’s an advocacy movement. There are so many things that need doing — the fight for women’s rights, the fight to preserve healthcare for women as a right, not a privilege, and numerous other causes. Politics is so important to the community, especially grassroots politics. Whether you are on a school board or city council, it’s important to be a part of a movement that is trying to make change.

Where did you start your social work career?

In my first job I was director of the Colonial Park Housing Community Center in a housing project in Manhattan, New York. I actually founded that center and was the director for 10 years. In fact, I've established most of the jobs I've had, which means I was free to make mistakes, free to experiment, and it was wonderful for me and productive in terms of the goals I was trying to accomplish. This was all very satisfying, but then I got married. At the time, I worked from two in the afternoon to 10 at night, which is wonderful when you’re single, but not for a married person. I then switched to a day job at the YWCA, but then I got pregnant, and my husband and I moved to Mount Vernon — upstate New York — and I have been here for 40 years.

Did you become a housewife at that point?

For the first four years I was a miserable and an unhappy housewife, because I was used to the advocacy and social justice work that was important to me. Staying at home was not fulfilling. So I went back to work and volunteered with the Mount Vernon Daycare Center and became president. While there, I became active with the League of Women Voters. Then I had a life-changing experience. I went to a meeting where the League’s organizers were introducing the National Association of Women (NOW). The League was very academically oriented; they studied issues. On the other hand, NOW was very action-oriented, and I was immediately attracted, so I joined. I eventually organized the Westchester chapter of NOW, and became its first president. Today, I am still active on Westchester-NOW’s board.

Are you a feminist?

I am a card-carrying feminist. I believe there should be equal rights, equal opportunities, equal access — there should be no glass ceiling for women. I am committed to making a change, and will stay a member of NOW for the rest of my life. I still actively march in pro-choice rallies and demonstrations. I recently took a busload of women from the Council of Church Women to a pro-choice rally here in Mount Vernon. A woman’s right to choose is in danger because we don’t know who President Bush is going to appoint to the Supreme Court, but I am sure it’s going to be someone who is against the pro-choice stand on abortion. The right of a woman to use contraceptives, terminate a pregnancy and have access to reproductive health services without intrusion of government is not negotiable!

NOW helps women feel good about themselves by letting them know they are in charge of their lives.

You’ve had such a diverse work experience in the area of social service. How do you feel about the President’s faith-based initiative?

I think it endangers civil rights, violates the separation of church and state and the quality of services provided by social workers. I am also against prayer in the schools. Don’t get me wrong though — I’m a Christian, but I am not a fundamentalist. I’m very involved in my local church, where we have wonderful programs for the community. But the president shouldn’t be trying to buy people with a faith-based funding program. It’s my sense that this is this administration’s attempt to buy black Christian support because these are poor churches that need the funding and have poor church congregation members who would benefit greatly from church-run programs. So, give them some crumbs, and they will be beholden to you. However, there is a role for churches in the social services field, and they ought to be involved. But like charter schools that drain public money from the public school system, I believe this faith-based initiative will drain funding away from other community/social service organizations and give churches the bigger piece of the pie.

Sioux Taylor is a born-and-bred New Yorker who upon graduation from Fordham University in 1952 entered the social work sector. She served as executive director of the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau since 1978 until her appointment as the city's commissioner of recreation in 1992. While heading the youth bureau she took innovative approaches to meet the needs of Mount Vernon youth and she effectively administered diverse programs. She served as president of the Westchester Chapter of the New York State Association of Social Workers. Taylor was named woman of the year for her outstanding community service in 1975, social worker of the year for Westchester County, New York in 1988, social worker of the year for New York State in 1989, and was most recently honored for her outstanding work with children and youth by the Westchester Children’s Association. Since receiving her masters of science from New York University she has served as a member of the steering committee, New York State Coalition for the Aging, chairperson of the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Institute for Social Change, president of the lay organization, Allen Temple AME Church, as a district leader of the Mount Vernon Democratic Party since 1978, and as a member of the executive committee of the Mount Vernon Council Community Services. She was named 1988 social worker of the year for Westchester County, and a year later, social worker of the year: New York State. She was awarded the second annual Governor's Award for African-Americans of Distinction. She has served as the convener and first president of Southern Westchester NOW and is a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus and the Westchester Black Women's Political Caucus.