Teresa Deloach Reed didn't always want to join the fire service.
But after quitting college and finding work as a phone installer, she saw a job listing that would change her life.
"I ran across an application by chance and figured I could be a firefighter just because I could raise a ladder," Reed said of her skills learned from installing phones.
And become a firefighter she did, rising through the ranks in various departments until she became the first African American woman to become a metropolitan fire chief.
Reed, hired last year as Oakland's first female fire chief, was among several women who spoke Saturday at a Women's Empowerment Forum organized by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Vallejo Alumnae Chapter.
About 50 people attended the First Presbyterian Church event, which included remarks from Reed, author and motivational speaker Dr. Melanie Watkins of Walnut Creek, and several local entrepreneurs and businesswomen on a panel discussion.
Watkins recalled her struggles as a single teenage mom from Jackson, Miss., pursuing her goal of going to college and, eventually, Stanford University School of Medicine.
"It's very important to dream big dreams," Watkins said.
Many of the panelists cited persistence and networking as key skills in making those dreams come true.
"You have to be committed. Being in a business, as these ladies can tell you, is not easy," said Valerie Smith, who owns several McDonald's Restaurant franchises in the
The women also advised that roadblocks, while difficult, can be overcome with enough determination and faith.
"If our foremothers and forefathers can put up with what they put up with, if they came through slavery and produced us, then we have no excuses," said Sharon McGriff-Payne, local author of two books on black history in the area.
Still, it might be necessary to learn new skills as the market changes, said Deanna Roberts, owner of an Oakland-based event management company.
"You may have to go back and get a little more education," Roberts said to long-term unemployed audience member who asked for advice on maintaining her spirit and finding a job.
Mortgage underwriter Toni Moore also recommended doing volunteer work, which serves the dual purpose of keeping busy while building contacts that could potentially lead to employment.
"Don't beat yourself up. Understand that there are things way bigger than you and out of your control. You are not your job, you're not what others think of you," Moore said.
Several speakers discussed the importance of going to college. Though Reed initially dropped out, she later earned both a bachelor's and master's degree.
Similarly, lawyer Diana Evans found herself in her late 20s as a housewife raising her children. But she eventually reconnected with her dream and returned to school, becoming a lawyer and establishing her own firm.
Contact Lanz Christian Bañes at (707) 553-6833 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LanzTimesH.
©2013 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)
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