“My first job was in Manhattan, and I remember being the only Black person in that department. That happened many times to me over the course of my career. In fact, I realize now that in NYC, all of my friends were Black or Puerto Rican. But in California, all of my friends are white. Is it because I adapted to being here? Maybe. Who knows? I also am familiar with being in the minority. Even in basketball as a child, there were only two of us.”
Norma Brewer is Ritter Center’s Accounting Manager. Originally from Queens, she grew up as the only Black child in the class.
“At that very young age, it was different. But it did present challenges as I got older at school. I do remember fondly that our Woodside Housing Projects community was a place where we all knew each other — parents and kids. Any parent had the right to chastise and to discipline right then and there. They would tell your parents later. Despite this tight-knit community, my parents never wanted us to stay there. My parents instilled in us to do better. Don’t be stagnant, they said. They kept us challenged, and although they never taught us Black History per se, they made sure to make us read books and even do book reports! I couldn’t stand it. Interestingly enough, the first book I read on my own was a biography of Malcolm X. I remember I had to go outside of school to learn about MLK Jr. because his important story sadly was merely a blip in our school books.”
At Ritter Center, Norma truly enjoys what she does – accounting is a critical function for Ritter Center.
“Executive Director Mark Shotwell and COO Samson Mael have always been so encouraging. They want me to grow. Everyone, in fact, has been welcoming. No one is focused on my outer appearance, but instead, they are centering on what I can bring to the table: my voice and my talent. I genuinely appreciate that, as it hasn’t always been the case.
As a Black woman, both Black History Month and Women’s History Month converge for me. We have so much more to accomplish in both realms. Yet, at the same time, we have done so much. The struggle and challenge are that sometimes people can treat each other in the most inhumane ways. Sometimes it is done in little subtle ways. But it can build and build. It means that you always have to have a shield—every day. When you get treated a certain way, you talk a certain way. You have to be mindful to avoid being defensive or angry. Equally important, you have to intentionally not focus on the negative so you can go about your day and do your best to get through it. I work to focus on the positive because the negative can make you just that — negative. We should be recognized for what we contributed to this country and this world.”
Norma is proud that Ritter Center has done a lot for the community during COVID.
“We are trying to meet that need. Those who want to change are open to receiving our support. At Ritter Center, it’s a matter of seeing people as human beings. That is true of Black History Month and Women’s History Month. There is no way you can treat another person badly if you see them as human. You can’t disregard someone in a disrespectful manner and not afford them the same things you want: housing, good jobs, and a future for ourselves and our families. To deny that because of how I look — without you even knowing me – is a disservice. After all, I’m a human being just like you.”