Governor Nikki Haley gave members of United Way of Greenville County's Women's Leadership a special assignment Thursday.
She told them to go back and reflect on what she called "war stories" — the tough times in life that define who you are and sometimes surprise you because of the things that you’re able to do.
“War stories make us the person that we become,” Haley said to the 900-plus people who gathered for the group's 17th annual Women Make A Difference luncheon at the TD Convention Center.
The war stories, Haley said, "better you and make you realize the leadership that you have."
United Way’s Women’s Leadership started in 1998 with 208 women contributing $1,000 or more to the organization. It's now more than 1,700 women strong. Last year, the group pledged over $2.3 million in support of United Way’s Cycle of Success, said Diana Watson White, the group’s vice chair.
The luncheon honors the group of women philanthropists and recognizes their efforts over the past year, including their volunteerism and scholarship program, “Jobs to Careers — Women Helping Women," which benefited 37 local women.
As part of the “Wear One, Bring One” project, women also were asked to bring new women’s undergarments to the luncheon, to be donated to women served by the Safe Harbor domestic violence shelter. To date, the group has collected 6,500 undergarments.
Haley told the women she was “inspired” by the fact that they realize a roomful of girlfriends strengthens you.
She shared three of her own personal war stories that she said had given her strength.
Each of the stories, she said, “changed me and made me a better person.”
The latest war story, Haley said, involved removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse — an action that followed a terrible tragedy.
She said that 12 people at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston having Bible study on a Wednesday night in June welcomed a stranger. At the end of the night, nine of them were shot dead. The shooting suspect, Dylann Roof, was captured 13 hours later.
Those 12, Haley said, “took someone in who did not look like them, did not act like them did not sound like them, and they pulled up a chair and they prayed with him for an hour.”
“That love and acceptance is leadership,” Haley said.
And it was so powerful, she said, that when the victims’ families faced the murderer, “they had the grace to forgive. That was so motivating that it touched the people of South Carolina.
“We didn’t have riots, we had vigils. We didn’t have protests, we had hugs,” Haley said. “And the leadership of the people of South Carolina brought down that Confederate flag in South Carolina.”