By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Tuesday marked the 107 year since the passing of Civil Rights and Underground Railroad icon Harriet Tubman.
Two days prior to March 10, nearly 50 members of the Memphis area were honored for their involvement to better the community with the Harriet Tubman Living Legends awards. Among those 2020 recipients in the leadership category was Millington’s Debra Sigee.
Community activist and grant writer, Sigee is currently the executive director of the Millington Crisis Center. Her involvement in the betterment of the Millington community for 23 years placed among the likes of Michael Rallings (Memphis Police Department Chief of Police), Elaine Turner (CEO of Slave Haven), Tyron Burroughs (president and CEO, First Choice Sales & Marketing Group), Van Turner (president of NAACP and Shelby County Commissioner), Faith Morris (Marketing Director of Civil Rights Museum), Reginald Cooperwood (Regional One Hospital), Calvin Anderson (president of the New Tri-State Defender Newspaper, businessman), former State Rep. Johnnie Turner (Civil Rights activist), Karanja Ajanaku (executive director New Tri-State Defender Newspaper), Judge Joe Brown (activist), Shep Wilburn (founder of the 1991 People’s Convention, supplier diversity officer for Shelby County) and Johnnie Mosley (Citizens for Better Service).
“It feels surreal to be honored in the Leadership Category of with honorees that I been a fan of and followed their careers,” Sigee said. “I learned I was a recipient of the Harriet Tubman Living Legend Award by a letter I received in the mail.”
Before another big family event, Sigee shared the day with her family including husband Emile. The event was held at the National Civil Rights Museum.
“The ceremony was beautiful and relaxing with an atmosphere filled to standing room capacity of people with joyful smiles as each recipient accepted their award,” Sigee recalled. “ I wish I could have stayed for the reception because the food looked scrumptious, but I had to leave because I was going out of town for the birth of my new grandson.”
Sigee’s legacy lives through her family and work in the Millington area. Sigee once ran for the Mayor of Millington, donated money various charitable efforts, held fund-raisers and organized giveaways. Most of her ventures didn’t bring her direct media attention like the recent Harriet Tubman Award ceremony.
“Yes, it was (awkward),” she said. “I received other awards and a State Resolution over the years and had not personal attended to accept it because I do not like the spotlight on me. “However, my Aunt Abby from Chicago called me and said, ‘Stop shying away from attending award ceremonies that you are being recognized for,’” Sigee added. “’Although, you do not seek the recognition it is something to be proud of when you are recognized. With that said do not use the excuse you will be out of town because you can leave the next day and still be in Georgia for the birth of my Great-Great Nephew.’”
Sigee said receiving the prestigious award in person with her family by her side was great advice from her aunt.
“Her calling me last month to congratulate and say what she said is why I rearranged my departure to Georgia,” Sigee said, “to attend the ceremony at the National Civil Rights Museum to personally accept my award.”
Sigee’s personal touch to the new-look Millington Crisis Center has helped the organization have a wider outreach.
“Millington became my permanent home when my husband Emile Sigee retired from the Military in August 2000,” she recalled. “I been helping others my entire life. When I was asked to become the executive director of the Millington Crisis Center, I accepted the position for one-year restructure and reorganize the organization.
“I accomplished my goal and tried to hand in my resignation after the first and second year,” Sigee continued. “But the board will not accept it and to my surprise donors also do not want me to leave. I must be doing something right. However, I cannot stay forever. Living with Multiple Sclerosis is not easy, if God is willing to continue giving me the capability to bring the Crisis Center to the level, I envision. I consider that is His purpose for my life currently. I believe our purpose on earth is to make a difference in this world no matter how small or big.
Tubman made a difference in lives by risking her own on the Underground Railroad. Overcoming illness and pains, Sigee uses her strength to empower others following in the footsteps of Tubman.
“I believe I already validate the award and legacy of its namesake because the honorees are chosen based on their care of mankind,” Sigee concluded. “Commitment to human progress and the willingness to get it done, that is who I am and always will be until the day God calls me home.”