LaTesha Watson never planned to be a police officer. In fact, she had dreams of either becoming an attorney or a fashion designer.
“The university had a degree program for that but I cannot draw,” Watson said, laughing. “So, I let that go. But (being a police officer) just wasn’t something I wanted to do. No one in my family is in law enforcement. Growing up, the idea was that I would be an attorney. My mom never liked the idea of me being a police officer.”
But after earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Watson accepted a job in 1994 with the Hutchins Police Department in Hutchins, Texas.
In 2002, she joined the Arlington Police Department, breaking barriers and becoming the department’s youngest deputy chief.
Now police chief in Henderson — the city’s second female chief and the first African-American — Watson says her journey has been rewarding, particularly in being able to inspire young girls.
“The look in their eyes when they realize I’m the supervisor says it all,” Watson said. “They really can’t fathom (that) a woman in this uniform is the boss. I had a kindergartner look at me one time and say, ‘I just never thought girls could tell boys what to do. You really tell boys what to do?’ And I told her, ‘yes I really do.’ Young girls need to understand that no matter what your circumstances have been, if you work for something and you really have a desire to do it, you can.”
Watson will be the featured speaker at Sunday’s 14th annual Madam C. J. Walker Luncheon hosted by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women — Las Vegas Chapter.
“(Watson) is a phenomenal woman,” said Andrea Woods, co-chairwoman for the luncheon. “And to introduce her to the community on our platform, I’m just so honored. This year is like the year of woman. It’s just time for women, especially women of color, to make a difference.”
The luncheon was initially created to celebrate newly inducted members. The event is named for the activist and self-made millionaire who developed a line of hair-care products for black women in the early 20th century. Each year, the organization invites a speaker to address topics of concern in the African-American community.
“Public policy and the state of our political climate are things everyone is concerned about right now,” said Sandra McLaurin, president of the local chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. “So we’re very proud to welcome the first African-American police chief of Henderson to come in and speak to the climate that we’re at and the action that needs to be taken.”
The group works under four pillars of advocacy: education, economic empowerment, health awareness and public policy.
“We no longer just want a seat at the table, we want to talk about what’s on the menu,” said McLaurin, who is also the chaplain of the national group’s board of directors. “And Madam C. J. Walker did that. Being an advocacy organization, it’s not enough to be exposed and educated but there has to be a call to action. We are being intentional about bringing issues to the forefront and then reaching out to the community and attendees to say this is what we need to do to move forward.”
Nine women will be inducted into the organization at Sunday’s ceremony. Moving forward, Woods said she envisions a program stemming from the luncheon that would connect with colleges to teach and give entrepreneurial resources to young women.
“It’s a sisterhood that tends to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice,” McLaurin said. “We advocate so we can have socioeconomic justice and there’ll no longer be disparities with regards to economics, education, health and our voice for public policy.”
If you go
■ What: 14th annual Madam C. J. Walker Luncheon
■ Who: National Coalition of 100 Black Women — Las Vegas Chapter
■ When: Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday
■ Where: The Orleans
■ Tickets: $75, eventbrite.com, search for 100 Black Women
Contact Mia Sims at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0298. Follow @miasims___ on Twitter.