Pragmatic Role Model Willy Hardy Is Leader in Aiding the Impoverished
Widowed, she has a job with the D.C. Department of Environmental Services. She has 16 children — six of her own, ten of whom she found on her doorstep. She still has time to inspire and help women. She find ways to provide community aid, like getting churches to lend their facilities for day care centers. “If it’s holy,” she says, “it ought to be doing something during the week.”
The Washington Daily News, May 23, 1972: “Turn off that damn TV and start doing something,” Willy Hardy tells the impoverished, emotionally paralyzed black women she meets in her community. “Let’s get up and start living!” The women’s movement has probably never heard of Willie Hardy and she doesn’t give women’s lib the time of day, but a more vociferous and effectual female role model would be hard to find.
As co-founder of the grassroots Metropolitan Community Aid Council, Mrs. Hardy, has been exhorting and inspiring women for more than a dozen years. Until her husband died in 1970, she ran the MCAC Quonset Hut on 49th and Dean St NE, as a volunteer, dispensing “food, clothing, jobs and emergency housing — anything we could beg”- to the needy. Now that she’s had to take a paid job to support her family — she is monitoring officer for the D.C. Department of Environmental Services, supervising a large staff — the clothing is collected on her back porch, delivered by her sons and distributed by seven volunteers, one in each of the Capitol Housing Projects. And Mrs. Hardy still dispenses advice and encouragement in every spare minute.
What does she want the poor black women to do? “They can paint their doors pink and pick up their morale. They can go to the schools and volunteer to help with the lunch programs. They can help others. Women have more guts and more muscle than men. They are the doers.”
No question but Willie Hardy is a doer. A full-time job and the loss of her husband hasn’t slowed her down a bit. One of 16 children, she has raised 16 children, herself. Six are her own and 10 others, including a white boy, were literally left on her doorstep. “I didn’t take out adoption papers. They’re always going to be mine and I’m always going to be theirs.”
But she is going to adopt a 7-year-old girl soon, partly at the urging of her own children who’ve been noticing the pictures of adoptive children, published in the Washington Daily News. “They asked me at the agency what color I wanted and what shape eyes and how thick her lips should be. I told them, ‘I’m not buying apples and oranges. I want a child. My children want a child.’ “
Mrs. Hardy is also a member of the African Liberation Day Committee and on the board of the 12th Street “Y.” And she’s very good at getting people to lend their churches to be used as day care centers. “If it’s holy, a church ought to be doing something during the week,” said Mrs. Hardy.
Willy Hardy’s community service began in 1960 when she was knocking on doors collecting “Dollars for Democrats.” “One woman asked me, ‘What have the Democrats done for me?’ I couldn’t think of one damn thing to tell her. Then she said, ‘Tell the Democrats to go out and find my husband. He hasn’t been home for three days and I think something terrible has happened to him.’ ”
Mrs. Hardy and two friends decided to investigate on their own, and soon discovered that two other men in the neighborhood who worked with the woman’s husband hadn’t been home in three days either. “It took us two days to track the men, recalls Mrs. Hardy, who finally found them in the morgue. “They’d been thrown into a gully in an automobile accident and their paychecks and identification had been stripped from them before they were found by the police,” Mrs. Hardy explained.
The incident convinced her that only women can help in situations needing compassion and trust. Most men would have assumed the husbands were out playing around, she said, “That’s why I like to see women out there in police cars.”
In the working world, Mrs. Hardy has encountered male bias, which doesn’t surprise her much. “Black men put down black women,” she said, “Why in hell does a woman get this job,” one man asked her recently. And when she first went to work, “a little GS 4 said to me, ‘I don’t think I want to work for a woman.’ Hell, I gave birth to men!” she told him. “You’re out of your mind. I’m the man in my family. I’m the woman, too.”
Mrs. Hardy is equally unequivocal in her views on being a black in a white society. “We don’t have the luxury of consumerism,” she pointed out. “I need that washing machine even though the interest is exorbitant.” Ecology also leaves Mrs. Hardy cold. “I can’t worry about whales when babies being born in the D.C. General Hospital are dying there.”
She’s vehemently against National Capitol Housing, which she calls “plantation living,” because it “segregates the poor and the black.” She admits to trying very hard to be middle-class. “But to some people, middle-class means lots of money and maids. To me it means not worrying about whether or not I can pay my rent.”