It's Women's History Month! Creative Loafing loves to celebrate wonderful women all year round, but this month we're spending a little extra time highlighting a few Charlotte fe-noms whose work uplifts other women and girls. We did hear a rumor they run the world ...
Melissa Mummert's eyes are as bright as her hot pink shirt. Her cheeks brighten too as she whirls the floor of Second Helping Charlotte, taking orders and serving up food. She supports a team of four women, all in green with aprons and hairnets, packaging soul food, cakes and pies for a line out the door.
Mummert's worked with Second Helping for more than two years. It's an outgrowth of Changed Choices, the re-entry nonprofit Mummert works for, and staffed by women with criminal records. After serving time in the U.S. prison system, each left with connections to Mummert and Changed Choices that holistically changed their lives for the better.
Between rushes, Mummert engages in conversation with customers. Their connections to Second Helping vary: neighbors walk from Plaza Midwood, drive from the army base down the street, stop in response to calls out on Facebook. "We're really in the community's hands," Mummert says, looking out over the crowd.
On March 20, Second Helping used social media to ask for community support; without it, its Central Avenue storefront would have shut down. The booming March 21 business isn't the norm - a typical day sees $50 of carryout sales. Right now, it seems to have a firm grip: end-of-day figures top more than $1,200.
"I know that, especially for women, we want to help," Mummert says. "Food is such an issue in my house. I love that we've created a really easy way for women to help us while we help other women. We make their lives a little easier; in turn, we're creating a web of positive relationships."
Mummert's commitment to women in the prison system is truly lifelong. She came to in- and post-prison service over a decade ago. Now, it's her wellspring of life. She spends each day mentoring, life coaching and advocating for women whose lives are forever changed by choices past and present - some not their own.
Mummert worked seven years producing Perversion of Justice, a documentary about the impacts of mandatory minimum sentencing. She shows it to audiences in Charlotte and nationally while splitting long weeks between Changed Choices and Second Helpings (and pursuing a music career on the side).
What's most striking about Mummert is her holistic humility. In conversation and public appearances, she stresses the inputs of those she works with - her colleagues at Changed Choices and Second Helping, Antonia Childs of Neet's Sweets who shares the space - and how much they teach her.
"It's changed me as a woman, to just walk with them," she says. "It's changed my sense of perseverance. When I see and hear about what they've been through, I know I can press on another day."
And press on she does. After two interviews, Mummert quietly sidles back behind the Second Helping counter. Laughing and joking, she ladles green beans alongside the women she's mentored and thanks customers gratefully. As the tip jar rattles, her eyes steadily shine.