Palm Beach Junior League Inspires Generations

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Florida – When you hear about groups like the Junior League often, it might conjure up phrases like “members only club.” But the Palm Beach Junior League is certainly taking a fresh look at the past.

Thirteen years ago, when Marcel Burke joined the JLPB, she never aspired or thought she would one day be the League’s first black president.

“Honestly, I’m still mulling it over,” Burke said.

This is a very unfortunate moment, since the league, which originated over 120 years ago, was not originally diverse. The Palm Beach Chapter is celebrating over 80 years since its founding.

“I remember my mother teasing me a little when I joined her about white gloves, pearls and tea. I think it shows that we are so much more,” said the former Palm Beach County Commissioner and junior league member. Melissa McKinlay.

In recent years, the Palm Beach Junior League has become part of a national lightning rod aimed at changing its boring stereotype. Former League President Shelley Laris Albright said the push for diversity was deliberate.

“We want our league to represent the community, and if we’re not diverse, then we are,” Larise Albright said.

For new members like Janice Davis, seeing a woman of color on top is a big deal.

“I think people understand that we have to be a diverse community here in Palm Beach and we have so many women, gorgeous black women in leadership that it just makes sense,” Davis said.

None of them lose sight of the significance of Burke’s role.

“I get emotional towards Janice because not only is she my complexion, she is also a beautiful black woman with natural hair. I mean, there are so many things here,” Burke said.

As the voice of nearly 600 volunteer members, Burke proudly carries the mantelpiece of those who came before her. It plays a vital role in identifying and accurately funding projects that flow into society and children.

But she will be the first to tell you, she feels the weight of this moment. She knows that her presence signals a great shift from the inside out.

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