Detroit Mercy honors women at campus reception

Taking inspiration from the poem written by Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman, the Phenomenal Women’s Reception celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of women from the University of Detroit Mercy.  

Each year, the Ashley Gray Legacy Award is presented during the reception to an individual that has demonstrated exceptional leadership, dedication and advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality. 

In addition to the award presentation, the reception showcased talent within the Detroit Mercy community. Students Erin Letourneau, Myka Davis, Kenia Contreras, Deja Spruill and Sam Gillmore each shared their original poems in the spirit of womanhood. 

The winner of the Ashley Gray Legacy Award for this 19th Phenomenal Women’s Reception was Felicia A. Grey, Ph.D., a trained educator, political economist and trade law specialist. 

Grey spoke on the topic of “Growth in the Tough Moments, in which she credited her strength and dedication for education to helping her overcome obstacles.  

She defined a phenomenal woman as purposeful, passionate, persistent, particular in their goals and powerful. To become phenomenal, Grey urged the audience to reimagine their adversities into advantages and turn the tests they face into triumphs. 

“Every phenomenal woman has had a tough moment,” Grey said. “This tough moment revealed her tenacity, and then became a turning point where she became a trailblazer, and this changed the trajectory of her life.” 

She connected her story with other “phenomenal women” such as Maya Angelou, author of the 1978 poem that inspired the event.  

Angelou suffered severe childhood trauma and became a self-inflicted mute for six years. Throughout those years, she developed her love for reading and literature. Grey noted that during this time, Angelou wrote one of her most prolific works “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. 

Grey also acknowledged the hardships that notable women like Malala Yousafzai, Queen Elizabeth II and Rosa Parks have experienced.  

She affirmed that in these tough moments individuals find their mission and calling. The obstacles people face are personal to them. Grey illustrated that tough moments can also look like difficult courses, assignments, projects or work situations.  

Whilst studying international relations, Grey pursued fluency in Spanish. Since her professors were native Spanish speakers, the textbook was entirely in Spanish and lectures were only spoken in Spanish, she had difficulties acclimating to the course. 

Although she had taken Spanish in high school, she was “lost, frustrated and on the verge of failing” Spanish in college. She was going to drop the course, until she dreamt of someone telling her not to withdraw.  

As a Jamaica-native, Grey’s goal after finishing her degree was to become a diplomat, however she was soon met another obstacle. 

The Government of Jamaica had finalized a memorandum of understanding that dictated no hiring or firing in critical centers, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – where Grey had wanted to work.  

Yet, out of university, Grey needed a job. Due to her completion of the Spanish courses, she came a Spanish teacher. It was then that she had finally become fluent in Spanish. 

Although she hated teaching in the beginning, Grey said that “little by little, I began to discover the joys of teaching and learning; I discovered teaching is a gift and a calling; I discovered that this is something I am good at.” 

Through her discipline, courage and strength, Grey found her calling. She now proudly calls herself a teacher.  

To read more about the Phenomenal Women’s Reception, go to