They're celebrating their 40th anniversary with a fancy gala. 

Courtesy of the Black Women's Task Force

When Donna Liggins lost her 43-year-old daughter in 2011, the members of the Black Women's Task Force showed up for her. 

Just like they did in 1984 when she lost her mother. 

For 40 years, these women have supported each other and pursued equality for all Tucson women. 

On Saturday, Sept. 30, Tucson's Black Women's Task Force will celebrate a 40th anniversary gala. 

"The purpose, to me, has not changed at all," said Liggins, who has been a member for about 30 years and is currently vice president. "I think we are still for women, to help them get along in the community. And now we are focusing on young women." 

The Black Women's Task Force was formed out of the Pima County Tucson Women's Commission (then just the Tucson Women's Commission) about 40 years ago. Originally a committee within the commission, its members decided to become their own organization, said Annie Sykes, the president of the task force and an early member.

"This task force was brought together to address black women's issues in that time, issues that African Americans now are still having," said longtime member Dinah McGlory. "(The thought was) if they had a task force, they could bring some enlightenment some areas that could empower black women." 

But the task force doesn't just address issues facing African American women — any woman can join. The task force currently has about 15 members, including white and Hispanic members, Sykes, 67, said.

Ages of members range from those in their 20s and 30s to those in their 60s and 70s who have been part of the organization from the beginning. The women meet the second Saturday of every month.

"My thing is you just gotta love it," Sykes said. "Organizations endure when people care. ... (Those with ) a long standing with the organization, the thing is, we believe in it and we love it. That's what makes it keep going." 

In its 40 years, the nonprofit has hosted annual and biennial conferences for women, donated to clothing banks, delivered black history presentations and raised funds to provide scholarships to African American girls. 

The task force works with Tucson Unified School District's Legacy of Excellence scholarship program to identify African American senior girls who would benefit from a scholarship. They hope to expand their reach to work with other local school districts in the coming years. 

"Part of being empowered is being educated," said McGlory, 62, an assistant principal at Gridley Middle School. "Ignorance is something that holds you down financially and productively ... The only way we can make sure everyone we touch is successful is making sure that young women have an education so they know how to get a job and interview for a job and spend their money and save their money." 

Tailar Hughley, 19, received a $1,000 scholarship for her freshman year at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. The Sahuaro High School graduate said the scholarship helped her pay for college after she learned that her deceased father's veteran benefits would not pay for as much of her schooling as she had expected. 

"It was super helpful," she said, now a GCU sophomore studying pre-pharmacy. 

The nonprofit also organizes trips for students, along with conferences and workshops for the same purpose — to give women the tools they need to succeed. 

Sykes said topics include negotiating, taking advantage of social media (especially for "some of us older women"), dressing for success, running for office and even packing a suitcase efficiently. Each year, they select a woman who has received little recognition for her impact on the community for their Unsung Heroine Award. 

The next conference won't be until 2019 — they substituted the anniversary gala for this year's conference. 

At the gala, they'll honor task force partners the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the Dunbar Coalition, Inc. and TUSD's African American Student Services Legacy of Excellence Committee. 

And while much has changed since the nonprofit's founding, their work is not done. 

"We see more women in management-level positions than we did previously, but we don't see a lot of women in the executive level of management..." said McGlory. "We still have that glass ceiling that we have yet to burst open, so that we, as African American women, can see more CEOs of companies." 

Sykes adds that in recent years she has seen "backsliding" "in terms of how we're viewed and how we view ourselves." The country's current racial climate has young African Americans taking a deeper look at their history and their role in the community, she said. 

The 2010 census identified 3.5 percent of Pima County's population as African American or black. 

"As we look toward the future, we want to be a premiere organization for women who are minorities to come and get advice and help and become successful," McGlory said. "We want to touch a lot of lives where women need empowerment and help."

And through encouraging and educating other women, the members of the Black Women's Task Force have forged decades-long friendships. 

"Women are caregivers to their families, whether to their husband or children or parents," said Liggins, 73.

Liggins retired in 2010 after a 43-year career for Tucson Parks and Recreation. She even has a rec center named after her. She continues to organize Tucson's Martin Luther King Jr. marches. 

"I think women take a lot upon themselves but don't take care of themselves or take anything off of their shoulders," she said. "But being surrounded by other women, they can talk themselves into taking some of that off." 

Liggins experienced that support when her mother and, decades later, her daughter died. 

"You get into a lot of wonderful organizations that fade out after two or three years, but we have stuck together and worked together, and it has been like seven or eight women who have been together for a long time..." she said, adding that over the years other women have joined and left. "That's what I love about it. We don't have to compete within the organization. We just work together." 

40th Anniversary Gala

The gala is 6-11:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30 at the Desert Diamond Casino and Resort, 7350 S. Nogales Highway, with cocktails and a silent auction from 6-7 p.m. and dinner and dancing following. Tickets cost $75 and can be purchased at blackwomenstaskforce.org. Formal attire is required.