Stepping out of the City Council chambers where she had just been sworn in by Mayor Marion Barry as the first woman on the three-member D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission, Cora Masters Wilds beamed with self-assurance. "The first thing you've got to realize about these board and commission appointments," she told a reporter, "is that they're all political."
"Not political as in governmental politics," she explained, "but political in the sense that you don't appoint your enemies. You make sure your friends are qualified and you appoint them. And once someone is on a board or a commission, he or she must 'politick' to get what he or she wants. You have to know the key people."
After 10 years of community activity in D.C., Wilds, 35, an assistant professor of political science at the University of the District of Columbia, says she expects to be very effective in her new position because she knows many of the key people in the local sports and political arenas.
But Bobby Mitchell, the man whom Wilds replaces on the commission when his second three-year term expires next month, says several men involved in the local boxing scene are skeptical about Wilds' qualifications. "She'll have to prove herself. After all, she is the first woman to serve on the commission," says Mitchell, a former Washington Redskin. "The D.C. boxing commissioners do not perform ceremonial duties. They must get totally involved in all the day-to-day problems and activities, from attending meetings to moving tables and chairs."
He said one problem Wilds must face is the pre-match weigh-in, in which the boxers are weighed nude before the judges and commissioners and examined for possible indications of drug usage. "This is the reason that her appointment has upset so many people," Mitchell said. "Some managers and boxers say they're not stripping in front of any woman. I don't think she knows what she's getting into."
In response, Wilds says simply, "If a boxer refuses to undress . . . I will not leave the weigh-in. If a boxer wants to put a towel around him, he can." She won't be caught blushing at the sight of a naked boxer, she says with an air of confidence, because, "I'm a woman, married and I have two children."
Wilds, an Oklahoma City native, moved here in 1970 and received her master's degree in urban studies at Howard University by 1972. Her mother, who separated from her father after World War II, moved her, her three sisters and two brothers to Pasadena, Calif., where she spent her teen-age years. She attended Texas Southern and California State universities before coming to D.C.
Shortly after graduating from Howard, Wilds married a fellow graduate student and they settled in Southeast D.C., where they're rearing their two daughters, one an elementary school student at Capitol Hill Day School, the other a student at Southeast's Brent Elementary.
Her first job in the District was at the Center for Community Studies, working in Anacostia. By 1973, she had joined the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) to help spearhead a pilot project called Operation Sisters United. With NCNW, she counseled delinquent teen-age girls in Shaw.
Active in various District communities since her arrival here, Wilds has steadily climbed the ladder of political influence in the past few years as a member of several organizations, including the D.C. Women's Political Caucus and the Mayor's International Task Force on Economic Development. "Before home rule and the right of District of Columbia residents to vote in the presidential elections," she explained, "the only political game in town was played in the communities, on the grass-roots level."
Now, many of those former grass-roots leaders, such as Mayor Barry, are heads of government agencies and in positions to hoist their former fellow community activists further up that political ladder.
Wilds, who recently campaigned for the Carter-Mondale ticket as the minority coordinator for Northern Virginia (where her husband Moses, 36, is a legislative aide) and wrote a book entitled "The Impact of Presidential Elections on the Black Community," initially intended a career in politics. But, she says, she has since become "disgusted at all the bureaucratic mess" involved in governmental politics.
She plugged her energies into UDC in 1976, the year it was founded, so that, she says, she can stay in touch with young people who have special needs. "UDC has a unique mission in helping many young adults who would otherwise find it impossible to gain a high quality college education, due to financial difficulties." She was an instructor at the old Washington Technical Institute for two years before joining the UDC faculty.
Madeline Petty, one of Wilds' Texas Southern contemporaries, now supervising computer operations and other support services for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, says of Wilds, "Cora is politically astute, she's very ambitious and she's interested in doing new things. She is one who will question the status quo.
"(But) one of her main weaknesses is her impatience. She often gets frustrated when people do not do things as quickly as she thinks they should."
Petty recalled how she and Wilds often used to accompany their husbands to see live boxing matches at the Capital Centre years ago, and how last year Wilds corralled a group of professional women called Network Plus into sponsoring an amateur boxing exhibition.
"We wanted to do something non-traditional to raise money for the D.C. public schools' athletic program. So, Cora, said, 'Let's sponsor a boxing match.' Everybody thought she was a little crazy. But it was very befitting of her personality. She's witty, but straightforward.
"Cora focused on our strengths," Petty said. "She convinced us that we had the skills to do it. Many of us have management skills, public-relations and administrative skills. The hardest task was persuading people to take us seriously and to come out and spend their money."
Through the boxing exhibition, which featured "Lady Tyger," a professional female boxer from Los Angeles, the group raised $2,500 for the public school system's swimming program, because it had about an equal number of young men and women.
Wilds thanks her "strong and aggressive" mother, Isabell Masters, 67, for giving her a positive self-image. "She didn't make being a woman an issue. I was raised to express myself as a being, not as a woman," Wilds says. Her mother, who is completing her doctoral degree in secondary education at the University of Oklahoma, "would tell me, a 'decent person' wouldn't carry herself like that, instead of saying, a 'decent woman.'"
Though she has been self-assured and independent most of her life, Wilds has found herself second-guessing her decision to accept the three-year appointment to the boxing and wrestling commission.
"I've been asking myself why I would want to be on the commission. I always conclude that I simply enjoy boxing as an art, but also as a political mechanism in that there are so many aspects to it -- fighters, managers, promoters, the boxing clubs and associations. I think boxing can be a very important part of D.C., especially for amateurs, most of whom are underprivileged youths off the streets. My main concern is to ensure the safety of the fighters and the public.
"I want to help raise the level of boxing in the city so we can attract professional bouts in the near future. We're really going to need the support of the community to do that."