#HerLegacy – The Ones in the Shadow
#HerLegacy was beautifully executed, well-attended and showcased extraordinary talent.
In reflecting on the event I thought a lot about the energy among a group of women, working hard to make sure the room was just right…
I arrived at the venue with material we would need to organize the space for #HerLegacy. I found two women – one I was familiar with – already working diligently to make sure we would get the gallery right. I thought to myself ‘I don’t know what I can contribute in this regard…. setting up for events is not one of my strong areas’.
In about half an hour I was being taught how to use the staple gun and fabric to create a skirt around the stage. I then moved on to helping with the hanging of the artwork for the gallery. How the gallery was to be set up was not my idea, in fact I was a little worried that it wouldn’t work; the art wasn’t lining up like it should. We were using fish line as our anchor and double-sided tape for reinforcement. As I held on to the fish line Simone exclaimed ‘yes Alexia yuh soh strong! Is your strength we need to pull on the line’. I didn’t know how to set up the room, it is not something I could ever do on my own, but there was one thing that I had that was useful to these women, my upper body strength.
With my strength, their ingenuity, creativity and determination, we managed to get it done on time. And while it may not have been perfect for us, our honourees, our guests were in love with the concept. I remember Taitu, one of our unplanned advisers saying to me as she walked in ‘WE-Change haffi jus good soh, mercy, oonu just good soh’ – what she saw was the product of team work.
Much like the way the women responsible for setting up the room supported each other, #HerLegacy was a space of immense support where women from all walks of life cried together, laughed together, hugged each other as we went through the emotionally draining but life enriching evening. A lot of what happened as we set up the room, is what happens in the lives of many people, where there is a combination of things and people that allow them to present in the ways that they do. #HerLegacy was the opportunity for recognizing those fixers, giants, workers, nurturers who have ushered us this far as women and as a movement, and who continue do this in their respective spaces.
As I listened to the presentations there were a few things that were recurring: struggle, misfortune and pain. But remember we are talking about #HerLegacy so clearly the stories didn’t end with those things. The stories as written and told were about women who despite struggles, despite misfortune, despite pain were able to make a difference in the lives of their children and their extended families, their communities, their nation, their region.
A personal story told by one brave woman brought home the point that many times women fight not to make their own lives better, but to secure a better life for other people. She talked about making a decision that could have led to her death because she thought about, and wanted to prevent harm that could have been meted out against her little sister.
Her story opened up wounds for her and maybe other persons in the room, but it also showed how, with support, people are able to use knives that were used to hurt them to cut away shackles that prevent growth. She sat from a position of empowerment telling her story, a story that may give many others courage to speak up against violence against women. She admitted that prior to finding the support group started by WE-Change last summer, she was never able to share her story in that way.
WE-Change continues to demonstrate how powerful an advocacy tool storytelling can be. How hearts and minds can be changed, how people can become connected and (re)inspired.
#HerLegacy was a different kind of International Women’s Day Celebration, one that disturbed, provoked and challenged us to be better and do better as individuals and as a collective. As we step up our efforts to achieve planet 50-50 by 2030, let us stretch our imagination even to irrational hopefulness, and as our leaders do their part, recognize that in our individual lives we have so much power to shape the future.
I am so proud of my team for pulling off such an awesome event. But we could not have done it without our key partners UN Women and J-FLAG. Special thanks also to 360 Artists and Shawna Stewart for helping us with the production – it was perfect! And to the women who assisted with setting up and who stayed until the very end to help us clear the room, our heartfelt gratitude to you. #TogetherWEcan
#HerLegacy – ‘A Treasured Memory’
Several months ago the WE-Change team decided that WE wanted to do something special, something different, to honour, celebrate, and commemorate International Women’s Day, or rather what has now become International Women’s Week.
WE knew that several groups, organisations and individuals would undertake a number of initiatives on March 8 – the day observed as International Women’s Day. WE didn’t want to add to what WE knew would have already been a hectic day for many persons, particularly those who always try to support all things women and all things gender equality!
WE knew the events would be awesome, but WE suspected that they would look and feel like many of the women’s events persons would have hosted over the years on this special day – a forum, and perhaps a lecture or two.
You should know by now that WE-Change is big on change, creativity, and consciousness raising. So WE conceptualised #HerLegacy and decided to host it a couple days after International Women’s Day on the evening of March 10, 2016 at the Doctor Bird Suite, New Kingston Conference Centre.
Under the International Women’s Day global theme – Pledge For Parity and the UN Women theme Stepping It Up For Gender Equality, #HerLegcay featured a small gallery of powHERful inspiring Jamaican and Caribbean women who have made significant contributions to gender equality in the Caribbean region. The gallery recognised the contribution of Dr. Marcia Forbes, Dionne Jackson Miller, Carla Moore, Judith Wedderburn, Taitu Heron, Nadeen Spence, Joan Grant Cummings, Jean Lowrie Chin, Professor Verene Shepherd, Emma Lewis, Yaneek Page, Patricia Watson and Joy Crawford all from Jamaica along with Teocah Dove from Trinidad & Tobago, Kenita Placide from Saint Lucia, and Peggy Antrobus born in Grenada and naturalised in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Beyond showcasing these 16 powHERful women leaders, WE also wanted to pay special tribute to women in spaces that are not always acknowledged: women in families and women in communities. WE also thought it most fitting to pay special tribute to three Jamaican women who WE refer to as our unplanned advisers: Taitu Heron, whom WE have dubbed as the Goddess of Wisdom, Joan Grant Cummings the Goddess of Knowledge and Nadeen Spence the Goddess of Intellect; they have been steering this 10-month old organisation (WE-Change) into greatness! As part of our tribute, WE presented each of the goddesses with portraits created for them by the talented Veneesia Thompson of ManyMe Inc.
Hosted by MC Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis, the #HerLegacy programme also provided an opportunity for persons across three different generations to pay tribute to their mothers. Judith Wedderburn, Imani Duncan Price, and Jomain McKenzie (whose tribute to mom was read by Ifidel Williams) all shared inspirational stories about the lives of their mothers and how these women have moulded them into unique beings. Dr. Adwoa Onuora did a special reading from her recently launched book Anansesem, which elevates the role and impact of motherhood and mothering on black consciousness and national development. She shared a very intriguing, thought-provoking and illuminating story about a unique interaction she had with her daughter and how that experience evolved into a beautiful realisation of the importance of black consciousness in self (no matter how young in age we are), as descendants of Africa.
WE-Change was sure to treat the audience of approximately 160 persons to crowd-rocking performances from two emerging Jamaican artistes J-mi and Anna Mariah who thrilled us with ear-pleasing music and smooth delivery – both performances were perfectly executed and earned the stamp of approval of the audience.
Earlier in the programme WE heard from one of our senior officers – Rochelle McFee who offered remarks on behalf of the organisation, packaged in the story of her own personal experiences with radicalism and the revolutionary impact of her grandmother’s mothering on her gender blind outlook on life. Tonni Ann Brodber masterly delivered a brilliant presentation in her remarks on behalf of UN Women, which chronicled the flame that is still alive in women’s rights activists and advocates throughout the decades. She delved into the magnetic and irresistible energy among Jamaican and Caribbean women’s rights advocates, something she believes we should channel into what could perhaps become the most powerful social justice movement in the world. And it is this kind of organising that is needed to challenge our government and the oppressive quality of our culture to ensure we achieve Planet 50-50 by 2030.
#HerLegacy would not be complete without addressing one of the most common issues affecting women – violence in all its forms. So in spoken word form, Taitu Heron shared the gift of her pen and creativity with us; she performed three incredibly well written pieces, one of which was a renaming piece performed as a duet with Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis that demonstrated how easily we could begin to (re)address and (re)name each other using positive language, because we are kings and queens, not &%$# and &%$#. The most gnashing piece she performed was her Libation Poem for Women that recounted the experiences of Jamaican women and how we resisted and survived the ugliness and pain of slavery, colonialism and oppression of the woman’s body and mind.
This was followed by a sober, tear-jerking, agonising, wound-opening personal story shared by a survivor of sexual violence. She narrated the horror of her experience even through the tears that pierced her eyes. The room was still. She spoke about her years of countless journeys to courthouses to ensure that justice was served, and so it was! The perpetrator was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. At the end, the entire room stood in awe, and offered an applause that would go on for more than a few seconds. This, is the definition of a powHERhouse!
#HerLegacy was a success. And WE are grateful to UN Women (Caribbean) & J-FLAG for funding this initiative, and for investing their faith in this young organisation. They were confident that WE would deliver.
It is this kind of support that young women’s activists, advocates and organisations need to continuously raise awareness about, challenge, address, and reduce Violence Against Women. It is this kind of support that is needed to tackle the culture of patriarchy and privilege that currently serve to oppress us because we dare to be women.
#HerLegacy would not have been the success it was without this support. The reviews have been extraordinary and WE are humbled by them. The online/social media dialogue about #HerLegacy before, during, and after the event was quite rich and extensive; at one point during the event our hashtag (#HerLegacy) was trending on Twitter in Jamaica!
It was a phenomenal evening!
WE did it!
Carla Petite said it best, when she described #HerLegacy as a ‘treasured memory’.