As a woman of color, Black History Month holds a special significance for me. In particular, it allows me to reflect on my personal experiences and perspective, not just through a gender lens, but also that of an African-American.
Since beginning my tenure at the Ms. Foundation for Women, I have embarked on a comprehensive listening tour, traveling around the county to hear from community leaders of all backgrounds. From our grantees to grassroots leaders, these are the people on the ground propelling grassroots movements that affect thousands of lives everyday.
On one particular trip, I had the chance to visit the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. As I walked through the museum, a standing memorial to the journey many slaves took to freedom and the risks many people took to help get them there, I reflected on how privileged I am to have the opportunity to serve in my current role as president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation: the largest, oldest women’s foundation in the country. I also reflected on the obligation I feel everyday to honor those who have come before me. It has been said, and it is my belief, that: “We owe it to our ancestors and to the sacrifices they made, to continue to achieve higher goals, while maintaining our identity.”
As a woman of color, that is the lens that I look through everyday.
In 2015, we — all women — stand at a unique time in our history. This is a time where we are not only reflecting on our past, but we are also witnessing the increased need to honor it by continuing the work of our predecessors. We are called now, more than ever, to fight not only for gender rights, but for racial justice for all.
We continue to work to ensure that the lens of race and gender are not left out of our current social justice movements. Whether fighting for reproductive justice or environmental protections, the voices and experiences of all women must be included. Much like Harriet Tubman and the forgotten women of Selma, highlighted in Ava DuVernay’s recent film, feminism has a leading role in shaping progressive movements to be inclusive, while striving not to be ambivalent of race.
A prime example is the way women, particularly women of color, helped shape the Civil Rights Movement. DuVernay’s depiction of the Civil Rights Movement unapologetically spotlights the contributions of black women too often downplayed in history. It is that perspective, and the acknowledgement of the key role of women in building strong and lasting movements, that drives the foundation to continue our work everyday.
The work of the Ms. Foundation for Women is integral to building diversity — both within the feminist movement, and all progressive movements. We play an important role by bringing a diverse and all-inclusive gender lens to philanthropy. Working with our funding networks, the Ms. Foundation helps identify the grassroots organizations working on the ground to build power in communities that are too often excluded from the tables where progressive strategies are planned.
In cities and towns across the U.S., Ms. Foundation grantees are working on every aspect of women’s equality. Our grantees are pressuring pharmacies to ensure that teens have access to emergency contraception, fighting for equal access to affordable healthcare, spotlighting the need for equal pay, working to end rape culture and helping to build a better childcare system for all while building grassroots activism and supporting the next generation of feminist leaders.
That is why I am calling on you to renew your commitment and dedication to building diverse and powerful movements for equality. Together we can bring more people to the table by expanding feminist narratives and acknowledging the intersection of issues within the larger movement for women’s empowerment. We must acknowledge, that to strengthen our movement, we have to address inequality as all women experience it.
Also know, that I am committed to upholding our obligation to continue building diverse, inclusive movements for equality, and we promise not to rest until we have justice for all.