Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Word from President Davis of Empire State College

March is Women’s History month, and our college has hosted a number of related events. In addition, there have been many other articles, conferences and seminars generated across the state.
At our annual Women’s Studies Residency in Saratoga Springs on March 11, we experienced an amazing presentation by Barbara Seals Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, the co-founders of the Uncrowned Queen’s Institute for Research and Education on Women Inc., at the University at Buffalo.
They are the editors of an extraordinary collection of poems, essays and letters titled “Go, Tell Michelle”, which was complied and published in record time between the election of Barack Obama and the inauguration in January, 2009.
(Kudos by the way to the State University of New York Press for getting this collection published so quickly and so well.)
These writings to the new First Lady from African American women from throughout the Unites States celebrate the joy of women everywhere for this historic moment. They talk about their mothers and their grandmothers, about their own personal struggles, and their hopes and fears for the future.
Powerful stuff, and presented to a crowd of women and men of all colors by the two editors with grace, dignity and humor, and especially with a generosity of spirit towards those of us who have benefited from various forms of privilege.
Then, on March 16, we had the good fortune to hear from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Tarr-Whelan, who gave the college’s Richard H. Mattox Public Policy Lecture to a diverse and enthusiastic audience at the New York State Museum in Albany.
Ambassador Tarr-Whelan’s new book, “Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World,” shares strategies women can use to leverage their unique leadership style that emphasizes communication, collaboration and consensus. She made her point by referring to the recent Oscars. It was wonderful that, for the first time in its 82-year history, a woman won the award for best director, while at every key level in the movie industry, representation by women hasn’t changed in the last 40 or so years. So, yes, let’s celebrate and cheer loudly, create individual role models and champions, but do not take individual achievements as an indication of deep change.
Ambassador Tarr-Whelan advocates working towards a “tipping point” which she says happens when just 30 percent of an organization’s decision-makers are women, a goal she hopes the U.S. will make serious effort to move forward on. She explained that “with only 17 percent of Congressional seats and 14 percent of Fortune 500 board seats held by women, the leaders defining the landscape of priorities and solutions continue to look and act much the same as generations ago.”
This is also why “Go, Tell Michelle” is such a powerful book: it celebrates the first First Lady for her heritage, her own talents and her accomplishments, but also encourages, challenges and reminds us of the work yet to be done, and that we have to be vigilant.
On a daily basis we (well, me anyway as a white male) need to think about how we may unintentionally reinforce or create barriers to full participation in our society of everyone. I see it when others are guilty (and all too often!) but I hope I am big enough to accept criticism when I miss the point too.
A dear friend of mine, when we were once engrossed in a discussion of political correctness versus authentic equality, generously offered her summary: “It’s a struggle: the point is to keep struggling, and not conclude that these problems are either hopeless, or somehow solved.”
Reprinted from President Davis' Blog

Monday, March 15, 2010

GTM – On the Road Celebrating Women’s History Month -2010 “Women on the Move: Activism, Revolution, Transformation”

This month we’ve had the pleasure of addressing several large groups of students, faculty and community members at Buffalo State College, Geneseo State College and Empire State College’s Women’s Studies Residency. We want to thank Dr. Jenn Hunt at Buffalo State College and Fatima Johnson at Geneseo State College for their invitations to speak late in February and earlier this month.

Also a very special thank you to Dr. MaryNell Morgan, Dr. Karen Garner and the planning committee at Empire State College for the invitation to share the messages of “Go, Tell Michelle” at the Women’s Studies Residency. On March 11th, we had the pleasure of being the keynote speakers for the Residency, which was sponsored by Empire State College in Saratoga, New York. Appropriately named, “Women on the Move: Activism, Revolution, Transformation”, this conference kicked off with our keynote address on “Go, Tell Michelle” and continued with a series of workshops on the theme. We spoke to a large diverse audience, including Empire State President Alan Davis and his wife; the Deans of the Northeast Center and the Center for Distance Learning, administrators, faculty, students and members of the Saratoga Springs and surrounding communities.

We were greeted by such a warm, enthusiastic group! And had a great time on Thursday night! A book signing that followed the presentation was a complete sell out. We met so many wonderful women and men and regret that we did not have time to talk to everyone at length. But one special gentleman that we met, along with his wife – Mr. & Mrs. William Hill- shared with us that he’d heard our interview with Michele Norris on NPR in January 2009. After listening to the interview, he said that he went out immediately and purchased numerous copies of the book for young women in his family. And he intended to share the book with others, via the book itself, Facebook and word of mouth, especially now that he’s had the chance to attend our lecture.

Thanks William; not only for your support of this work, but for understanding its significance and for making the trip to meet us and share your story. We look forward to meeting you and your lovely wife again in the near future.

Photos: Barbara and President Davis; Peggy and Mr. & Mrs. William Hill; Barbara, Peggy and MaryNell

Go, Tell Michelle and “Writing Women Back into History”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the National Women’s History Project. In recognition of this milestone and to underscore the necessity of continuing the work to document the contributions of women to this nation’s history, the Project’s 2010 Women’s History Month Theme is “Writing Women Back into History”. In elaborating on the theme, the Project states that: “It often seems that the history of women is written in invisible ink. Even when recognized in their own times, women are frequently left out of the history books.” And when we apply this statement to the identification, documentation and preservation of the history of women of color its implication is even more significant.

Over the last three decades it’s not surprising that the body of research and the publications on women have increased substantially as women have assumed the responsibility for writing our own history in indelible ink. For women of color, while strides have been made in documenting our achievements and contributions in every aspect of human endeavor, we still find that our history is often over-looked, trivialized, ignored, distorted or marginalized. Since the publication of “Go, Tell Michelle”, Peggy and I have addressed numerous audiences across this country. We’ve made a point of explaining the significant contribution that “Go, Tell Michelle” makes to the history of Black women. this book documents, in their own words, the responses of black women to the historic election of the first African American President of the United States and the First African American First Lady of the United States- Michelle Obama.

Far from “neatsy, cutesy” social letters sending best wishes to Michelle Obama, the one hundred women who wrote to Mrs. Obama addressed numerous subjects that are of concern to them. The themes expressed in these letters are indicative of individual and as well as universal issues. Within the letters, the women used mechanisms such as poems, family stories and anecdotes, and references to historic events and individuals. Several major themes emerge from the letters; they talk about the negative stereotypic image of Black women and how Michelle has begun to dispel these myths; they admire and applaud her stance as Mom-in-Chief and her decision to have her mother move to the White House with the family; they encourage her to adopt certain causes – health care, military families, mental health and education; they offer prayers for her and President Obama and remind her that “our mothers prayed for you”. The themes of these letters reflect the genuine and thoughtful messages these women wanted to share with Mrs. Obama. I only offer a few here as we look for feedback from readers.

“Go, Tell Michelle” offers a unique opportunity for educators, in secondary and post-secondary schools to use the only book of its kind – a contemporary compilation of the responses of a diverse group of black women to an extraordinary moment in our nation’s history. In fact we have received information from a number of schools that have used the book in Black Women’s Studies; Psychology of Black Women, Black Women’s Leadership Forum. These include: Bennett College, Geneseo College, Los Angeles Southwest Community College, and Diablo Valley College, CA. Also, one doctoral student cited “Go, Tell Michelle” extensively in the Epilogue of her dissertation.

So, if you know of any educator who is using GTM as a text in a course or for a special assignment, we ask that you let us know how the book is being used and the response of the students.

Photo: Peggy and Barbara with Gwen Ifill and Michele Norris at NABJ Conference - August 2009

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Go, Tell Michelle Inspires Students to Write Letters of Personal Reflection

Yesterday, we went to Geneseo State College about 60 miles from Buffalo. The College is noted as one of the State University of New York schools which is consistently ranked high for academic excellence. We were invited to participate in the College's Women's Expo, a day-long series of workshops and presentations on various issues important to women. The event is sponsored by the Women in Leadership Program; a collaboration of several campus organizations. Special thanks to Fatima Johnson, Director of the Multicultural Programs & Services for the invitation.

Our presentation which we entitled "Having Their Say: Documenting Black women's responses to the historic advent of America's First African American First Lady" was attended by a diverse audience of students, faculty and staff. We talked about the deep reservoir of issues reflected in our contributor’s letters to the First Lady; the importance of this book in documenting the responses of African American and African women to this historic event in our Nation's history; and the impact that our experiences in writing this book, meeting other contributors, meeting and receiving communications from our readers have had on us personally.

Throughout 2009 and now into 2010, our experiences with this "little" book of letters continue to surprise us, uplift us, dramatically demonstrate the power of letter writing as a tool of self-expression, and provide examples of the creativity and innovation of individuals in response to this work. Which brings me back to yesterday’s visit to Geneseo and some amazing young women, who we met -- starting with their counselor, Patricia Gonzalez, who mentors a women’s leadership group for the women of color on campus.

As it turns out, Patricia or Trish attended a presentation that we did last March at the Tri-State Consortium of Opportunity Program’s annual conference in New Jersey. I recall that we had a very large audience at our session. We had a book signing after the presentation and that a number of the participants asked about getting us to come to their campuses to talk about the book. After getting her copy of the book, however, Trish took it back to her students and after sharing the letters with them suggested that they write letters to themselves. The letters could be to their “old” self or to their “future” self. The exercise required honest and sometimes painful reflection and trust as the students were asked to read their letters aloud to members of their group.

Several of the students who came to our presentation yesterday participated in Trish’s group. They brought their letters and read them to us and the other members of the audience. What a special treat! As I said the letters were very personal and demonstrated the considerable thought, candid personal assessment and guide posts for future accomplishment that these young women saw for themselves. What an awesome experience! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Trish and your students for sharing with us. That was the highlight of our trip! We hope to hear from you. Hope you’ll respond to this blog and wish you continued success. In you we see our future and we are in good hands!