As the few remaining tickets to this week’s Women to Celebrate event disappear, I wanted to say a few words about why I believe this event is so important.
The first Women to Celebrate event was organized last year by Project NIA to honor women who Mariame Kaba referred to as “unsung heroines” in our city’s social justice communities. When I was informed that I was an honoree, I felt as uncertain about my place in the whole affair as many of this year’s honorees do. Like many of them, I had never given thought to awards or recognition of this kind, and felt certain that many women were more deserving than myself. Ultimately, I did attend the event, and in doing so came to understand why being there that night mattered as much as it did. And it did matter.
The women who were honored alongside me were some of the finest people I’ve stood with. While standing amongst them that night, I realized that none of us thought ourselves to be the stuff that award ceremonies are made of, but that we all felt quite differently about one another. Sharing the company of women whose work we knew, and whose work we wanted to celebrate, created a collective sense of love and appreciation that is quite difficult to describe. Being there gave us a chance to honor one another, and to develop a greater appreciation for our respective and collective struggles. Our admiration for each other filled the room with a hopeful energy that I can only relate to the energy powerful women create in their own communities when they build from a place of love, while recognizing the worth and dignity of those they stand with. It’s an energy that few organizers appreciate while they are helping to create it, but one that is felt deeply by those who experience it.
By the end of the night, I realized that Women to Celebrate is about much more than its honorees, or even its place in Women’s History Month. It is about recognizing that we are all part of a chorus that lifts up both struggles and hopes. And as Mariame has said, we sometimes need to lift up the chorus.
Those of us organizing this event have no desire to individualize the collective accomplishments of our movements. While we may talk about heroines, both sung and unsung, we also recognize that real change comes from the heroism of entire communities. In this moment, we have chosen some beloved members of those communities to lift up and honor, but we do this with a full appreciation of the fact that each honoree is a representative of their own section of a greater chorus.
To all the women and femmes of Chicago who sing songs of freedom on the front lines of struggle, we appreciate you, we love you, and we look forward to standing with you in the coming year. We hope that a number of you will be joining us this week as we celebrate some of the amazing people who have fought with us and for us during the last year, and we hope that you will feel celebrated by those efforts as well.
We appreciate you. We believe in you. And we believe in us. Your strength is our strength, and the songs we sing together will carry us all forward.
I’ll see you this week.
This year’s installment of Women to Celebrate is being hosted by We Charge Genocide and will specifically honor women and femmes who have organized against state violence, in all its forms, during the past year. Full disclosure: Truthout’s editor-in-chief Maya Schenwar is one of the honorees.