"Activate" was the theme of the Oct. 19 Chicago Foundation for Women's ( CFW ) 32nd annual luncheon and morning symposium at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
CFW founding board member and author Rebecca Sive moderated a conversation with featured guests Dolores Huerta ( United Farm WorkersUFW co-founder, American labor leader and civil rights activist ) and Alicia Garza ( #Black Lives Matter co-creator and social activist ) focusing on the luncheon's theme to the approximately 1,800 people in attendance.
Ahead of the conversation, CFW's President/CEO K. Sujata announced the creation of the Willie Taplin Barrow Fund for Black Women's Leadership. The fund will focus on investing in Black women and girls in the Chicago region with a number of initiativesWillie's Warriors ( a cohort of Black women from different sectors who will examine and address challenges face by Black women leaders ), the Rev. Willie Barrow Emerging Leaders Award and leadership development programming. Barrow, alongside Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., organized Operation Breadbasket's Chicago chapter and was the board chair of Rainbow/PUSH for a number of years.
"Willie's Warriors will carry on the spirit of the late Rev. Willie Barrow, a fierce civil rights leader who was known as 'The Little Warrior' for her passion for racial justice and social change," said Sujata. "We are honored and humbled to carry on the Rev. Barrow's remarkable legacy."
Sujata talked about the growing activism, especially among women, over the past year and HB40which guarantees affordable and comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortion access, in Illinoisbeing signed into law. She noted the newly formed Englewood Women's Initiative which will create career opportunities for women in the Englewood neighborhood.
"We must remain active in the face of escalating threats to the health, safety and security of women and girls," said Sujata. "Women are the glue holding communities together as breadwinners and caregivers. The future is female. It is also Black and Brown, trans and queer, immigrant and undocumented. My liberation, our liberation and the liberation of all women is tied with those who are most vulnerable among us."
Sive asked Huerta and Garza how they came to be involved in activism and social justice causes.
Huerta gave credit to community organizer Fred Ross Sr., who she said got her and Cesar Chavez involved in activism. She explained that changing policies, getting legislation passed and supporting progressive candidates are the ways to affect positive change for women and minorities. Huerta said she left the UFW in 2002 to start the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Garza said she started fighting for reproductive health and justice at age 12 during George W. Bush's administration. She credits her single mom for sparking her activism because her mom never gave her the "birds and the bees" or stork talks and instead talked to her about comprehensive sex education at an early age. Garza noted that after college she moved from advocacy to organizing and that's when #BlackLivesMatter was created. Currently, there are 40 chapters across North America and satellite chapters worldwide.
In terms of recognizing structural gender and race discrimination, Huerta said one has to dismantle systems of oppression. She explained that when white cishet men are the only ones in the room they will almost always make the wrong decision. Huerta said the key is removing people from power who do not respect women. She said the women's movement should take a page out the LGBTQ playbook with messaging that normalizes abortion. Huerta explained that in order to make these changes it has to come from the bottom upfrom school boards to city councils to state legislatures and governors and then at the federal level. She said empowering people to make positive change is what sustains her.
Garza noted how the economy gendered and racialized. She pointed out the disparity between what white women make versus white men and how that amount is even less when it comes women of color. Garza said it is not enough to elect more women and people of colorthey also have to "share our progressive vision and be accountable to it." She explained that the best policies and laws get shaped by those who have a stake in making them come to fruition. Garza noted that what keeps her going is dreaming about what is possible.
Other speakers included CFW Board Chair Pat Slovak; Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health ( ICAHa CFW grantee ) Youth Leadership Council member and peer educator Akosuah Owusu; and Women's March on Chicago ( Jan. 21, 2017 ) Co-Chairs Jessica Scheller, Ann Scholhamer and Liz Radford.
Slovak spoke about being optimistic about the election at last year's luncheon as well as how challenging the past year has been for many groups of people. She noted the leadership of the last board chair Wendy White Eagle and said CFW has awarded 3,800 grants totaling more than $30 million since its founding in 1985.
Owusu explained that due to ICAH she was able to grow and thrive as a young mother. She decided to become a peer educator with ICAH because "everyone should have access to information about sexual and reproductive health." Owusu also spoke in Springfield, Illinois on reproductive health issues.
Scheller talked about the genesis of Chicago's march on Jan. 21, 2017, including CFW's role in securing the necessary permits.
See www.cfw.org/ for more information .