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she crew leaders reflect on feats, end of organization
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2020-06-24

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Six years after its founding, {she crew} has announced that the organization will be ending later this year. Co-founders Meredith Montgomery and Jess London-Shields told Windy City Times that they agreed at the beginning of 2020 that this would be {she crew}'s last year.London-Shields said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the end date of some programs and has moved the weekly podcast SHE CAST from an in-person endeavor to a virtual one to comply with stay at home and social distancing orders.

"We are holding the space to be a place of support and to help process this pandemic, to write together, reflect and to also create podcasting content," said Montgomery. "While the pandemic has compromised our ability to meet in person, much sooner than anticipated, we are elongating our weekly virtual meet-ups to last for at least the duration of this pandemic, however long that is, and hold a going-away party once such meet-ups are safe again."

"With regards to why we are shutting down, we believe that every organization has its life span, and it is important to listen and respect that when it shows itself," said London-Shields.

Montgomery and London-Shields, who married in 2016 and are both former Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honorees, started {she crew} "to create a safe, expressive, creative and collaborative space for young people that was unapologetically feminist and intersectional."

One of the reasons why they wanted to have this space is because Chicago has been segregated in many ways including the education and extracurricular systems in both racial and financial ways.

"We wanted to create a community of people from all corners of the city, and make it physically and financially accessible, with small groups that helped foster safety, sharing and a depth of impact," said Montgomery.

{she crew} has and has had several leaders other than Montgomery and London-Shields. This includes Kayla Lane Freeman, who organized and led the young professional's board; and Lil Cummings, who organized the subscription series Feminist Agenda and is also currently a member of the young professional's board. Other leaders included instructors of all ages, youth interns, board members and young professional's board members.

As for the highlights of the past six years, London-Shields pointed to the six summer intensive programs and the three years of SHE CAST podcast episodes.

"The summer intensive is a free program for young people and it additionally provides free CTA transit cards and a free meal that was collectively cooked/prepared and shared at the beginning of every day," said London-Shields. "The summer curriculum included a combination of expressive writing, performance, collaborative exercises, social justice education and culinary education/skill development.

"At the end of the summer, participants put on a performance of pieces they have written while in program. This program is intended to provide foundations in supporting the genuine selves of the participants, helping them grow in their capacities of being seen by others and building confidence in their words and validity in taking up space. Our podcast SHE CAST, meets weekly during the school year, and provides SHE CASTers with a larger platform in which to explore issues that matter to them."

Montgomery said the written performances over the course of the six summer intensive programs that stand out to her are Shower Thoughts, Hidden Lines: {hir}story, rumble, Girl Riot, Imperfect Truths and Uprising of the Snowflakes. She added that there are 22 episodes of SHE CAST with more to come in the ensuing months.

London-Shields emphasized that none of these programs would have been possible without {she crew} host and partner, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

"All {she crew} programs have been run out of the Hull-House, starting with our second summer, and they have been a very big part in helping to make {she crew}the program that it has been," said London-Shields.

When asked about the best/favorite aspect of running {she crew}, Montgomery said that it was whenever they worked with the young people and something new was being explored.

"Being present for new connections, friendships, learning and risk-taking has been an incredible and enriching thing to witness," said Montgomery. "We have been able to see many {she crew} grow up and we are incredibly proud of them."

When asked what they hope {she crew}'s legacy will be, Montgomery said it will be "held in the participants, the adults who helped make it happen and ourselves. {she crew} changed us forever, and I believe there will be imprints and reverberations within everyone who has been a part of this community."

As for their message to the world, London-Shields said COVID-19 has changed everyone's lives in various difficult and sometimes tragic ways but it is not an immoral or villainous character, it is a force of nature.

London-Shields added that this disease has amplified the disparities between people in even more pronounced ways and "shown our true natures both good and bad."

"During non-pandemic times, feminist leadership is rarely given value, funding or serious support," said London-Shields. "However when we compare the leadership that we see throughout our county and our world in response to COVID-19, you can see the stark difference between feminist leadership, and leadership fueled by toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity, racism and a hatred of poor people is literally killing us. Feminist, anti-racist leadership matters. Policy for people over profits matters. Please, if you can, support your local grass-roots organizations. "

Montgomery called on everyone to shift their support to organizations that {she crew} has worked with including Assata's Daughters, Midwest Access Coalition, Women Unite! and the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

New episodes of SHE CAST will continue to come out throughout 2020. To listen to SHE CAST, visit soundcloud.com/shecast or wherever podcasts are found.

See SheCrew.org .


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