More than 200 women, and a handful of children and men, gathered at Dejean Middle School Saturday to celebrate their progress – and their future.
“The main message I wanted to give was that we need to do the work to know, and believe, and feel in every fiber and every cell of our body that we are completely good,” said Lakota Harden, a Native American activist and educator. “That we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Harden was the keynote speaker at the third annual event, titled “Women in Solidarity: Healing our Beloved Community.”
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin launched the event in 2008.
The program featured a host of diverse speakers – from high school students to homegrown poets to local legend Betty Ried Soskin, a National Park Ranger and former shipyard worker during World War II. There were also dance and musical performances.
During the multi-piece musical performance by Las Bomberas de la Bahia, an Afro-Puerto Rican troupe, audience members sprung from their seats to dance, at one point forming a line that shimmied about. McLaughlin and longtime activist Mary “Peace” Head were among those who whirled around the room.
“It was really important to bring the women, and the men who support them, together in Richmond,” said Nicole Valentino, a community activist in the mayor’s office.
Richmond’s history is that of a blue-collar town, incorporated at the outset of the 20th Century when Standard Oil was the main employer. It later exploded in population with the rise of ship and munitions manufacturing during WWII.
Women played a major role during the city’s formative period, as thousands staffed the factories to stem the labor shortage caused by able-bodied men being deployed overseas during the Second World War.
The event’s scheduling is aimed to land on the weekend following International Women’s Day. Women’s Day marks March 8, 1908, when women workers marched in New York City’s Lower East Side demanding shorter hours, fair pay and suffrage.
Norma Bautista, a Richmond High School senior, whipped up the crowd with her message of empowerment, both for women and for minorities.
“Ain’t no power like the power of our women,” she chanted, with the crowd echoing the cry.