Empowerment was the theme of the evening on March 25 at the first annual “Multi-Cultural Women’s Words,” an event sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) chapter at the College. As part of the Women’s History Month event series held on campus, it aimed to honor the contributions of influential women throughout history and allow past and present students of the College to share original works, motivational words or selections from their favorite artists.
The event began with an a cappella rendition of “You Are Loved,” a song by Christian group Hope’s Call, performed by freshman sociology and communication studies major Stephanie Torres. Between performances, images of significant women throughout history were shown on a large projector and audience members eagerly offered up guesses as to whom each of the women were and why they were important.
NCNW president Yasmin Obie, junior secondary education and women’s and gender studies major, reminded everyone that “while many of the women shown were easily recognizable and well known throughout the world, the accomplishments and successes of the ‘everyday woman’ were just as significant” and were causes for celebration in their own rights.
The evening’s motivational speaker was Syeda Woods, alumna of the College and frequent attendee of the chapter’s numerous outreach events. Currently a vice principal at an elementary school in northern New Jersey, Woods created an acronym for the word “empowerment,” which included some of her favorite pieces of advice for young women and men.
She advised students to step out of their comfort zones and expose themselves to new ideas to get in position to help themselves and inspire future generations.
Woods, who was raised by her grandparents, feels that sitting down with the older generations and listening to their stories has helped her overcome many obstacles in her life.
She elicited chuckles from the older audience members as she shared her experience of being told by a teacher at the age of 10, “I would amount to nothing and I’d never get out of Newark . I decided right then that I was going to be a principal no matter what it took. I just needed a vision so I wouldn’t lose my way.”
Shakia Mayer, freshman communication studies and psychology major, followed Woods with her own version of “From the Auction Block to Hip-Hop,” a play by David Lamb that raises the question of how far one hip-hop magnate will go in “selling stereotypes” in pursuit of the all-powerful dollar. A strong and impassioned delivery allowed audience members to see the connection between 19th century slave owners and today’s modern “slave masters:” hip-hop artists and video directors who continue to perpetuate overly sexualized images of black women.
Although the crowd was composed almost completely of women, a handful of men were in attendance, including Shauwn Hines, sophomore international business major, who shared a poem he wrote in honor of his mother, Yvette Hines, titled “Without Women.”
Although he claimed to have written the piece 10 minutes before the event began, his heartfelt words received an emotional response from the crowd, especially the mothers in attendance, when he described his mom as “a queen bearing a king’s crown . My father wasn’t around, (she) was all I had / My father put me in, my mother got me out.”
The evening concluded with an open invitation to members of the audience who wished to share something that empowered them. Faculty members and several students took to the podium and read works by Maya Angelou, pieces of their own creation and shared stories of their own struggles.
NCNW members were pleased with the event, as Obie excitedly said, “It exceeded my expectations. (Woods) was amazing and I hope the event gets an even larger audience next year.”