Monday, April 30, 2012

Jill Krementz covers A Long Walk Home Fundraiser

A large poster on Gloria Steinem's mantel showing the timeline of A Long Walk Home.

The walk began in 1995 when Salamishah Tillet was sexually assaulted in college while studying abroad in Kenya.

Now, in 2012, A Long Walk Home reaches over a million households through features on CNN, MSNBC, TEDxWomen, and op-eds in the Chicago Tribune and The Nation.

ALWH kicks off its 2012 Tour to inspire 100,000 people to end violence against girls and women.
A Long Walk Home Fundraiser
Gloria Steinem's Apartment
April 29th 2012

We Are Girl/Friends! Art on Community Violence, Justice and Healing by Chicago Teen Girls. This book will be sent to all Advocate Level Donors ($250 and up).
A Long Walk Home is a non-profit agency that uses art therapy incorporating the visual and performing arts as a path to healing for girls and women who have been sexually violated.  In addition to empowering survivors, the organization is committed to engaging allies and inspiring activists.

Helping to launch the ALWH's 2012 Courage Tour, longtime activist Gloria Steinem opened the door to her apartment co-hosting a fundraiser with 9-time Grammy winner, John Legend.

Steinem has been hosting events in her walk-up apartment since she moved there in 1968. Over the years she's rallied money and support for the Mailer-Breslin mayoral campaign, as well as for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

Her hospitality has ranged from the first meetings of writers and editors launching Ms. Magazine in her living room to a recent  baby shower for Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, who just won the Nobel Prize for leading the peace movement there (as documented in Pray the Devil Back to Hell).

The benefit for A Long Walk Home raised the consciousness of everyone in the room about sexual violence and how the arts can help the survivors.  It is a cause worthy of your support.
Co-founder of ALWH, Salamishah Tillet and Gloria Steinem.

Ms. Tillet was raped when she was a young girl. It was only years later when she shared the details of her brutal attack with her sister that she found solace, mostly through the arts, and primarily through her own poetry.
In 1998, Scheherazade Tillet was a student at Rutgers taking a course on documentary photography with Steve Hart. It was with his help that she produced the Story of a Rape Survivor about Salamishah's healing journey from sexual violence.

The acronym of Scheherazade's doc, SOARS, would in 2003 become the name of ALWH's program of media performances and leadership trainings.

SOARS is now a nationwide program empowering survivors and their allies to address campus sexual assault. Participants include over 45,000 college students in 29 states.

78% of SOARS audiences are students of color; 30% are men.
Gloria Steinem with Julie Taymor, whose stage genius is responsible for Broadway's Lion King and for the Met's Magic Flute.

Taymor is still in litigation over the production of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark as a result of her being unfairly treated by the show's producers and ousted as director during the previews.
John Legend is known as an active feminist supporter.

"I'm proud to be here tonight. I do a lot of work with young people. It's wonderful to see these young women become young leaders who are empowered and confident."
Gloria welcomes guests. She said that even though 2008 was a year that "drove me totally bananas because it threw two firsts against each other (Obama & Hillary) for the first time," it also was the year that she met Salamishah and Scheherazade Tillet.

"It is because of them, and the organization they have co-founded, that other women can use the arts as a path toward the final stage of healing ... allowing what happened to them to help other people.

"We must establish reproductive freedom as a basic fundamental right.

There's no more important work that any of us can do than untangling this violence at its source, with art and humanity."
The guests assembled in Gloria's living room. That is Journalist Nancy Collins in the black hat.

They are all laughing because they've been reminded that the first three letters in Fund Raiser is FUN.
Ugochi performs an adaptation of "Strange Fruit," by Salamishah Tillet:

My Body Was A Strange fruit
You Grabbed Me And Plucked Me From the Root
Forced Me Down in the Native Land Breeze
Left Me To Hang From a Poplar Tree
You Ignored My Pleas As You Had Your Way
I Was Scarred Inside Didn't Know What To Say
Time Heals All Wounds Which I Know To Be True
But Did I Deserve To Be Black And Blue?
Now Time Has Passed But the Wound is Still Fresh
Sometimes I Wonder Who Will Be Next?
Will You Leave Her To Rot?
Saying She Deserved What She Got?
Now I'm A Strange And Bitter Crop.
Regine Jean Charles performs poem, "I Died and was born on the same day," by Salamishah Tillet.

The poem is about the day that 13-year-old Salamishah Tillet was sexually assaulted:

I died and was born on the same day
While it was an ordinary day for most
Wet in the morning
Dry at night
It was an extraordinary day for me.
Under my footsteps the red clay of Nairobi began to crack
It was the kind of day that most people would never remember,
But one that I longed to forget
My eyes full of light
Disregarding the purple black night sky
My heart drenched with laughter
Of a person who walks thinking her body is her own ....

Space prevents me from printing the entire poem.
Salamishah Tillet listens as her poems are performed. She is expecting her first baby in June. Dyamond Houston.
LaNesha Baldwin, a tearful but grateful, recipient of ALWH's support. Ms. Baldwin became "a proud member" of A Long Walk Home's community in 2009 when as a sophomore in high school she experienced severe depression following her parents' breakup.

"I lost contact with my Dad and I felt alone in life. I soon sought escape in unhealthy relationships with older men that led to abuse."

Young women like LaNesha have become empowered by ALWH and are now helping other girls. "ALWH became my family," said Ms. Baldwin through her tears of gratitude.
The program ended with Gloria thanking everyone for attending and urging them to make contributions.
Regine Michelle Jean-Charles announcing that the evening is important because it is the launch of a multi-city tour to raise national dialogues about eradicating sexual violence.

"With your help we will be able to train more teenage girls through our Girl/Friends program, deliver more lectures and conduct workshops on college campuses. We can encourage healing using art in forums across the world."
Photographer Steve Hart, who once worked for the New York Times, has taught documentary photography at Rutgers and The School of Visual Arts. Mr. Hart was the mentor to Scheherazade Tillet when she was his student at Rutgers. It was because of his class that Scheherazade documented her sister's rape, which led the sisters to co-found A Long Walk Home.

What does Hart teach his students? That "it's all about breaking self imposed rules."
Erica Jong, who is working on behalf of "United Against the War on Women," a nationwide organization whose participants are hoping to send a message to government officials, political figures and pundits on behalf of those who oppose the current social agenda that seeks to limit women's rights. Nancy Collins and Scheherazade Tillet.
Scheherazade Tillet presents Gloria with a thank-you present for hosting the evening. It is, as you can see, a beautiful photograph by Ms.Tillet.
The box for donations is held high by Garnesha Crawford.
Janet Dewart Bell and Lisa Marie Boykin. Ms. Boykin is a corporate lawyer. Janet Dewart's
late husband Derrick Bell was the first tenured African-American Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and is largely credited as one of the originators of critical race theory. Ms. Dewart is completing her PhD degree and writing a book on leadership and change, profiling African American women of the civil rights movement.

"I learned to write," Dewart told me, because the first national piece I wrote was for Ms. Magazine and Gloria was my editor. It was an article about women like my mother and grandmother who were household domestic workers."
Melinda Weekes, Geraldine Aine, and Afia Asamoah. All three women are lawyers.
The mantelpiece in Gloria's bedroom. Gloria's bed.
A tabletop in Gloria's living room with photograph of Steinem and her husband, activist David Bale, well-known for his commitment to environmental, humanitarian and animal rights causes. The couple had met at a fundraising event for the Voters for Choice organization. The couple was married from September 2000 until Bale's death from brain lymphoma in late 2003.
Gloria's bedside table reflects her inner peace and serenity. A gift she shares with all who know her.
Gloria Steinem, Salamishah and Scheherazade Tillet, and John Legend.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.