NOW Foundation Honors Four Women at Intrepid Awards Gala

NOW Foundation Honors Four Women at Intrepid Awards Gala

Gilchrist, Liz

Hundreds of NOW members and friends, including members of Congress, celebrated four women whose lives embody courage at the second annual Intrepid Awards Gala Sept. 9 at the historic Decatur House on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.

The honorees-Eve Ensler, Dolores Huerta, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and Lateefah Simon-received framed prints of “Trial by Fire,” donated by artist Beverly Ryan of Alexandria, Va. The print also included a definition of intrepid: “resolutely courageous, fearless and bold.”

Emmy Award-winning news anchor of WJLA-TV Maureen Bunyan emceed the gala, which featured speeches from the four honorees, remarks from NOW president Kim Gandy and the musical styling of neo-folk singer Bethany Yarrow, daughter of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Courage in the Face of Fear

Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon wears multiple hats in her determination to bring attention to the need for a change in the status of women on every level of our culture. A singer, performer and activist, she has contributed music and song to the civil and women’s rights movement for decades.

She joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers while a college student in Albany, Ga., and founded two a cappella groups-the Harambee Singers and Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all-woman group from which she retired in 2004.

Reagon earned a Ph.D. in American history with a focus in African-American world history from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and holds the position of professor emeritus at American University in Washington, D.C., and curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institute Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

“When I read the word ‘intrepid,’ trepidation came to mind, so I thought I’d better look up this word to see what they’re saying about me,” said Reagon recalling her response to being notified of the award.

To her delight, she discovered NOW had indeed bestowed an honor upon her, calling her “courageous and bold.” She explained the ways in which women can deal with fear and what it means to have courage.

“Courage is not the ability to overcome fear, but the ability to face fear itself,” Reagon said.

Vaginas, Vaginas, Vaginas

“Vaginas, vaginas, vaginas,” provided an appropriate introduction for Eve Ensler, playwright and activist. Her award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues,” demonstrates Ensler’s ability to translate rape and abuse survivors’ stories into a form of art to educate the world.

The play led to the creation of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. Over the past six years, V-Day raised more than $20 million for organizations working to end violence through thousands of local V-Day events raising money and awareness for anti-violence initiatives. She now tours with her new play “The Good Body,” an exploration of women’s body image and self esteem.

Ensler spoke to the gala crowd about fear, just as Reagon did before her. She focused on the fear spread by right-wing Republicans in this year’s election race.

“Fear is what we’re trying to emerge out of,” Ensler said.

“We are the carriers of a new world and many thousands of people are going to vote for the new world. I promise you that if you say in your body, in your vagina, in your spirit from this day until Nov. 2 that we are going to win, we are going to win.”

A Roadmap to Revolution

A decade of experience as an advocate and activist speaks volumes for the youngest Intrepid honoree, 27-year-old Lateefah Simon. At age 20, she became the executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco. The center acts as a peer-mentoring program for young women and girls on the street, in the juvenile justice system, or otherwise caught up in a cycle of poverty, homelessness, drugs and violence.

The center helps young women and girls develop leadership skills to help them create their own “revolutionary strategies” to organize themselves and solve problems, Simon said.

As a testament to this, her team of talented young organizers created education, employment and community re-integration programs that reach out with compassion and understanding to young women in need.

“We’re leading a revolution for young women and girls who have fallen out of sight and mind, who sit in cages for non-violent crimes in a country that calls itself a democracy,” Simon said.

Feminists today and in years past have provided the roadmap for organizations like Simon’s center in California to help all women “rise up from the depths of despair.”

Viva Women!

Labor leader Dolores Huerta committed her lifetime to organizing efforts to gain equal rights for workers, immigrants and women. Together with Cesar Chavez, she founded the United Farmworkers Union and led an unprecedented five-year national consumer boycott of table grapes. The boycott resulted in a collective-bargaining agreement, in which the workers who tend and pick the country’s produce participated directly in negotiations.

While remaining a union leader for the past 40 years, Huerta extended her activism into the political arena, spearheading numerous efforts in California and nationally to extend rights and benefits to immigrant workers and their families. She played an instrumental role in the passage of the 1985 Immigration Act that granted amnesty to 1.5 million farmworkers.

Huerta sits on the boards of the Feminist Majority and Ms. Magazine. She received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from former President Bill Clinton.

Huerta put a charge to all women to participate in this November’s election, in order to further the cause. The efforts of feminists in advancements of workers’ and women’s rights, environmental protection and civil rights can be celebrated, but much work remains to be done. She challenged women to make a difference in the election.

“If we can get one million women on the National Mall, then we can win this election.”

A tireless organizer, before leaving the podium she led the crowd in a few chants in both South African and Spanish languages. A resounding “viva women” filled the banquet room.

Copyright National Organization for Women, Inc. Fall 2004

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