Rutgers-Newark Honors Sheroes for Women’s History Month

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Photo: Ron Scott

Paul Robeson’s Essex Room filled with students, alumni, and staff for the “No More Hidden Figures: Honoring and Recognizing the Sheroes among Us” celebration on Wednesday, March 6. Hidden Figures are women who work, educate, and serve at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) or in the city of Newark. The second annual campus wide event included a panel discussion, along with an awards ceremony to recognize this year’s nominated “Sheroes.”

The event opened with welcoming words from Marta Esquilin, associate dean of the Honors Living-Learning Community (HLLC), Yvette Ortiz Beaumont, assistant director of the Office of University-Community Partnerships, and Marcelline D. Phillips, RU-N alumna and chairwoman of the City of Newark Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Following the greetings was a performance consisting of poetry and song from the Healing Sounds of Newark, a showcase founded by scholars of HLLC and the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center that celebrates emerging talent in the region once a month at Clement’s Place. One of the performers, sophomore Rihanna Young, is a student at RU-N’s School of Public Affairs and Administration and has been singing since she was a child.

“Now I’m starting to express myself more in hopes that my soul, which is expressed through my voice and my words, can be felt and heal somebody in some way,” says Young.

The main event consisted of a panel discussion moderated by Fayemi Shakur, writer and visiting lecturer at RU-N, and Emily Caris, poet and educator of English Composition at RU-N. The panelists, who are well-known for their dynamic work, included: Salamishah Tillet, scholar, activist, and Henry Rutgers Professor of African American and African Studies and Creative Writing at RU-N; Scheherazade Tillet, photographer and executive director of A Long Walk Home; and Jordan Casteel, artist and assistant professor of painting in the Department of Arts, Culture, and Media at RU-N.

Photo: Ron Scott

The main topic of the panel was artivism, defined as the linking of art and activism. Salamishah Tillet says she first became interested in activism while interning at the National Organization of Women. She then got her appreciation of art from her sister, Scheherazade Tillet, and mother, who was a musician. Tillet says that literary works such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple had a profound effect on her.

“Writing and reading were my primary ways of understanding the vocabulary of feminism,” says Tillet. “Alice Walker and Tony Morrison were very different kinds of writers, and were very different activists in the world and had an imprint on me at such a young age.”

The event culminated with an awards ceremony to honor this year’s Sheroes. Faculty Staff Shero Awards were given to Rose Bailey Byers, an agent from the Academic Foundations Center-Educational Opportunity Fund Program and Regina Diamond-Rodriguez, supporter of students in the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons program. Tatyana Harold, a member of the RU Ready for Work Program, an HLLC scholar, and an Honors College student, received the Student Shero Award. Sarah Cruz, a special assistant for the Office of Expanded Learning Time at Newark Public Schools, and Lakeesha Eure, chair of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, accepted the Community Sheroes Award.

Each awardee was honored with custom solidarity pins designed by Gail Cookson, owner of Moondance Design on Halsey Street.

“This award is special because we have unsung heroes in the community, where people are doing the work and don’t get recognized,” says Eure. “We know that women for the most part, are unrecognized. So I’m excited, and it feels great.”

The event served as a kickoff for a drive to donate pocketbooks and unused toiletries for the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center. The center provides social services, healthcare services and domestic violence services to help the needs of women and their families in transition.

Photo: Ron Scott

Items being collected for donation include unused pocketbooks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, facial products, and light snacks. Collection sites include: the Office of Student Life and Leadership, located at 350 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite 352; the Office of University-Community Partnerships, located at 158 Washington Street; Human Resources, located at 249 University Avenue, Suite 202; and the Honors College, located at 190 University Avenue in Room 219. All items will be collected until the end of March.

To learn more information about donating to the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center, click here.

Click here to watch clips from the 2019 SHEroes Celebration.

To view the Hidden Figures from 2018, click here.