Beyond #MeToo - Raising Voices General Meeting
It was a wonderful evening tonight at our monthly general meeting.
We were inspired and energized by our esteemed speakers, and tonight we all heard how these amazing women have raised their voices: Karen Blitz-Shabbir, candidate for Nassau County Legislator in 2016; Kathy Baxley, Deputy Mayor of Rockville Centre and founder of RVC Moms; Meta Mereday, freelance journalist and social activist; Helen Dorado Alessi, leader with the Long Beach Latino Civic Association; and Erika Duncan, of the Long Beach Latino Civic Association, and founder of "Her Story"-a women's writing workshop.
Click here to watch our live-stream Facebook feed.
Scroll to the bottom for the meeting's minutes and speaker's bios.
RaisingVoicesUSA General Meeting - January 30, 2018
Beyond #MeToo: What’s Next? Women’s Voices in 2018
Welcome from Emma
How RVUSA will be raising our voices in the coming months:
February - Black History Month and kickoff of anti-racism project, with United Church, MLK Center, Central Synagogue--Beth Emeth, and Hispanic Brotherhood of RVC
Speaker: Teresa Sanders, President/CEO of Urban League of LI; speaking on “Inclusive Growth” and how supporting each other we can grow and learn
Unity and Diversity committee organizing the event - contact Rena to get involved
March - call for art for project with South Side High School art students working with Laura Seeger
8x8 panels inspired by our mission to “Engage. Educate. Empower.”
Art show at synagogue
Will be putting up posters, aiming to involve teens and seniors
April - Earth Day/environmental issues, solar power, plastic bag initiative, etc. (Sarah)
May - LGBTQ+ theme for meeting (Linda)
June - Healthcare theme for meeting (Arielle and Tom)
September - music festival (Donna) - date and details TBD
Intro to panel from Cindy:
Tonight’s panel comes in the midst of a national dialogue on women’s voices
What started out as whispers and watercooler rumors is now an open conversation among women around the globe
Where has this moment brought us and where do we go from here?
Introducing Laura GIllen, Nassau County Town Supervisor
Bio: Laura Gillen is the Town of Hempstead Supervisor, sworn in January, 2018. She's committed to providing much-needed openness and transparency to Town government. Previously, Laura served as Counsel to the Uniondale law firm of Westerman Ball Ederer Miller Zucker & Sharfstein, LLP, where she practiced commercial litigation. Laura is a Nassau County native and has long served her community, volunteering in her youth at South Nassau Communities Hospital and Camp Anchor. Her interest in public service ripened as a student at Georgetown University, where she concentrated her studies in government. After graduation, Laura worked as an agent for a leading speakers bureau, and was a volunteer with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis assisting those living with HIV/AIDS. In the mid-90s, Laura embarked on transformational visits to China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and India. The focal point of her travel was an extended volunteer mission in Calcutta with the Missionaries of Charity, where she worked in Mother Teresa’s home for the dying. Laura returned to Georgetown for law studies by night and transferred to New York University’s School of Law, where she earned her law degree.
Thanks to people in the room who helped her become town supervisor
Watershed moment - Harvey Weinstein - finally helped to change the dialogue to encourage women not to stand for ongoing inequality and abuse
Worked in India with Mother Teresa taking care of patients - people ask often how she was able to have this experience, but all you need to do is show up - in life, if you show up and work hard you can make a difference
use your network - keep in mind that the people you know can help you accomplish things you couldn’t do on your own, even people you’ve known in the past and haven’t been regularly in touch with; there are always people who will have what you need, and who will be willing to help
Don’t sell yourself short - women tend to judge themselves harshly and studies show that they often undervalue their own skills and knowledge - don’t go out for challenging jobs, don’t put themselves out there in class, etc.
Community organization and activity is making a difference
Panel introduction from moderator - Donna Downing, co-chair of women’s rights committee
Welcome and thank you to panelists: Kathleen Baxley, Meta J. Mereday, Karen Blitz-Shabbir, Helen Dorado Alessi, and Erika Duncan
We are at a watershed moment and showing our power - we will not be silenced
This discussion will by necessity be incomplete because women’s rights incorporate ALL human rights
This is not a cause that can be advanced alone, and we are grateful to the men and allies who are standing with us
Women are leading the resistance and we can and do have an impact, starting with small steps at the local level and building to big change
Our goal is to help find a path forward together toward real solutions
Bio: Kathy Baxley was sworn in as a Trustee of the Village of Rockville Centre in June of 2017 and is also currently its Deputy Mayor. A South Side High School graduate, Kathy earned Bachelors and Master's Degrees in Elementary Education from Bucknell University and Adelphi. Kathy taught sixth and fourth grade for 12 years at Oceanside School 5, in Queens for two years, and most recently taught at United Nursery School in Rockville Centre. Kathy is a past president of RVC Council of PTAs, and of Hewitt, South Side Middle School and South Side High School PTAs. She has also been actively involved in the fundraising efforts for the St. Agnes Parish Gala, has been a Girl Scout Leader for over a decade and served as a Cub Scout Leader for five years. Kathy has served on several boards including the RVC Breast Cancer Coalition, Sponsors of the Arts, and the RVC Education Foundation, which has named Kathy as its honoree at this year’s upcoming gala in April. The Town of Hempstead honored Kathy last year as a recipient of the prestigious Pathfinder Award in the category of Community Affairs. Kathy’s varied experience may have also have prepared her to be the founder and administrator of three Facebook groups that count more than 4,000 members. Kathy’s Rockville Centre Moms Group, RVC Moms Business Group and RVC Residents Supporting our Schools are pages where thousands of friends and neighbors are able to turn to for important information and assistance.
Grew up in RVC and always wanted to be a teacher; left job to have a family and became a stay-at-home mom
To stay connected to the schools, she joined the PTA. Became president after just 3 years and remains so.
Staying involved on the local level helped her to meet people, form connections, and find ways to make change.
PTA has a big impact on education and schools in the RVC - don’t underestimate their ability to get things done
Created RVC moms FB group - started with around 20 members and has grown for 2700+ members - for sharing information, providing help and assistance, building community; by enforcing rules against negativity they have been able to make positive change in the larger community
This group led her to the RVC deputy mayor position and trusteeship - appointed for 1 year
Goal is always to bring about positive change in her local community and keep learning and growing
Knows firsthand that women will downplay their accomplishments and focus on their failures, but being part of this panel enforces the need to own your work
Meta J. Mereday
Bio: Meta Mereday is an award-winning journalist and advocate, writer and entrepreneurial consultant. Meta has an extensive background in entrepreneurship, diversity, media and communications, marketing, empowerment, healthcare, entertainment; community and culture. She has also formed coalitions within the public and private sectors to increase voices for change on Long Island, particularly for women of color. She is Former Editor with the Savoy Media Group which publishes Savoy Magazine and Multicultural Law Magazine. Meta is a featured contributor for a number of business publications including Minority Business News-USA, NV Magazine, Black Professionals Magazine, and All About Sports as well as online publications and blogs. Meta hosted a radio show entitled “Lifting Every Voice” on WHPC Radio that provided a platform for diverse voices to showcase their services for community residents. Currently, she is hosting “THAW”, which is a radio version of her community outreach platform, T.H.A.W. (The Harvest At Work) to showcase positive news and proactive alliances. Meta’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and community service, particularly as it impacts underserved constituencies, led her to establish a grass roots, not-for-profit network of organizations to address a wide range of societal inequities. She is the Founder and current Chief Advocate for Veterans Entrepreneurial Development Initiatives (VEDI), Inc., which bridges gaps in entrepreneurial, economic and empowerment models that negatively affect returning veterans and their families; Empowered Health Partnerships, Inc., to address health disparities impacting minorities, veterans and seniors citizens; and Long Island Veterans Initiatives, Inc., which brings together resources to better serve Long Island veterans, who represent the largest veteran population in the Northeast Region. Meta was recognized by the L.I. Business News for her service and commitment to the veteran community and received a Citation for Commended Service by the Nassau County Comptroller for her outstanding efforts to assist veterans and their families in Nassau County.
Facebook is an important tool for being involved and raising your voice, but needs to be used carefully
It’s important that we work together and lift each other and value what we can bring to the table
It’s also important to remember the people who have allowed us to get to where we are - her mother gave her the ability to be here (who is also in attendance)
How are we aware of our opportunities to be of service? We have to act local but think global.
Being present and taking the opportunity to assist someone where you are can have a bigger impact than you think and can lead to ongoing/longterm connections
Just a few kind words can turn a person’s day around and lift them up enough to keep going
Has been working with veterans for the last 10 years - this is her passion
Whatever you do, be passionate - that encourages and inspires others
Developed a passion for veterans because of an uncle who served in WWII as a medic in France; died of lung disease as a result of his service when she was 4 (inadequate equipment provided to African American medics for protecting them from mustard gas) but his life and experience is ingrained in her values
Began going to town meetings and learning more about how resources are being spent; this is where she learned the negative statistics about veterans, health and homelessness
Nassau County does not have their own VA despite having 80k+ veterans; veterans health facilities are beset with disease and infections
Counties try to offload their homeless veterans by bussing them to other towns/cities, but this is not a solution - they often find their way back on their own and wind up in more trouble
Forming coalitions to support these issues and make change starting at a grassroots level and growing naturally
Here in NY, focusing on housing issues - created response model using network of people to make a difference
Northport VA only has a men’s shelter - most homeless veterans are couples
These veterans often get sick and die from infections and diseases picked up in facilities that are supposed to be their safe spaces
Understand that doing real work is difficult but crucial to making change
Bio: A lifetime Long Island resident, Karen Blitz-Shabbir began her career as a physical therapist, receiving her Bachelor of Science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After working as a physical therapist for five years, Karen went on to earn her doctorate at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, interning in Internal Medicine at Winthrop University Hospital and completing a residency in Neurology at Nassau County Medical Center. Specializing in Neurorehabilitation, Karen completed a fellowship at the Hospital for Joint Diseases/NYU Medical Center. She has worked as a neurologist on Long Island for 25 years, caring for patients with Multiple Sclerosis and chronic neurologic disorders. Karen began her second career in motherhood while going to Medical School. Her three children attended public schools, and Karen counts their preparedness for college and resulting success in life in large part to the great local public schools and teachers. At a young age, Karen was active in her Youth Group, Recycling Club and Environmental Club, later on volunteering for various presidential candidates. In 2017, after attending a rally where she heard an inspirational woman in politics speak about how women and scientists should run for office, Karen threw her hat in the ring and ran for County Legislator of District 7 against longtime incumbent Howard Kopel. Despite not gaining this particular legislative seat, Karen still calls her astonishing run an amazing experience that has opened many doors for her current and future public work. In her own words, Karen says, “I failed and I absolutely love it.”
Ran for Nassau County legislator this fall, and did not win, but gained immeasurably from her run--it has opened many varied opportunities
Was inspired at a rally by hearing a speech about the need for women and scientists to run for office
at first believed that her life experience could not possibly prepare her for office
Speaker explained that women who are scientists know how to look at a problem and fix it
Did not get a lot of assistance from the party because they did not believe she could win; had to work the network to get resources and information in the areas she didn’t understand or have experience with
This experience made her realize that she does not typically ask for help - perceives herself as a strong woman and able to handle everything, but that asking for help is not weakness
You don’t have to be experienced or skilled or an excellent public speaker or knowledgeable public servant, just be willing to learn and ask for help
Earned more than 40% of the vote but does not regret losing - the campaign opened doors to further types of action that she would not have found without that experience
Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone - working in groups like this give us a chance to make progress
Helen Dorado Alessi
Bio: Helen Dorado Alessi is the CEO of El Dorado Consulting, Trustee of Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Executive Director of the Long Beach Latino Civic Association. Helen’s newest consulting assignment brought her to Herstory Writers Workshop and the Unitarian Universalist Large Grants Giving Program. Her dedication to her community has included long-term leadership service to the City of Long Beach’s Planning Advisory Board, Ethics Commission, Hurricane Sandy Community Redevelopment Council, and Hispanic Heritage Event Advisor. As a lifelong environmentalist, she is proud to sit on the board of All Our Energy. Helen is an active member of the philanthropic sector, and formerly the vice president at the Edwin Gould Foundation, the Corporate Philanthropy Manager at Toyota Corporation and served on the boards of Hispanics in Philanthropy and New York Philanthropy for six years. Helen served as the senior vice president of The Early Years Institute and was a national fellow of the National Hispana Leadership Institute, Center for Creative Leadership and Harvard’s Executive Program. She has been honored for outstanding community service by the State of New York, Nassau County and the mayor of Hempstead. Helen was chosen as one of the Top 25 Advocates for Empowerment by The Hispanic Network and won Circulo de la Hispanidad’s Community Innovator and Leadership Award. Helen is the daughter of Cuban and Puerto Rican parents, holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Baruch College at CUNY, and has been a social justice activist most of her life. She is a proud wife, mother and grandmother and has lived in Long Beach for 17 years. She is currently writing her memoir From Shore to Shore through the Herstory Writers Workshop where she has facilitated classes across many local high schools and universities.
Daughter of immigrant parents from Puerto Rico and Cuba - has shaped her entire life experience
Knows personally how difficult the immigrant experience can be
Facilitator of the Herstory writers workshop in 8 high schools and 9 colleges on long island
Working with kids who crossed the border from South America on their own - publishing their stories in a book
These are the people we want in our country - they are hard-working and resilient and were desperate to be here
Bio: Erika Duncan is founder and artistic director of Herstory Writers Workshop here on Long Island. There has never been a time when Erika wasn’t doing what she could to give voice to stories that might not otherwise have been heard. Erika’s early novels, A Wreath of Pale White Roses and Those Giants: Let them Rise, look at those who are trying to break out of silence and fear, while her portraits of writers (written when she was a contributing editor for Book Forum and collected in Unless Soul Clap its Hands: Portraits and Passages) touch on whatever brought each into voice. Erika has published numerous articles in various journals and anthologies, among them explorations of mother/daughter and sister relationships, the art of effective listening and works about teaching writing. Erika has pioneered new ways to teach writing that would leave no one behind, based on her belief that there is no such thing as a person who cannot write – that if one can find a way to skip over the differences in educational backgrounds and opportunities that so often set us apart, through designing a new set of tools, we would all be much richer. Erika started the Woman’s Salon, an alternative literary network to give audience support and serious critical attention to the works of writers who were not yet known. Over a 10-year period, this Salon brought in up to 200 women a month and became in many ways the seed for what Herstory is today. While raising her three daughters, Erika worked with projects such as the Rural Education Program in Orland, Maine, and a workshop for quadriplegic writers at Goldwater Hospital. Her work has always had an active connection to healing. While continuing to train Herstory facilitators to take our work into an ever-increasing variety of venues, she is working on an expanded volume, even as she is completing her own memoir, Dreamer in the Play Yard: The Therapist’s Daughter.
Began a women writers salon in NYC - exploring how to give these women a voice and tell their stories
75 women showed up at the first meeting - expected only a handful
Grew to 300 within a couple of months
Showed the enormous need for women to speak out, especially unknown women
Known artists would only attend if they were bringing unknown writers to introduce and involve them
This evolved into Herstory
What we need more than anything is compassion and empathy - giving others a platform to speak gives them the opportunity to “dare others to care” - encouraged this as the challenge of writing, generating a “Page One moment” - creating empathy in the very beginning to help/make people care
Currently offering workshops in jails, hospitals, schools, working in both Spanish and English
HERstory chosen to be representative for a large “Freedom Forum”
Asking for volunteers to participate:
If your words could make a difference or make a change, and you had to do that by telling a story and painting a picture, what would you say? What would your “page one moment” be?
What would your one call to action be to all the women in the room?
Meta: Make a connection. Introduce yourself to the people at your table, to the people you meet in your daily life and in casual circumstances. Find out about the people around you and let them find out about you.
If I’m not ready to run for office, how can I still contribute it the political landscape?
Karen: pick something you truly care about, that really means something to you, and join a force that will create change in that area. If nothing else, get involved with voter engagement.
Work with candidates and support them - it makes a huge difference to the candidate and can hugely impact the race.
And then run next year!
Is there a time you’ve been able to make important connections between people on FB?
Kathy: In these FB groups, people often post with real problems and often they are solved with real-world, personal actions offline. Problems and questions are rarely raised without someone offering to assist. And it is primarily women helping women.
Meta: This can also generate nontraditional, unexpected solutions to problems. Working with this larger network can pull out ideas and connections that you might never come up with or encounter on your own. Small conversations can lead to big solutions.
I have been told I should run for office - where should I start?
Karen: Reach out to me and other elected officials, we will help you!
Emma: our thanks to the panelists for sharing their stories and their vulnerabilities
We are forming the model for networking and resource sharing. Reach out to each other, work together, and we will make change.
Scottie Coades: announcement of Black HIstory Month celebration in Lakeview, February 15
acknowledgement of Jane Fisher who also ran in Long Beach
Reminder: join Herstory Friday mornings at Hofstra, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Center for Civic Engagement - http://www.herstorywriters.org/
Show up--sometimes that's enough.
If a door opens, walk through it.
Ask for help and use it.
Identify and use your networks.
Build coalitions--bring people together.
Act locally--be it in your neighborhood, your child's school, your workplace, your municipality. Start hyper-locally, and as you gain more networks, confidence, and resources, build from there.
Give voice to your story and use it to change hearts, minds, and policy.