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Freedom Museum hosts panel discussion on empowering women


Photo courtesy of Amherstburg Freedom Museum

“I can’t separate being a woman and being black. They are tied together.”

A powerful statement, but one that resonated in the atmosphere Saturday afternoon at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

In conjunction with Black History Month, the museum hosted an open panel discussion with four professional and highly accomplished women in an event billed as Women’s Empowerment and Community Engagement.

The youngest of the four, Kaitlyn Ellsworth who made the comment, is a sixth generation of those who escaped slavery through the underground railroad. She has four university degrees and is currently the Black Student Co-ordinator at the University of Windsor.

“It’s very important for me to know who came before me and paved the way,” she said during the event that was held in the Nazrey A.M.E. Church which is a national historical site and a stop on the underground railroad.

The four-women panel also included author Irene Moore Davis, chair of the Black Council of Windsor-Essex, Leslie McCurdy and Rose Anguiano Hurst who is the executive director of the Women’s Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor Inc.

Prepared questions were asked by moderator Cari-Lynn Ristic who is a director with the museum is. One query she had for the panel was – “what makes community engagement necessary?”

Addressing the large crowd in the church, Anguiano Hurst responded by saying: “We as women of colour can see injustice in our community. We have to build upon what women who came before us did.”

Ristic asked what institutional changes have to be made to empower women. Moore Davis said that more listening to what women actually want is the key.

“We have to move past that thin layer of politeness and give people a chance to be heard and understood.”

McCurdy’s father, the late Dr. Howard McCurdy was a social activist, politician and a university professor. He was also a founder of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Linda McCurdy is a performance artist and is well known for writing and portraying Harriet Tubman.

Her response to the query, what steps does someone take to be a community leader, she said, “things just fell into place for me. I wanted to make a living as a performance artist.”

She was a dancer but after fracturing her hip became a playwright and actor and noted that there is little support for black theatre in the area.

“There is no support here for what I do. My strategy was to work independently,” she said.

Saturday’s event was one of several that are being hosted by the museum during Black History Month and was co-hosted by the River Bookhop. The museum is located on King Street in Amherstburg.

As moderator, Ristic had three trivia questions for the audience. They revealed three well known black women. The first was Yolande James a former Member of the National Assembly of Quebec, journalist, publisher and activist Carrie Best and activist and actor Kay Livingstone.

There were several questions for the audience and Moore Davis gave the advice of getting more accomplished if everyone works together and McCurdy, whose great-great-grandfather helped build the Nazrey Church said, “don’t let fear stop you from doing the things you want to do.”

Concluding the panel discussion, Ristic thanked the women for being, “frank, transparent and honest.”

By Fred Groves





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