By Tracie Isaac –
A sold out audience of over 1,200 women gathered excitedly to help the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House celebrate the 199th Birthday of Susan B. Anthony at the Annual Luncheon held at The Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center on Wednesday, February 13.
“This 2019 luncheon is a unique representation of women from all walks of life. Susan B. Anthony would be proud to see this diverse collection of women and the strides that we have made professionally and in political leadership,” stated Deborah L. Hughes, President and CEO, the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. “You can see that we are current with social media with our own #SB199 and next year it will be #SB200.
“What would Susan B. Anthony say if she saw the response and this level of commitment to the cause by the audience here today? On January 3, 2019, 127 women were sworn in to serve in Congress and another 25 to the Senate… Susan B. would be proud because she predicted such greatness,” noted Dr. Irma McClaurin, keynote speaker. “The success of this group of elected officials in congress and the senate is because of the women of the past who helped to tear down the barriers,” “…let’s not forget the history of the battles that were fought to help you get to where you are now.”
Mayor Lovely A. Warren presented Dr. McClaurin with a beautiful crystal in an oversized diamond shape as a gift from the City of Rochester.
McClaurin, who previously served as the Co-Chair for the 2018 Seneca Falls Revisited Women’s Equality Conference held last summer in Rochester, imparted a message to the young women that the struggle that began during the suffragist era is why we can see the results of women elected officials who are in attendance for this occasion like the Honorable Cheryl Dinolfo, Monroe County Executive; the Honorable Kathy Hochul, Lieutenant Governor, State of New York; and the Honorable Lovely Warren, Mayor, City of Rochester.
Deanna Dewberry, anchor for News 10NBC emceed the program which was filled with artistic and historical excerpts. Attendees were treated to re-enactments by young adults of Susan B. Anthony portrayed by both Mariedeliz Bain and Barbara Blaisdell and Frederick Douglas, portrayed by Max Bain.
McClaurin is an activist anthropologist, award-winning author, black feminist archive founder, diversity champion, and community engagement specialist. This Black feminist speaker is also a Solutions Executive and a past president of Shaw University, former Chief Diversity Officer at Teach for America, freelance writer and editor, and mentor who has committed her life and career to helping others transform the world. She holds a PhD and MA in Anthropology and a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in English, both from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The theme of her address was “Susan B. and Me, Agents of Change.” She noted that “Susan B. Anthony was a complicated woman who encompassed the fight of obtaining the right to vote for women along with connecting with African American abolitionists, the black church and black community of Rochester. “
McClaurin mentioned that she could address several similarities between Susan B. and herself; namely, that they are both change agents in their own right. However, she made a significant point that black suffragists experienced segregation and were often the proverbial hidden figures of the suffragist movement.
McClaurin’s definition of a change agent: “Someone who has clear vision, is patient and persistent, asks tough questions, knowledgeable and leads by example, and builds strong relationships based on trust.”
McClaurin cited a response from Susan B. to the instituted segregated Women’s Club of America, “The color line cannot be drawn. It would be insensible to bar women because of the shape of their eyes. If a woman is intellectual, of good faith and character and stands for progress of women in the largest sense, it makes no difference what her color or nationality may be.”
“We need to remember those words. Black women should be given an equal footing with white women when they are working for the same end,” she said.
Utilizing racial equality and gender equality as her platform, McClaurin recalls people asking her, are you black first or a woman first? “I don’t live my life saying half of me is woman and half of me is black, I am one package,” She said.
McClaurin has promoted access, gender, racial equality and even advocacy for the disabled throughout her professional career. She made reference to Dr. Johnnette Cole who shared with her that “leadership should never struggle with diversity.”
Her personal motto: “You change hearts, you change minds, you change behaviors and achieve transformation.”
To raise awareness of the issues and increase visibility of the unique contributions of women of color, the Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) and the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at the UMass Amherst Libraries have joined with Distinguished Alumna Dr. Irma Mc Claurin MFA ’76, MA ’89, PDD ’93 in establishing the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive.