The Women’s History Month program “Women Leaders Roundtable: Leading Through Challenging Times,” presented by the Office of the President of Hostos Community College on Friday, March 4, 2022, turned the word solidarity into a living example.
A short video with the history of Women’s History Month opened and then the co-moderator Director of College Discovery María Cano welcomed the guests and introduced President Daisy Cocco De Filippis.
“Women’s History Month affords us the opportunity to celebrate, note, and commemorate the contributions made by women throughout history,” remarked President Cocco De Filippis. “It provides us with a chance to correct the official record which so often diminishes or entirely deletes women accomplishments. It also helps us assess where we are and where we are going.”
The New York City Council and New York State Assembly have more women and women of color elected to office than at any other time in history. Aware of this pivotal moment, co-moderator Dean of Community Relations Ana I. García Reyes introduced each of the young and powerful women whose journeys are important for Hostos students to hear and learn from.
Assemblymember Amanda Septimo, Assemblymember Chantel Jackson, Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, and Councilmember Pierina Sanchez shared their life experiences as children of immigrants. With candor they related tales of the struggles they saw and endured, the ways in which they had to be the ones to advocate for their parents as children, living through poverty, eviction, displacement, and reaching for an education in the hopes of a better future. And the future is now, and they are leading with truth and from experience, knowing their journeys are what made them strong.
Assemblymember Amanda Septimo, who represents Hostos in the State Assembly, described her experience on being a woman and an elected official, “I remind people that when you are existing somewhere and decide to do something in a new way, you are literally redefining what it means, and I’ve had that experience over and over and as assemblymember and the experience that many women have every single day going into spaces they are redefining.”
About the challenges that she faced and overcame as well as many in her community, Assemblymember Chantel Jackson said, “We have the challenge of growing up in Harlem, being poor, being born from an immigrant parent, then I become a teen mom at 17, then deciding to further my career and of furthering my studies to become a licensed social worker, while raising my family, while still working full time. And then I thought something crazy, why don’t I run for office?”
Brooklyn Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez joined the roundtable in a wonderful display of cross borough solidarity. Similar to her colleagues, her experiences, have made her the woman she is today. “I’m a daughter of immigrants, my parents came here in the ‘80s from Colombia, raised my sister and I, went to public schools, grew up in a one-bedroom apartment. Those are our stories right,” she remarked. “What’s changing now is that those were always our stories, but we never really got to tell them, we never got to create spaces for them. Part of the reason I decided to run was because I said someone has to tell these stories.”
Equally powerful and timely were the words of Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, “My message for us, especially in Women’s History Month, is tap the well of your power. Your resilience is not just working yourself to the ground. It is that vulnerability, is that pain. Feel the pain and remember that there are so many incredible she/heroes that have come before us, they went through the pain, they went through these challenges and that empowered them to be the strong people that they were to accomplish what they did and leave to us as examples.”
Vice President of Continuing Education and Workforce Development Evelyn Fernández-Ketcham, who was also part of the program acknowledged the figure of Eugenio María de Hostos and shared his quote, “Nearly all human beings love, but nearly none know how to love. By educating women to use all their brains, men will not only be just, but will also ensure the future of a new social order in which women will apply their intelligence and warm feelings to the problems of living.”