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  • Writer's pictureKeyaira Boone

Schomburg Center Salutes Black Women

Rosa Parks. Ida B. Wells. Madam C.J. Walker. These are the women whose stories are trotted out every February as evidence of black women's greatness. But everyday there are black women teaching children, preserving history, pursuing justice, and more.

This year during Women’s History Month Harlem’s Schomburg Corporation sought to make sure that the women who so often stand behind progressive institutions and charitable organizations get the recognition they deserve.

The five honorees included Dr. Sharifa Armorer, the late philanthropist Evy Papillon-Juste (whose posthumous honor was accepted by her daughter) , Middle School Principal, author of "The Bridge to Brilliance", and Founder of Brooklyn’s Mott Hall Bridges Academy Nadia Lopez, Attorney NYC Administration for Children's Services and former Schomburg President Aysha E. Schomburg, and Schomburg Center Director of Collections and Information Services and Archives, Reference and Research Advisory Board Member Mary Yearwood.

Each woman accepted her award with the grace, and strength that allowed them to do the work that earned them the recognition. Lopez spoke about the need for educators to take time with students instead of simply seeing them as numbers on a spreadsheet.

During Yearwood’s introduction a Schomburg corporation board member talked about why he was insistent the she be recognized saying he “saw her doing everything all over the place.”

One honoree in particular displayed a remarkable amount of dignity in the face of sorrow. Just months after the loss of her mother Marie Alyce Devieux arrived at the podium after being introduced by her cousin and immediately burst into one of her mother’s favorite songs.

The room hushed as her voice traveled uplifting her mother’s sacrifices with every note. Though she was clearly wounded there was no denying the majesty of her presence. Her daughter stood at her side awed by the roar of applause that began the second her mother stopped speaking.

Devieux’s daughter wasn’t the only child to grace the podium. Aysha E. Schomburg brought her beloved nephew on stage to participate in his family legacy joking about her sister that “she thinks it’s her baby but it’s my baby.”

While the evening was a celebration of women’s accomplishments the art accompanying the award presentations reminded attendees of the struggles black women encounter on their path to creating change. Poet Kira J. spoke about the need for equal pay, and decolonizing beauty standards while Jersey girl Shelly Spinelli and her collaborator Shakeva Griswould remarked on the importance of body positivity, while performing with Urban Word poets.

Poet and Orange is the New Black Actor David Roberts remixed Angie Stone’s early 2000s hit “Brotha” as a love letter to the sisters in the room requesting participation from the audience who gladly sang along.

The world renowned Senegalese dancer Omari Mizrahzi, who has worked with Jidenna and appeared on Broadway, performed a high energy number with two female dancers while students at The Edge School of the Arts performed a medley of ballet, tap and modern dance in honor of the four little girls lost in Birmingham Alabama.

Even comedian Eugene T. Barnes, who was hosting the event, shared how much he loved his black wife and daughters as he introduced the honorees and performers telling witty stories from Target runs and family breakfasts.

It was an evening full of black women receiving what they so often go without when leading “thank yous".

To learn more about the Schomburg Center check here and here.

To learn more about Brooklyn’s Mott Hall Bridges Academy check here. To learn more about New York State's Reference and Research Library Resources Councils check here.

To learn more about the Edge School of the Arts check here.

Photo Credits: Marlon Rodriguez

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