Helping to organize last night’s Women to Celebrate event did my heart so much good. This is an incredibly hectic month in the Chicago organizing scene, but I am so grateful that we were able to create a space where we could collectively pause, lift up the names of some wonderful changemakers, and embrace the joy of a beautiful moment. All of the honorees were announced with introductions that had been crowd sourced from their communities, so that their accomplishments and loveable qualities were being summarized by people who knew and admired them. I’m going to share a few of those bios here, for those of you who weren’t there to experience the moment in person, and for those who would like to take a look back at a wonderful night.
Fresh Roberson (AKA Chef Fresh)
Chef Fresh lives and loves at the intersection of healing justice, food justice, transformative justice, and disability justice. Chef Fresh strives to make nutritious food accessible to all—and their “community-based edible activism” sustains movements and communities, especially communities of color, queer and trans people, elders, and youth. Chef Fresh has cooked for social justice organizations, such as INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans People of Color Against Violence, Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP), Chicago Dyke March, FIERCE, and so many countless others. Fresh sustains Chicago prison abolition efforts, groups, movements with healing foods and suppers that celebrate all bodies/identities. This work is extremely physical and incredibly labor and time-intensive—and Chef Fresh donates hours and hours of their time to critical causes and projects. Fresh also provides weekly meals for various non-profits and programs dedicated to increasing food access for youth and elders and is the Chef in Residence for Peterson Garden Project’s Fearless Food Kitchen and Fresh 82 Kitchen.
Jennifer Viets (introduced by her son, Ethan)
I have a lot of theories about what makes a person radical. Whether it be what you eat, where you work, or your gender, race, and sexuality politics… but it’s hard for me to think of anything more revolutionary then raising three black kids on your own for 25 years in the city of Chicago.
NO ONE can be more revolutionary than a mother. And no one gets less credit. Ma, for all those tantrums at the grocery stores, and you having to leave work to argue with the teachers at my schools. For the late night phone calls dragging you to another police station, for the breakdowns in our house when I heard another friend was in jail or another black boy was killed. For letting me go on all those trips, and for driving me to all those actions. For all those nights you sat at home wondering if your little boy was still breathing.
For you being there for me when no one else was, and for always watching over me as I danced on the edge of darkness and madness this world drove me to. Thank you, I love you, and I can’t think of anyone who deserves this award more.
Carrie Kaufman is a program coordinator and mentor at Access Living, an educator with the PIC teaching collective, and a fierce advocate for disability justice. In a word, Carrie is colorful, both in personality and style. I am blown away by the support and mentorship she offers to the movement- she holds together the work, supports the people around her beautifully, and does so with a level of kindness I find beyond admirable.
Veronica Morris Moore is a fighter. She has taken fierce action on behalf of her community, time and again, in the name of those who have been needlessly lost, and in defense of the lives of those yet living. The fight she and her fellow organizers have waged on the South Side, in pursuit of a much needed trauma center, has inspired activists around the city, and the ground they have gained proves yet again that direct action gets the goods. We are all in her debt, and in awe of her courage.
Dorothy Burge is a member of Black People Against Police Torture and an instrumental member of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), who has struggled for justice for the Burge torture survivors and their family members for decades. This past year alone, even in the face of the devastating loss of her husband, she has presented at teach ins and town halls and participated in a sit-in at City Hall in support of the Burge torture reparations ordinance, including giving a rousing rallying cry for justice at the Rally for Reparations this past Valentine’s Day. She is also a radical educator who has taught scores of students about racist police violence in Chicago and persistently engages them to get involved in the struggle for justice. She is one of the most giving and loving people we know who is cherished by many in many movements for justice.
Shirien is a Palestinian American from Chicago who organizes relentlessly for the liberation of her people, including an end to the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. She has been instrumental in building for the long-haul with the dynamic student movement – Students for Justice in Palestine, both locally and nationally. There are so many reasons to celebrate Shirien, so here are a few – in her extensive organizing, she consistently builds up the leadership of other young women and of queer and trans folks; connects the fight for Palestinian liberation with other struggles for social justice; and brings immense humility, kindness, joy, and even pandas, to all that she does. And consistent with that principled humility, Shiriens also shared that she intends to dedicate her award tonight to the Palestinian community leader facing sentencing tomorrow in a trial of political repression, the beloved Rasmea Odeh.
Maya Schenwar is and has been many things: a reporter, an editor, an activist, a member of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, and a self-proclaimed “collector of socks and stuffed monsters.” She’s been a workplace organizer and is now a boss – she’s one of the reasons Truthout, the independent news site where she is editor-in-chief, is unionized. In 2014 she became an author, with the release of “Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better.” If you’ve read the book you also know she’s two other things. She’s a sister, who unflinchingly describes the reality of seeing (and often, not seeing) her sister incarcerated. And she’s an optimist, who believes in the power of transformative justice and who tells us about the growing alternatives to our prison nation.
This young woman is one of the youngest organizers sitting in this room. But just because she is small, that doesn’t mean she can’t make huge change. At only 12 years old, Jakya has accomplished more than most Chicagoans have in their entire lives, and she isn’t about to stop. While she maintained impeccable grades and the vibrant social life of a middle schooler, Jakya has tackled problems bigger than herself like police torture and the prison industrial complex. She co-organized the Reclaim MLK March to protest the school-to-prison pipeline. She’s led numerous Know Your Rights Workshops for students of color with the hopes that they won’t fall victim to police brutality. Just recently, Jakya emotionally spoke at the Stephon Watts vigil about the inconceivable pain of losing your loved one at the hand of the police. Needless to say, Jakya has redefined cool for her classmates. She does not shy away from hard conversations, the hard problems, and the hard world. Jakya Hobbs is a model for us all.
When we contacted our honorees to let them know that they were being recognized, we were told by a number of women that they could think of someone more deserving. For that reason, we chose to give each honoree two prints of this image that was created by Molly Crabapple for this occasion. Our hope is that they will keep the first and pass the second along to one of those deserving women and femmes who wasn’t on this year’s list. If you receive one of these from an honoree, know that We Charge Genocide celebrates you as well, just as well celebrate all of the wonderful work happening in our powerful communities of resistance.
I attended the event with one of the honorees, Charlene Carruthers and her niece Sarai. I was so happy to be in the space and learned so much about the work that these amazing women and femmes do.