Women’s Advocacy Day Remarks at Massachusetts State House 2014
Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women
Women’s Advocacy Day Remarks
I am honored to represent the Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women as the Chair. My name is Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, and in my day job I am the co-founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, a grassroots organization promoting cultural proficiency through training and organizing throughout Massachusetts and our bordering states. My fellow commissioner Margo Bradley Davis is also here today. We look forward to meeting you all!
The Berkshire County Commission shares the mission and vision of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. Connecting the Berkshires with Boston, we advocate, organize, and work to cultivate and promote access to safety from violence, economic independence, health and wellness, and education for all Berkshire County women and girls.
After 10 years as a Regional Commission we have launched an effort this year to address our three priority areas.
Initially, our Commission set bold goals for reducing teen pregnancy and worked with several community partners like the Berkshire United Way. And although the Berkshires is still battling national and regional highs of teen pregnancy, there is a strong organized collaborative network running the Face the Facts Campaign. We are proud to have been catalysts in this work.
Now in 2014, we have set new bold focus areas and are in the process of creating measurable goals to match those areas. As a Commission, our first two areas of focus are the feminization of poverty and reducing violence against women. We recognize that those go hand in hand.
Our third focus area is education of our youth as prevention. Our most recent recent conversations have been about linking what happens in our early education with college campuses. We aim to ask the right questions and to provide solutions to our Delegates.
At this point I want to talk a little bit about the composition of our Commission.
We have community organizers, non-profit leaders, business owners, social workers, and educators. We are native Berkshire families and “transplants”. We aim to ignite our networks and form a strong collaborative much like in the history of the origins of our commission. Our energy and focus comes from our collective personal and professional experience. We are a diverse group of women and strong group of activists, and we have a clear vision.
We take seriously our job to represent the voices of the women and girls of Berkshire County, the real Western Massachusetts. Folks sometimes forget about us in the Berkshires, and certainly we have a unique experience in this rural tourist area with rapidly shifting demographics. During the last two years that I have been on the Commission, we have been listening to women and girls throughout the community. We must remember, the wisdom is already in our community.
From the business professionals of Berkshire Professional Women’s Group and Zonta to the eighth grade girls at the middle school, the African American Community that hold the wisdom of decades of experience and the new Americans sustaining our economy in the Berkshires—we have collectively heard the need. Our charge now is to put together solutions for individuals in our community. We aim to activate women activists on the grassroots level and in partnership with other local organizations. We identify the strengths in our community and leverage them to promote equity among all women and girls in the Berkshires.
We have organized task forces within our group to continue to remain vigilant on policies and to act with phone calls and letters to our delegates. Our fellow Commissioner, Janis Broderick of Elizabeth Freeman Center, is our chair of this Policy in Action task force. Often our BCCSW letters, like our most recent on Welfare Reform, are generated from her hard work and vigilance over policies that affect women. We have organized an Education task force with Mary Berle of Berkshire Hills Regional School District and Roberta McCulloch Dews of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Margo, here with us today, is capturing the History of the work of our former Commissioners and generating position statements on the issues we identify. Donna Todd Rivers, business owner and radio host in Pittsfield, is our Vice Chair. And the final task force to be inducted is the Equity Task Force, which will be led by both Luci Leonard, the Vice President of our local newly reactivated NAACP and me, Director and Cultural Literacy Leader of Multicultural BRIDGE. We plan to fortify connections with other Regional Commissions and the greater MCSW.
At this point I want to thank you for your time and give a shout out to our great Delegates! All of us on the Commission have the pleasure of knowing these folks personally. We have experienced their open doors, real listening, and partnership. We aim to have meetings back home under our new structure to move efforts forward.
I would be remiss to not mention the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts LIPPI (Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact) group. I know there are fellow LIPPistas here today, and I am grateful, as are Donna and Roberta, for the opportunity to be trained to lead this work and represent effectively the voices of women in Berkshire County.
We have one request and an invitation: First, please come to the Berkshires and join us for a Commission meeting and share your ideas and vision for Massachusetts women! Second, we are honored to be included in Advocacy Day, BUT as a Commission, we would like to respectfully request that this Day come before the Budget Process in February or so. We would travel the pike in the winter hours so that we can have the most impact on policy that impacts women and families.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak to you today. Margo and I look forward to representing the Berkshires on this Third Annual Advocacy Day.