150 women from all over the state of North Carolina rose from their seats to applaud six UNC undergraduates, the first cohort of Moxie Scholars. The Moxies, as they are affectionately known, had just finished their original performance, “Every Time I Move, I Make a Women’s Movement.” Based on the oral histories they had collected as part of the Moxie Project: Women and Leadership for Social Change, the performance represents a collective reflection on feminist history and activism. The students’ passion, creativity and talent brought the entire audience of the First Annual North Carolina Women’s Summit to their feet—and tears to many of their eyes.
The Moxie Scholars performance was just one highlight among many at the summit, titled “Ms. Behaving: How North Carolina Women Make History. Rachel Seidman, Southern Oral History Program Associate Director, originally conceived of the summit and planned it in cooperation with Women AdvaNCe. The goal of the summit was to translate knowledge into action by putting oral history and other types of academic research in dialogue with practitioners. This dialogue educated, empowered and inspired the North Carolina women in the audience to take specific steps to address the challenges facing them and their families. Three panels addressed major questions that formed the basis for an overarching call to action: “How Do We Ensure Women’s Health?” “How Can We Protect Public Education?” and “How Do We Create a Fair Economy for Women?”
Drawing on historical evidence, panelists discussed striking changes in the role of women in North Carolina. Panelists explained how, dating back to the early 20th century, the state was once a national leader in protecting citizens’ health, providing public education, and investing in the public good. But over the last three decades, state-level policy changes have eroded the prospects of women and children. We now rank 47th in the country in key indicators of women’s health; teachers’ salaries have dropped from 24th in the nation to 48th; and currently half of single mothers in North Carolina live in poverty.
Panelists and moderators, including SOHP Founding Director Jacquelyn Hall and Field Scholars Joey Fink and Brittany Chavez, also provided specific recommendations for making progress. When asked who in the state was representing the interests of Latinas, Brittany directed the audience to the exciting and important work being done by youth-led organizations including Southerners on New Ground. She also encouraged the audience to explore the work being done by SOHP partner Hannah Gill, Director of the Latino Migration Project at UNC, and the program she oversees called Building Integrated Communities, a statewide initiative whose mission is to help “North Carolina local governments successfully engage with immigrants and refugee populations in order to improve public safety, promote economic development, enhance communication, and improve relationships.“ Audience members were encouraged to write letters to the editor, register voters, and volunteer for organizations. When a single mother of three children, struggling to make ends meet, asked how she could get involved with only two hours a week to spare, she was encouraged to realize what “a gift” two hours per week would be to organizations that desperately need her help.
Audience members came from around the state, including Charlotte, Robeson County, and Greensboro, and many said they got just what they were looking for from the event. Joey Fink reported, “From what I saw, the day served many, many of the women present so well, and will be an important first step in new networks and organizing efforts.” Danielle Koonce from Raleigh tweeted: “WomenAdvaNCe’s Summit has me pumped up. Going to use my pen as my sword. Ignorance is killing us.” Deborah Locklear posted on Women Advance’s Facebook page, “Thank You for the opportunity to attend such an empowering event. The knowledge and friendships will be utilized and cherished! Awesome group of Women!!!”