MKA proudly presented the 2023 Hemmeter Lecture Series, Feminism Across Generations, with Gloria Steinem and Salamishah Tillet P ’30 ’34 on Wednesday, November 8. It was an extraordinary night of sharing, learning, and building community. These two prominent activists and writers discussed their friendship, the power of feminist leadership, and the critical role that race, gender, and age have played in shaping their actions, life experiences, and understanding of equality in two engaging and enlightening opportunities.
Steinem and Tillet began their evening with over 50 MKA and Montclair High School students invited to participate in an engaging and powerful question-and-answer session. During this prelude to the main event, students asked questions ranging from who inspired the speakers and how their life experiences brought them to their role as activists to what current issues in society are most concerning. Several MKA student groups were represented at this portion of the evening, including the [Women’s] Empower Club, MKA’s student-run newspaper Academy News, the Student Diversity Leadership Committee (SDLC), and Civil Rights History class. Both Gloria and Salamishah agreed that diversity and embracing difference are at the core of feminism and making real change toward equality, a key takeaway from this event.
Later, in front of a sold-out audience in Weiss Auditorium, Steinem and Tillet had a conversation moderated by David Hessler, a long-time history teacher at the Upper School and chair of the Hemmeter Lecture Series now in its 25th year. Audience members witnessed the clear and enduring friendship that began after Tillet wrote a critique of Steinem around the 2008 Presidential contest, and the two writers and activists have collaborated and presented together several times. While individual life experiences have informed their thinking and work, they share a desire to see equality and respect be central in society rather than the division and imbalance of power so prevalent today. Both Steinen and Tillet illustrated to the rapt audience that the past informs the future and change requires work and belief. In response to one of David’s questions about what keeps Gloria motivated to continue her work in activism, she said, "Optimism is a form of planning, and we just can't give it up."
MKA is incredibly grateful for the support of our community, which makes programming like the Hemmeter Lecture Series possible. Such events continue to inspire the personal leadership journey of each of our students. A core principle of an MKA education, Ethical Leadership, as demonstrated by the lives and careers of Gloria Steinem and Salamishah Tillet, equips our students to make positive changes in their communities. This evening was a historic and memorable night for MKA, and the community is thankful to have had the opportunity to hear from and be inspired by these two exceptional leaders.
Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer. She travels in this and other countries as an organizer and lecturer and is a frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality. She is particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles, and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice. She lives in New York City and is the author of the travelogue My Life on the Road.
Learn more about Gloria's Foundation at: https://www.gloriasfoundation.org/
Salamishah Tillet is a scholar, activist, critic, and curator. She is the Henry Rutgers Professor of African American Studies and Creative Writing at Rutgers University, where she also directs Express Newark, a center for socially engaged art and design. She is a contributing critic-at-large at The New York Times and received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2022 for her "learned and stylish writing about Black stories in art and popular culture-work that successfully bridges academic and nonacademic critical discourse." She is the author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination and, most recently, In Search of the Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece.
Learn more about Salamishah at: https://www.salamishah.com/