By Denise DiStephan
LINCROFT – When Gilda Rogers spoke at a local church about how women’s rights activists inspired her, she made it clear why it matters to women’s continuing struggles today.
“From the time we are born, we have to prove we are capable to compete and achieve in a white patriarchal society…until we butt heads with machismo and let the fellas know what time it is. And this is our time. Time’s up!” Rogers said, followed by applause at the Unitarian Universalist Church Sunday.
Rogers, a book author, journalist and adjunct instructor at Brookdale Community College, talked about the history of women’s rights, from the suffrage movement through today’s ongoing efforts for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Rogers, who has lived in Red Bank for about 30 years, delivered her remarks, entitled “Becoming Fearless in the Eye of the Storm,” as this year’s Dr. Myra Zinke speaker at the church on West Front Street.
A prepared statement from the church said, “The late Dr. Zinke supported women’s empowerment and an endowment in her name provides for an annual address by a speaker on women’s issues.”
Rogers said she chose the title and concept for her talk because “as women, life is predicated on us becoming fearless in the eye of the storm.”
“And I have to confess, when I wrote this, I was in the middle of reading Michelle Obama’s book,” she added, prompting laughter. The memoir recently released by the former First Lady is titled “Becoming.”
Rogers said the first woman to inspire her was her grandmother Helen. “My grandmother had only an eighth-grade education, but she knew how important it was for me to attain a good education,” Rogers said. “She meant business, but she was also a lot of fun. She used to call me her shadow.”
“My grandmother wasn’t a pushover and she taught me to love and respect all people and not to be afraid in life, but to rise to the occasion with determination and purpose, to pursue a life that she could only dream of,” she continued.
Rogers shared anecdotes about other women who have inspired her, such as civil rights activist Diane Nash. In 1961, Nash risked her life to lead the Freedom Rides, a nonviolent protest to desegregate interstate bus travel and terminals that started in Washington, D.C. and continued through southern states.
Robert Kennedy, who was then U.S. Attorney General, had sent an official to Mississippi to try to dissuade Nash from continuing the Freedom Rides due to violence perpetrated against some of the participants.
“He was trying to warn Ms. Nash that she could be killed,” Rogers said. “She stood toe-to-toe with him and said, ‘Man I already signed my last will and testament.’ In other words, ‘Get out of my way, I’m on a mission,’ was what she was conveying. In that moment, Diane Nash was becoming fearless in the eye of the storm. She was putting her life on the line to change the social construct of this country. And not just for black people, but for all people, because there is no such thing as superiority when it comes to people or gender.
“What Diane Nash and countless other women have fought for, generation after generation, connects with this quote by ‘60s beatnik, Ambrose Redmoon, who said, ‘Courage is not lacking of fear, but rather a judgment that something else is more important than fear.’ I had the opportunity to also meet Ms. Nash, whose life’s work certainly has inspired mine as the organizer and vice president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation.”
The foundation is a grassroots organization that worked to save the home of African-American journalist and social justice crusader, T. Thomas Fortune. The Fortune family lived in the 1850s Second Empire-style home at 94 Drs. James Parker Blvd., Red Bank, from 1901 to 1912.
The National Historic Landmark has been fully restored by Roger Mumford of Roger Mumford Homes and is scheduled to have an open house for the community from 3 to 6p.m. Feb.23 and noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 24, in honor of Black History Month.
For more information on the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation visit tthomasfortuneculturalcenter.org.
This article was first published in the Feb.7-14, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.