currents

Sharing the vision

The Red Carpet for Social Justice celebrated women, especially those on the front lines of the pandemic

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 4/7/21

REGION — The show may have been in Spanish Harlem, but the message is there for all of us, no matter where we live.

The Red Carpet for Social Justice Coalition honored female frontline …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
currents

Sharing the vision

The Red Carpet for Social Justice celebrated women, especially those on the front lines of the pandemic

Posted

REGION — The show may have been in Spanish Harlem, but the message is there for all of us, no matter where we live.

The Red Carpet for Social Justice Coalition honored female frontline workers on March 31 at their first-ever virtual event. Nurses, certified nursing assistants, domestic workers and more all walked or danced down the red carpet, dressed in the traditional garments of their native lands. One nurse recited Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” Retiree Zelma Brown spoke as Harriet Tubman. All listed social justice causes that were important to them.

It was a powerful tribute to the women who took care of the city during the pandemic and a reminder that many of them are immigrants.

“While beaten down [during the pandemic], we have seen so many heroes emerge from the ashes,” said host Rhina Valenin. “We dedicate this program to the millions of she-roes out there, everyday women, doing their jobs, taking care of their families, watching out for their communities, their neighbors.”

At the end, a different reminder: that not all those women survived.

It’s not just about the city. Women working on the front lines of the pandemic are everywhere, Minerva Solla said. “This is a vision, and we should spread it to other regions.”

The director of cultural affairs for the New York State Nurses Association union, Solla has been involved with the event for years; this year, she was one of the chairwomen.

The event began years ago as a way “to help women from different countries to come together to celebrate International Women’s Day” on March 8, she said.

“This past year was hard, and there’s no sugarcoating it,” said New York State Attorney General Letitia James, the keynote speaker. “The weariness that we have all felt this past year hangs heavy tonight.

But you wouldn’t know it to look at the faces of the women—young, old, of different races, from different countries—at the event.

“We couldn’t do in-person in 2020, and we did it virtually for 2021,” Solla said. Not that they’d done a virtual event before, really, but “we figured we can do this.”

They reached out to a studio, the Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Firehouse, and enlisted actress and producer Valentin as emcee. Virtual hosting could be more difficult than in-person, Solla said, and Rhina “was amazing... her belief and her passion.”

Events like this aren’t easy to plan. “It’s timing, it’s music, it’s a whole production,” Solla said. And fundraising is important, because the event is free, the food is free. “We don’t charge a penny.”

Another point is the keynote speaker. For 2021, they approached James, who cheerfully agreed and recorded a speech, thanking the frontline workers and acknowledging how hard the past year had been. “Thank you for your sacrifice, your work and your bravery,” she said.

The event was begun by Local 1199SEIU, which encompasses health care workers from nurses and assistants to nursing home and home care workers. The union may have started in New York City, says their website, but has spread to upstate New York (including Sullivan County), surrounding states, Washington, DC and Florida.

The union has a long history of social justice work. Political action matters because, the union says, health care is tightly twined with the government and most funding comes from Medicare and Medicaid.

Solla’s a member of the New York State Nurses Association, which has worked with 1199 for years. She’s based in Ulster County, but her union work has taken her to Sullivan many times, including to legislative committee meetings. “The women you have at the meetings!” she said. She praised the Truth Squad and its work on behalf of the Care Center at Sunset Lake.

Speakers ranged from James to state senator Michelle Hinchey to state assembly members to women in the U.S. House, representing New York City districts.

Assemblymember Karines Reyes, who spoke at the event, is a registered nurse who continued nursing during the pandemic. “I am intimately connected with so many of the issues that women have been facing during this COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “I’ve seen patients die, but I’ve seen women rise to levels of heroism that are truly an inspiration.”

This year, she will introduce a bill to make March 8, International Women’s Day, a state holiday. It’s a goal that the Red Carpet for Social Justice Coalition will focus on this year. They’ve been talking about it for a while, Solla said. But maybe the toll of the pandemic—not just in terms of those who have died, but what was endured by those who lived through it—has made the cause especially poignant.

What else is the group focused on? Encouraging women “to lead the way,” Solla said. “To help women to lead the way. To get more political seats. To lift them up. To give them encouragement... Now, more than ever, to celebrate and honor and remember women, honor all that we lost and all those still saving lives.”

If you want to learn more about the red carpet, contact Minerva Solla at minerva.solla@nysna.org.

You can watch the virtual red carpet at www.bit.ly/redcarpet14.

Sign the petition to get New York State to recognize International Women’s Day as a state holiday at www.bit.ly/300HwVz.

For more information about 1199, visit www.1199seiu.org/history.

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here