There’s something incredibly powerful about stepping, a form of percussive dance in which the participant’s entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken words and hand claps. These rhythmic stomping and beats can have a profound effect on the listener as well as the stepper. I should know; I grew up in a household where stepping was the norm.
My father, an active member of a national black fraternity often had brothers over, especially during pledging. Some of my favorite memories are the sounds of combat boots on the pavement that would lure me out of the house and into our back yard. I’d watch with the young men currently on line (pledges) as members of the frat stepped and chanted. Stepping is ancient. It’s culture. It’s a history that lives in the people and communities who make step a part of their lives.
An American Jewish World Service AJWS event was the last place I expected to see stepping, but last week night at the Green Space I experienced the familiar rhythm that puts my mind at ease as much as it screams, WAKE UP! The event, held in conjunction with Global Circle, featured the amazing ensemble Girl Be Heard, a multi-ethnic, youth-led organization that uses theater, song and step to empower girls to write about and overcome violence, gender discrimination, poverty, lack of opportunity and rape as a weapon of war. The performance included 19 original pieces which started with Tikkun Olam, a piece written and performer Monica Furman, a Jewish women living in Brighton Beach.
When the announcement was made that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize would be given to three women, including Leymah Gbowee (pronounced LAY-muh BO-wee), some Jews were particularly proud.
Gbowee, an extraordinary Liberian activist and founder of Women Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN), who has been influential in mobilizing women for peace and bringing democracy to Liberia, has credited the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) with being one of the first organizations to believe in and to provide financial support for her work.
“AJWS is a name I will remember”, she said recently at an AJWS event. “It is an organization with a heart and a soul. I mean it – and I don’t take my words lightly.”
Ruth Messinger, AJWS’s president and CEO, says she first met Gbowee in 2003 at a breakfast in Ethiopia.
Today is International Women’s Day, a day to – what? I’m not really sure. It is, according to the [official site] of the day, “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday.”
Zetkin came up with the idea in 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women. According to the IWD site:
She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women’s Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.