Event honors women and allies in education
With energetic music and powerful messages of inspiration, NJEA hosted the second Celebration of Women on March 18, honoring women and allies in public education.
From its inception, the conference was planned to stand apart from other NJEA events. The program began with a quote from Audre Lorde that reflected the spirit of the day: “The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.”
Hosted by NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson and NJEA Field Representative Fatimah Hayes, and organized in conjunction with the Women in Education Committee, led by chairwoman Lisa Veit, there were frequent breaks for music and dancing as well as inspirational messages and calls to action from the speakers.
“NJEA Vice President Steve Beatty and NJEA President Sean M. Spiller are the epitome of what it means to be ‘strong, unwavering allies’,” Tamara Beatty said in her introduction. “They are with us, as women. They stand with us arm-in-arm and march beside us because they know just how important our fight for equity is for the future of our schools and society.” Tamara Beatty is the president of the Cinnaminson Education Association and represents Burlington County on the NJEA Executive Committee.
As NJEA President Sean M. Spiller pointed out, the celebration comes at a time when the rights of women are increasingly at risk.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say the rights of women are under attack as we speak,” Spiller said. “Our daughters are living in a world with fewer rights than their mothers. And this is terrifying to me. But I look around this room and see hope, joy and power. I see our union as a vehicle for change. And I see all of us working together, and as we do, I know our future will not be decided for us. We will set the terms, and it will take hard work, but we will do it—together.”
The overall message of the day was full of hope and energy. Once again, NJEA honored four outstanding women in our communities for their work advocating for students.
Fighting for students’ rights to public education in Camden
Ronsha Dickerson, a community ally in Camden and the wife of NJEA member Jamal Dickerson, is a national organizer for Journey for Justice Alliance, an organization that advocates for education as a human right, and that organizes for community-driven alternatives to stop the privatization movement and the devaluing of public education.
Dickerson is also the co-founder of Camden Parents Union, a community group of Camden parents, caregivers, alumni, and business and community leaders who advocate for equitable education, equal funding, and resources and the retention and recruitment of Black and Brown teachers in Camden public schools.
She is also the lead organizing parent of Camden Students Union, a community group of Camden public school students and alumni who are working to save public education in the city.
Protecting students’ right to read
Martha Hickson is a school librarian at North Hunterdon High School, a fervent activist against book banning, and an ardent supporter of students’ right to read.
Hickson has successfully fought six attempts to ban books and actively protects students’ right to read in the school district. She has worked to share intellectual freedom best practices with librarians by presenting at conferences and webinars, including the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), Future Ready Schools, Freedom to Read foundation, and the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL).
Through her writing, appearances on podcasts, and presentations to community groups, libraries, and churches, Hickson is also raising awareness about censorship among the general public.
Keeping students safer with common sense gun storage
Nicole Alzamora is a teacher in Jersey City at the Regional Day School. She volunteers at Be SMART, a campaign to raise awareness about secure gun storage. Storing guns locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition can save children’s lives.
As one of the thousands of Be SMART volunteers in communities and neighborhoods across the country, Alzamora is leading the way in Jersey City and keeping children safe.
Whether it is through educating school leaders about their role in keeping students safe or passing school safety resolutions through PTAs, Be SMART has inspired millions of people to get involved in the national dialogue about gun safety.
A lifetime of advocacy
NJREA President Joan Wright is a lifelong public education advocate and NJREA’s first president of color. Wright retired after 44 years in education from Conackamack Middle School in 2010, where she taught sixth-grade math and served as president of the Piscataway Township Education Association, among many other leadership positions.
Wright previously served as NJREA secretary and first vice-president, the president of Middlesex County Retired Educators’ Association, and as a member of the NJREA Executive Committee, Delegate Council, Policy Committee and the Ad Hoc Pen Ben Committee.
Going forward with fire
As Hayes mentioned in her speech, “no one is going to give us the equity and progress we want; we’re going to have to work for it, and that means sharing our stories and committing to being beacons of light and hope and love and joy for women—and people—everywhere.”
Robertson closed the event with a final quote from Audre Lorde, “You cannot, you cannot use someone else’s fire. You can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe that you have it.”