We Are Present: On Fall 2018's Programming Theme
Boils like power, bubbles like mother and bumps hips like sister. Sounds like Steinem and sings like Ma Rainey. Thrums and pulses with the clacks of heels the taps of flats the stomp of work boots the patter of bare feet. Feeds tamales, fried chicken, grilled cheese, pot roast, rice and beans. Works like CEO, like teacher, like coder, like firewoman, like designer, like entrepreneur.
She is providence. She is home. She is healer. And when she bleeds, she bleeds her woman,
And it burns. And it flows.
— MY WOMB TOLD ME WE WOULD, sour grapefruit
by Jane Hervey
I wrote this poem two years ago, at a time when I wasn’t sure I could continue. I was one year in to building #BBATX’s programs. I was working a full-time job, so when all was said and done I was pulling 90-hour weeks to keep my bills paid and the nonprofit alive. Trump had just been elected, and the world was in a frenzy. So believe me when I say that when I wrote this poem, I was this close to giving up. I kept thinking, If what I’m doing really matters, there’s no way I’d be feeling this hopeless, right?
So, I decided to do what I always do when I feel anxious—write. I called upon all of the people, moments, memories and stories that inspired me to continue. I thought about simple things, like long conversations with my mother, the first time I heard about Gloria Steinem, all of my friends who have ever fed me and the time I read about Ma Rainey when I was a freshman in college.
If you’re not familiar with Ma Rainey, she’s in our history books as one of the first Black women to become a professional blues singer in the 1930s. In the 1990s (decades after her death), she was inducted into multiple American halls of fame, from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame to the Grammys’.
What I have always found most interesting about her, though, are all of the little side stories. When she retired in 1935, she ran three arts theaters (three!) until she died of a heart attack in 1939. She’s credited by many feminist thought groups as one of the first female singers to openly write about being attracted to women. And she even reportedly kidnapped Bessie Smith to play in one of her minstrel shows once, although this was discounted by Smith’s sister years later. (It looks like none of our faves have ever been perfect—even back in the 30s).
All of these little stories have been recorded, then told and retold for future generations to learn lessons from and to find inspiration in. They’re for people like me to come across at 18 years old—fresh out of a small town in South Texas, drowning in the complexity of my new worldview—to make sense of and to hold onto. They’re for us to remember who we are and where we come from—to understand our ancestors, to recognize our privileges, to call things by their names.
So, who tells and writes our stories matters. And that’s where the inspiration for #bossbabesATX’s programming theme, We Are Present, comes from. It’s a reminder that we are here, and that we are all serving as witnesses for each other’s hard work. We are the ones who will tell future generations of people, art, communities, spaces and movements that are driving forward our culture and country today. Because when we tell our stories, we give others permission to do the same.
So, over the next couple of months, from our meet-ups to SHE TALKS to craftHER Market, we’ll explore what it means to show up for our goals day-in and day-out. We’ll share the stories of historical icons and present-day leaders who motivate us to do the work—even when it’s tough. And we’ll deep dive into the creative spaces, communities and people that are working hard to make the City of Austin as vibrant as possible. Hope to see you soon.
— Jane Hervey
#bossbabesATX Executive Director and founder