BEACON - It’s March, and that means it’s time to celebrate Women’s History Month.
Those festivities were in full swing Sunday afternoon at the Howland Cultural Center. Singing, acting and powerful environmental words filled the Center, as the NAACP Southern Dutchess Branch paid tribute to women with its "Yes! Women Hold Up More than Half the Sky!" event.
Leading the way was Goldee Greene, Mistress of Ceremonies. The local entertainer Greene welcomed in a full house, eager to embrace the talents of local women.
First to take the stage were the Earthtones, an a cappella singing group, composed of wives, moms and daughters who sing for people and causes close to our hearts. Greene provided their introduction, "These women formed for their love of singing." As the seven women provided melodic songs on a host of these pivotal issues, colorful, peaceful environmental images of polar bears, rivers and other outdoor inhabitants filled a large screen. The passionate contingent not only relayed their messages via song, but action as well. They are currently involved in a local campaign to ban plastic bags, replacing them with the more eco-friendly cloth.
Next to appear was Verna Hampton, an award-winning actress, writer, teaching artist and youth advocate. The charismatic Hampton, whose friendship with Greene goes back many years, made a grand appearance to the front stage. Providing moving, rhythmic verses, she kept the audience’s attention with their powerful messages. At one point in her performance, she passionately inquired, "What is black? Immediately, she rattled off a long list of answers: " beneficial, beautiful, crude oil, color of the couch, chic, power, love, African, obsidian, Alpha omega." She then concluded with, "Black is!" Her words were met with instant clapping and cheers. Hampton also spoke of the Slave Trade, Michelle Obama’s arms, Rosa Parks ("The spark that ignited the fuse to our equality") and violence.
"Gun murder is the leading cause of death in blacks under the age of 44," affirmed Hampton, who went on to chant, "We can’t keep our silence when we are living in violence." Attendees joined in while reciting the moving motto.
Peggy Shepard, the afternoon’s Key Note Speaker, provided potent environmental messages. Working for West Harlem Environmental Action, Shepard has successfully combined grassroots organizing, environmental advocacy and environmental health. She quickly let a little known fact be known.
"People of color do care about the environment," stressed Shepard. "Just look at some of the past award winners in the field."
After detailing the efforts of African-American women game changers in the field, Shepard then went on to deliver her message: "The time to act, is now."
"When we think about climate change, things like Hurricane Sandy and what happened in New Orleans, we know the time has come to do something; time to take action," said Shepard, who resides in Manhattan, an area she was quick to note a host of glossed over environmental concerns. "First, we need to go locally, then state-wide and then get the message to our President."
Citing how communities of color and low income have very few advocacy groups to voice their concerns about issues that impact them, Shepard emphasized, "The issues out there are so political; it is crucial to make our voices heard."
Two voices that were heard loud and clear concluded the over two hour program. Greene, along with local musician Chris Ruhe delivered a catchy melody on the dangers of fracking. Before long, the audience again joined in, as all honored women as well as their pivotal influence on issues that affect us all.