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Diversity Dialogues hosts Janine Fonda for women’s history discussion

By Jack McLaughlin

Arts & Features Editor

The Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) hosted award-winning writer Janine Fonda for a discussion as part of their Diversity Dialogues event series March 7. 

The discussion focused around the voices of women - from suffragettes to the voices of resilience of women from diverse communities - in conjunction with Women’s History Month. 

CIE Director Jerome Burke opened the event by introducing Fonda to the audience. Fonda is the recipient of over 25 regional and national awards, and has over 15 years of business, online communication, and multicultural marketing experience. 

Fonda began by thanking those in attendance, explaining she lived in Framingham for 10 years and said, “It’s good to come back and see what’s happening - what’s going on.”

She invited Joyce Emery, another speaker for this event, to introduce themselves to the audience. 

Emery lives in Framingham and was born in Winchester - and is a doll collector and genealogist. She said she’s been collecting dolls since 1999, and said, “I just kind of fell into it by accident.”

“I have been collecting and now I combine my genealogy and history with dolls,” she said. 

After this, Fonda told the audience that the presentation prepared for them will allow them to “learn from a different frame of reference.

“We’re going to share with you our lens,” she said. 

She explained that the presentation has five years worth of chronicling over 100 women - mostly from Massachusetts - and their stories in such a way that the audience can associate with. 

The presentation began with a question for the audience. Fonda wanted to know if anyone knew Barbara Holland - a previous director of diversity for the University - by providing a photo of them. 

After this, Fonda urged the audience to “really retrace your own lines.“If we don’t, we are truly disrespecting the heritage that has blessed this space,” she said. 

Fonda explained to the audience that Holland was a “rare student” that came from one of the first modern African American schools, which Fonda said gave her the chance to bring more to this space and to education. 

“There’s a bigger story in there,” she said. 

Next, she introduced the audience to Edwina Weston-Dyer, who lived close by to the University. Framingham State is in possession of archives of her research.

Weston-Dyer’s research was heavily focused on Crispus Attucks, known to be the first American killed during the Revolution in the 1700s. 

“I’m just happy that the University has archives because I would love to actually visit those archives in-depth at a point, but she had a phenomenal career,” Fonda said. 

Fonda told the audience that it’s important that we don’t forget the names of these people, to learn them and who they were. 

She then introduced Lucy Lewis, another speaker at the event. Lewis’ lineage is traced back to the Salem Witch Trials.

“Now a lot of people might say ‘Oh my goodness! I never really equated the African American experience within a very limited lens,’” Fonda said. 

“But we have other stories.”

Lewis introduced herself to the audience, and explained that she’s been a genealogist since around 1995. 

She said that her family’s origins were originally a mystery to her, and began to research her origins after her son once came home from school distressed because of a family tree project assigned to him. 

“Well that broke not just my heart, but the grandmother’s hearts,” Lewis said. 

Through her research, she discovered her grandmother’s father was a Black loyalist which helped explain a family mystery of why he came from Nova Scotia. 

She explained to the audience what Black loyalists were - slaves who fought with the British during the American Revolution with promises of being freed after the war. 

Despite the British losing the war, they kept their promise with the Black loyalists and gave them their freedom by bringing them to Nova Scotia. 

“And so the family stayed up there and flourished, and he came back and began a family in Cambridge,” she said. 

After Lewis spoke, Fonda talked about how her family’s origins were also not entirely known to her. She said that she wasn’t aware of her grandmother migrating to the United States from Jamaica until PBS contacted her with stories from her family upon the reopening of a museum.

“We had several family [members] whose photos were on exhibit there when they reopened - but who would have known?” Fonda asked. 

She also pointed out her aunt, Irene Morgan, who Fonda said won a Supreme Court case about busing “10 years before Rosa Parks.”

Fonda then brought up Maria Stewart, who she explained was the “first woman to not only voice her opinion, but to speak before men.

“Remember, women back in that day were not allowed to speak to a mixed audience - a woman could not speak to men in any kind of forum that you have,” she said.

“But she did.”

She brought up one of Morgan’s quotes, which was “When I cast my eyes on the long list of illustrious names that are enrolled on the bright annals of fame among the white, I turn my eyes within and ask myself, ‘Where are the names of our illustrious ones?’”

Fonda explained how when Morgan would speak before an audience of men, it was considered radical for the time and that her audiences of men “didn’t leave. 

“They actually stayed to hear her,” she said. 

She shared another quote from Morgan, which was “How long shall the fair daughters of Africa be compelled to bury their minds and talents beneath a load of iron pots and kettles?”

After this, Fonda talked about the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, where many important women met who would later be key in the Suffrage movement. 

At this convention, there were no Black women in attendance and only one Black man, Frederick Douglass. 

“There were no Black women invited, and they really advocated for the right of white women to vote. It was really a marker in the sand, which is why I never begin there,” Fonda said. 

“It was iconic for what it was, but it also got us to really see the divides, when we really look at communities,” she added.

She continued by explaining how many of these women had to have a voice for avocation with the absence of allies, people, and the law.

“And for them, they should be seen,” Fonda said. 

Fonda then said this event gave these women the chance to have their true stories told and represented in different ways. 

One of the ways she mentioned was having the living history in the room. 

“Barbara Holland, Edwina Weston - knowing these names, that is by the way that we find them,” she said. 

She asked the audience if there were any students in attendance, and gave them the advice to “carry the torch. 

“Carry the torch with wisdom and courage. Because that is what will carry this legacy.”

Lewis concluded the event by giving some wisdom of her own to those in attendance.

“Whatever your gifts, whatever your talent, whatever your strength, find the shoulders that give you the courage that your place is the place of making change,” she said. 


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