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Julia Morgan girls organize panel on courage and activism

The panel gathered in the Littlefield Concert Hall to discuss activism and courage. (Alexina Estrada)
The panel gathered in the Littlefield Concert Hall to discuss activism and courage. (Alexina Estrada)

Despite the cold and rain, people gathered in Littlefield Concert Hall for the 4th Annual Women of Courage Panel. Large posters with quotes and brochures laid at the entrance, and as young girls and their families talked and found seats, four women sat on stage facing the crowd.

The panel was hosted by the Julia Morgan School for Girl’s Girls in Government, Leadership, and Service (GGLS) on Tuesday, Feb. 6 in honor of Rosa Parks. The event brought forth students from the school, family and Mills community members, all who were unaware of the inspirational night that lay ahead.

The GGLS is composed of 6-8th graders who work together to learn and educate others about government, rights and activism. Among other projects – like keeping up with the 2016 elections – the group put together the conference to celebrate and honor Rosa Parks for her courage and work in the Civil Rights Movement.

The Panelists included Ericka Huggins, an activist, educator and leader in the Black Panther Movement; Julie McDonald, engineering and technical operations manager for Nimble Collective, film producer, former NASA employee and supporter of women; Kadijah Means, an alumnae of Julia Morgan School for Girls, activist and part of the Black Liberation Movement; and Mimi Silbert, activist and founder and executive director of Delancey Street, a self-help organization for ex-convicts, the homeless and substance abusers.

8th grader Lucy Farnham, a member of the GGLS, was one of many in the crowd moved by the panelists’ answers.

“I was part of the event but I also didn’t know what their answers were going to be,” Farnham said. “I wasn’t expecting it be as powerful and inspiring as it was.”

Huggins spoke about her life events leading to her joining the Black Panther Party, including losing her husband and being incarcerated. McDonald shared her experience in animation, and expressed the importance of telling a story, even if it’s through a cartoon. Means talked about one of her missions being to help other Black students love themselves, as well as fighting the idea of respectability politics. Silbert finished by explaining that failure is okay, that everyone fails, but what not everyone does is get back up and try and try and try again, because there should be no limit to second chances.

As the panel came to a close, the GGLS members went up on stage and all turned their backs to the audience. One by one, a student would turn around and name a marginalized group they stood for, ending with “I will not be silent. I am Rosa Parks”.

“I was not expecting such a moving and emotional event,” Tina Barseghian, Farnham’s mother said. “There were multiple times where I got goosebumps and I was like: ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m sitting here in this after-school event feeling this way’.”

Following the panel’s conclusion, people waited in line for the panelists’ autographs, pictures and final words of advice.

“It felt really good participating in something so powerful as this,” Farnham said. “And I feel like we touched a lot of people and inspired a lot of people.”