QUEENS, NEW YORK – On Saturday, April 16, South Queens Women’s March (SQWM) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3pm for the organization’s new office space at 130-01 Liberty Avenue Unit 1R, Richmond Hill, NY 11419. Approximately 75 individuals attended to witness the celebration.
For over two years, South Queens Women’s March (SQWM) has been working hard to fulfill its mission to promote gender justice on its streets, to connect women, girls and gender-expansive people to the tools needed to survive and thrive, and finally, to honor their many struggles while centering joyously our immense resilience. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization poured its hearts into meeting its community where they are.
SQWM began with an idea to host a women’s march in the South Queens community, starting with 5 dedicated women of many intersections. The pandemic prevented the march from happening but the organization still followed through with its mission. Today, SQWM has a growing membership of over 70 individuals who power an unshakeable movement.
“SQWM allowed me to find my purpose. When I think about SQWM, I think about the best thing that ever happened to me besides my husband. I think about this random dream I had of organizing a mass of women of all intersections to march on our streets for our rights. After learning of Donna Rehanna Dojoy’s death, death of yet another sister at the hands of gender based violence by her husband – I thought to myself – of how many women, who just like her could have used an outlet like SQWM in our local community. We shouldn’t just mobilize during tragedy, we should also cultivate inclusive and intersectional mechanisms to empower women on these streets – the streets that raised us – in the name of justice for women, girls and gender expansive people. For too long, a space like this did not exist in our community. For the first time, today it does,” said Aminta Kilawan-Narine, SQWM’s founder and director. “This work isn’t glamorous. It is hard. It is grueling. But we genuinely enjoy doing it. People ask how we are able to do so much. We do more in a month than many fully staffed, well-resourced organizations do in a year. We all do this for the love of community. Not for personal gain, or for accolades and praise or for social media followers. This isn’t charity work, it is solidarity work, and you see that in the way we treat people.”
“A South Queens Women’s March space is a dream—a dream that the younger me wish they had growing up in South Queens. As a gender justice organization, it is critical to have a space that can be a home away from home for community members and the younger me. Our space will be a resource hub, a safe space for survivors, a community centered space for monthly pantries, healing activities, and workshops, and a space where we cultivate grassroots organizing to build a movement,” said Tannuja Rozario, founding board member of SQWM.
Harmehar Kohli, founding board member of SQWM said, “During our first SQWM event, handing out flyers about the March door to door down Lefferts Boulevard, I don’t think any of us ever imagined this day would come. The opening of this location is a testament to the need for more resources in South Queens and a clear yearning for community amongst our female residents. This location is a long awaited space for dynamic creation, empowerment, and compassion in our neighborhood and I feel so blessed and humbled to be a part of this momentous day.”
“Despite being founded two years ago, at the height of the pandemic, SQWM became a household name, an entity community members trusted and depended on. Fast forward two years later, we now have a physical “home” that will be a brave space, filled with resources to continuously bridge the inequity gap that exists and bring joy to the South Queens community,” said Nirmala Singh, founding board member of SQWM.
Candace Prince-Modeste, founding board member of SQWM said, “The story of the growth of South Queens Women’s March is a unique one, and so to bear witness to the opening of our office at this juncture is truly a momentous occasion. I’m extremely proud of all that we’ve accomplished in two short years and am optimistic about how much more we will be able to do for this community because of our new space.”
With April 16 commemorating several religious holidays including Easter Weekend, Hanuman Jayanti, Ramadan and Passover, the program began with invocation prayers reflective of South Queens’ diverse faith traditions. Pratima Doobay of Shridevi Arts delivered the Hindu prayer, Tasnia Ahamed of Turning Point for Women and Families delivered the Muslim prayer, Pastor Tara Andrews of No Woman Left Behind Again Inc. and SQWM founding board member Harmehar Kohli, who is also the executive director of Kaurageous Love, delivering the Sikh prayer in song. Debora Chaitlall, SQWM member turned part-time organizer gave a tearful reflection about the organization’s impact on her life. “Finding SQWM has been the best thing that happened to me. I’m a part of a community and I have my sisters to help me through any challenges I face. I hope I can be there for them in the same way,” said Debora.
Light refreshments at the ribbon cutting were provided by Tropical Isle Roti Shop, Little Guyana Pharmacy and Cafe, Shivram’s Bakery, Singh’s Roti Shop and the Shakti Mission. The event featured an intersectional dance performance from SQWM members Anjali Seegobin, Sabrina Mohammed, and Sacha Sulaiman.
SQWM owes gratitude to Bob Lawrence and Annie Mohan of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, LLP and to Aqualia International Foundation for their support. At the event, Mr. Lawrence delivered remarks.
Remarks and well wishes were shared by New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, New York City Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers, and New York State Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson who flanked the SQWM board as the ribbon was cut.
At the ceremony, Speaker Adams said, “I want to let you ladies know how proud I am to be your sister. How proud of you I am to have watched you grow over these years. How proud I am of you to know where your heart has always been and now look where you are. Since its founding just a few years ago, South Queens Women’s March has made enormous contributions to the civic and community life right here in Southeast Queens and right here in the Great 28. You have empowered and amplified the voices of diverse women across this borough, connected neighbors to important resources and advocated fiercely for gender and racial justice. Your work has been so critical, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of our own underserved conditions.”
“I am so proud to see you grow, turning tragedy into triumph. Congratulations to all of you phenomenal women. It is so important to have community based organizations at the forefront of conversations around gender justice and SQWM has been at the forefront of so many of these conversations. As gender-based violence reached a crisis level during this pandemic, for every one encounter we are seeing 20 that go unreported. I look forward to continuing to support the work of South Queens Women’s March.” said Borough President Richards.
Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers said, “This is really a remarkable milestone and I want to congratulate you ladies on all the work you have put in over the last several years in the Southeast Queens community. South Queens Women’s March has done so much to empower the women of Southeast Queens, whether it’s career training, voter outreach or cultural programming. These activities have strengthened the vines of our community. They’ve made us more connected.”
“This is a herstorical moment where we have South Queens Women’s March finally getting a physical manifestation of the work they do that is so critical to this neighborhood. It’s so important to acknowledge that South Queens Women’s March is an organization that is turning pain into purpose. That is turning pain into healing. That is putting resources into a community that has been left behind and forgotten. And it’s so important to acknowledge that these folks who started this organization are not paid. These are folks who are giving their blood, sweat and tears to this community to make sure that it is well-resourced.” said Assembly Member Anderson.
To learn more about South Queens Women’s March visit www.southqueenswomensmarch.org.