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Diane von Furstenberg’s annual DVF Awards at the United Nations isn’t your typical cocktail party. If there aren’t enough seats, for example, women are happy to sit cross-legged on the floor, their heels at their side, especially if that’s their best chance to sit next to a friend and share the experience.
And perhaps that’s the best word for it, because this was a night of experiences, told in moving stories by the five diverse women being honored by the foundation von Furstenberg formed with husband Barry Diller.
Gambia-based Jaha Dukureh, nominated for a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize and the founder of Safe Hands for Girls, talked about how her family considered her an embarrassment when she decided to form this organization that protects women from female genital mutilation and child marriages: “When I started this group, I lost a lot of friends … my sister would stay far away from me because she didn’t want people to know she still talked to me.”
Syria-born Luma Mufleh, CEO and founding director of Fugees Family, which uses soccer as a way to help refugee children in the U.S. feel more at home in their new communities, talked of helping a student who recently learned he had lost four family members in Syria, and noted that it felt bittersweet to be at the United Nations: “There are 70 million refugees in the world; last year there were 65 million. We’re going in the wrong direction,” Mufleh said.
When time arrived for her to receive the Inspiration Award, dancer Misty Copeland was overcome with emotion. “I can’t even read my speech; I’m so inspired by all of your stories and what you’re doing for us,” she said, adding that it was a non-profit organization that put her on the path to dance. “I came from an underprivileged community in Southern California and found ballet in my local Boys & Girls Clubs, and I wouldn’t be here if not for that organization.” DVF Award honorees receive $50,000 from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, and Copeland added that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America would be among the organizations to which she would donate those funds.
On the red carpet earlier, Keri Russell marveled at the accomplishments of the various honorees. “The things these women do before 30, they make me feel like I should be working a lot harder than I am,” she said, laughing when it was pointed out that she’s no slouch in the getting-started-early department. “I don’t know that I would call being on the WB exactly what these ladies are doing.”
The night’s standing ovation went to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, recipient of the Lifetime Leadership DVF Award. “There are a lot of forces of nature in this room,” Sotomayor said before discussing the forces of nature in her own life: her mother and grandmother. “These two women set the example for how I lead my life and instilled in me a deep value of always striving to give to and uplift others.” Because her grandfather had died at an early age, her grandmother raised five children as a single mother, moving to New York from Puerto Rico, while her mother lived in poverty in Puerto Rico, she said, “but found solace in books and in the library … growing up, Mom instilled the value of education.” Sotomayor’s father died when she was 9 years old, but by the time she and her brother were in high school, she said, her mother decided to go to college and earned her nursing degree. Every woman has such stories in her family, and they shouldn’t be forgotten, Justice Sotomayor added, “because they’re the stories that will keep us moving.”
Another element that makes the DVF Awards such a compelling event is simply the age range of the attendees, from von Furstenberg’s pre-teen granddaughters and A Wrinkle in Time’s Storm Reid, who turns 15 in July, to women like von Furstenberg and Gloria Steinem, who undeniably blazed the trail of feminism, but on Friday evening said they’re thrilled by the activism they’re now witnessing. “I have peers older than me and even younger who are using their voices to speak out for what they believe in; it’s an amazing time to be a young person,” Reid said.
Also in the audience: 17-year-old Delaney Tarr, a senior from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, invited because she’s been among the school’s most vocal students at recent rallies and events. “I love the idea that young girls are feminists again. It’s very encouraging, and we never should foraget it,” von Furstenberg said.
“I’ve never seen activism like this in my life,” Steinem agreed. “There’s something like 3,000 women now running for office; how can you not be inspired by that?”
Ultimately, everyone pointed to the woman the night was named for, not only for being an inspiration in her own right, but also for creating a platform for other women’s voices as well. “Diane is such a force, and so good at bringing cool women together,” Russell said. “She’s always done a great job at recognizing women, but maybe there’s just a little more space for it right now.”
“Diane von Furstenberg is my fairy godmother; I tell her this all the time,” CNN’s Brooke Baldwin added. “She’s 70-plus, and she’s sexy and fabulous and can do absolutely anything. She’s the woman we all strive to be when we grow up.”
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