Ava DuVernay, Other Gloria Award Honorees Reveal How They're Fighting for Gender, Racial Equality

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Elaine Welteroth, Teresa Younger, Shannan Reaze, Monica Simpson, Gloria Steinem, Joanne Smith, Ava DuVernay and Tarana Burke (creator of #MeToo)

“In the same way that we know that we must all be feminists and we must all be anti-racist, we must all be champions for black girls. When black girls succeed, we all succeed," Marley Dias, 13, said in her speech at the 30th annual event, presented by the Ms. Foundation for Women.

At Thursday's 30th annual Gloria Awards, presented by the Ms. Foundation for Women, the activists were taking a night off, but the process of spreading awareness didn't stop. The recipients of the awards named for Gloria Steinem used the night to uplift, energize and share love with fellow feminists. This year, all six honorees were black females.

Each has a unique purpose, all working toward the ultimate goal: gender and racial equality. Oscar-winning director Ava DuVernay and former editor in chief of Teen Vogue Elaine Welteroth were honored alongside the leaders of grantee partner organizations: Shannan Reaze of Atlanta Jobs With Justice; Joanne N. Smith, executive director of Girls for Gender Equity; and Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong. Marley Dias, who is the 13-year-old creator of #1000BlackGirlBooks, won the Free to Be You and Me award.

“When I was reviewing who we could honor this evening, what I wanted to do was take a look at women who have been in the field for a while, and some have been seen before, like Ava DuVernay, but some have not, like Monica Simpson,” Teresa Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation, told The Hollywood Reporter. “What I felt was really important tonight was to recognize the expertise that black women bring to the table.”

While accepting her Women of Vision Award, DuVernay said, “Historically, warriors for good, known as women, have defied these restrictions and made deliberate decisions to resist and create spaces that are safe and that nourish. And we must do this in whatever way we can.” 

For her, that means telling stories and making space for women to tell them, too. On her show Queen Sugar, DuVernay boasts all women directors for three seasons; a woman heading postproduction; women heading casting; a woman showrunner; a woman producer and director; a majority women of color; a woman composer; women executives at the studio and network levels; and a woman-owned network, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN.

“Why did we do this?” she asked. “Because we can.” 

Making space for women of color, trans people of color, gender nonconforming and LGBTQ young people of color is a goal many women echoed at the event. Smith focuses on community organizing and youth development, but she stresses that you don’t have to be a movement builder to make a change. 

“People need to speak up and challenge within their families and within their own communities racism and sexism, xenophobia,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “It can be one comment at a time, one strategy at a time.”

Dias stressed that “the biggest thing people can do — specifically teachers and parents — is to talk to their kids about what they're passionate about.” 

“Whether or not it's lack of access to diverse books...or the inability to have proper school lunches or lack of green spaces, kids feel they need to have parents and adults cultivating these ideas,” she said. 

Getting involved can also mean getting educated and supporting work that raises voices. Welteroth, who is making the transition to “the scripted and unscripted space on TV,” is working to “amplify the voices of young people and marginalized communities of people.” She has appeared on Freeform's Black-ish spinoff, Grown-ishand co-wrote an episode, and recently hosted the ABC and Freeform documentary For Our Lives: Parkland. 

“I’m really excited to be in the next chapter of my career where I'm translating all of those skills into telling stories on different platforms and different mediums but still serving that same community,” the Marie C. Wilson Emerging Leader award recipient told THR. Welteroth added that there’s “another Netflix project that you can look out for in a few weeks.”

For those eager to get involved but at a loss for where to turn, organizations like the Ms. Foundation, SisterSong and Atlanta Jobs With Justice are already set up, ready to activate. The team at SisterSong is “working hard to address the rising rates of maternal mortality in this country,” Simpson said. They are “appalled by the rising rates of women who are childbearing age being overly criminalized in this country” and are addressing issues like mass incarceration in the prison industrial complex and birth injustice head on. 

“It's important for folks to join SisterSong,” the activist said. “We are a membership organization for a purpose. It's about having that collective power to move the policies in the ways that we want and to create systematic change.”

By the end of the night, the Ms. Foundation raised more than $850,000 to support educating young women and start movements across all intersections. 

“In the same way that we know that we must all be feminists and we must all be anti-racist, we must all be champions for black girls," Dias said in her speech. "When black girls succeed, we all succeed.”