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Gala Honors Black Women Trailblazers

By Tanya F. Devani and Nikitha B. Reddy, Contributing Writers

The Harvard Black Men’s Forum celebrated black women making waves nationally and at Harvard during the 22nd annual Celebration of Black Women Friday.

Baltimore City’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby was named ‘Woman of the Year,’ while star of ABC’s award-winning comedy series “Black-ish” Yara Shahidi received the ‘Trailblazer Award’ for her outstanding contributions to the entertainment industry.

Six female Harvard undergraduates and one high school senior from the greater Boston area were also recognized for their leadership, mentorship, and service.

“Our annual gala strives to recognize, honor, and thank all black women for their contributions,” BMF vice president and Celebration of Black Women board chair Cyrus M. Motanya ’17 said.

According to Motanya, the event's board wanted to recognize an individual who was “breaking barriers” in the political realm when selecting the Woman of the Year. As the youngest chief prosecutor of a major American city, Mosby was “pretty much a perfect choice,” Motanya said, emphasizing Mosby’s commitment to justice and equality.

In her keynote address, Mosby stressed the importance of challenging ingrained stereotypes and providing support to other women.

“Despite dealing with the daily stresses of our jobs, our families, our fate[s], we as warrior women have to overcome so many more obstacles and stereotypes, and all too often self-imposed barriers in the exhibition of leadership, which is why supporting one another is so essential to each of our own individual success,” she said.

Undergraduate award recipient Cary A. Williams ’16 echoed Mosby’s call for support.

“Surround yourselves with the people who make you the best version of who you are: blockmates, other close friends, the people who believe in you and remind you of your purpose,” Williams said.

Among the Harvard students recognized for their contributions to the arts on campus were Angelica Chima ’19, who created the Nigerian dance troupe Omo Naija, and Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence ’16, who wrote and directed the original play, "I, Too, Am Harvard." Matsuda-Lawrence also co-founded the magazine "Renegade" in 2015.

Following the event, some attendees reflected on the role men can play in the broader empowerment and celebration of women.

“I think there’s an obligation for men to support women, and support them in any way they can,” said Tola O. Omilana ’16.

In a spoken word piece delivered during the program, Ryan F. Boyland ’17 summarized Celebration of Black Women’s goal of honoring black women while seeking to understand the challenges they face.

“People on this campus, in this country, on this earth don’t have to face the daily struggles that the black woman does,” he said. “I’m still learning how to best support black women, but I’m trying to get better at it everyday.”

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