On October 28, 2014, The Community Fund for Women & Girls presented Nilda Aponte, All Our Kin’s Bridgeport Network Director, with the first annual Susan M. Lewin Women’s Leadership Award. The awards ceremony was part of an event called “Feminism’s Frankensteins” held at the New Haven Lawn Club.
The Susan M. Lewin Women’s Leadership Award was developed by the Fund for Women and Girls to honor women in the nonprofit sector who “demonstrate strong servant leadership qualities and a commitment to advancing women and girls.” Susan M. Lewin, for whom the award was named, was the chair for the Fund for Women & Girls until her unexpected death in November 2013. Her vision, insight, and philanthropy were an inspiration to all members of the Greater New Haven community, and we are thrilled that Nilda was honored as the first recipient of this award.
Nilda has been a member of the All Our Kin team since 2003 as the Toolkit Licensing Coordinator in New Haven. When, in 2013, All Our Kin began its expansion to Bridgeport, she welcomed the challenge with grace and determination. Nilda has put her heart and soul into bringing All Our Kin’s workshops and trainings to providers in Bridgeport and Fairfield County. She has built a phenomenal team of staff and a strong network of over one hundred family child care providers committed to growing as educators and professionals. “Many providers are challenged by circumstances in their lives,” she told me. Most are women of color who don’t receive the recognition or wages they deserve for their work. “I try to support them with patience and love, and to empower them to see themselves as business owners and educators.” In addition, for the past few years, Nilda has served as the chairwoman of Teach Our Children, a parent-led organization that advocates for high quality education for all children in New Haven’s public and charter schools and empowers children to speak up about issues affecting them.
The “Feminism’s Frankensteins” event also featured feminist activist and blogger Courtney Martin, who spoke about the future of gender justice. Martin, who is the author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women, emphasized the role of the internet in today’s feminism. She highlighted a few key groups of young women who are taking innovative approaches to their activism: groups like the Crunk Feminist Collective and individuals like Tavi Gevinson (the 18-year-old editor-in-chief of Rookie Mag) and Julia Bluhm (who as an eighth-grader launched a successful crusade against Seventeen magazine demanding that the publication stop using Photoshop to digitally alter models). Martin noted that although today’s feminist leaders are very different from those of past generations, this shift does not represent a weakening of the movement; on the contrary, she said, it is absolutely necessary. “Your unique style is your power,” she told those in attendance. Martin concluded her talk by giving audience members a homework assignment: seek out a connection with a woman of a different generation, whether online or off, older or younger.
Nilda is a fantastic example of a woman whose work is, at its core, intergenerational. At both All Our Kin and Teach Our Children, she attempts to empower children and adults simultaneously, and she never loses sight of her vision for the future. “This work is my seed that I can plant in the world,” she said. “I know that seed will grow, and it will be fruitful. We already see progress. But we also still have so much work to do. We can always do more.”