A Legacy of Change: Kent State Women’s Center celebrates 25th anniversary with at the table discussion series

“We are inspired to reclaim the table where we not only feed the body but nourish the soul. The table is a place where communities gather, conversations transpire, and change happens.” At the Kent State Women’s Center’s first virtual “At The Table” discussion panel series, director Cassandra Pegg-Kirby sits in an office surrounded by books filled with wisdom and photos of family and friends: A collage of connections that pinpoints the center’s cause for celebration and commitment to the next 25 years of work at Kent State. The inspiration for the series title, Pegg-Kirby says, is the Shirley Chisolm quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” 

In the first of three discussions in the series, a panel of four powerful women ranging in age and interests focused on activism and the women at the heart of the movement. Each installment of the discussion series, spanning from April 21st to June 9th, will focus on different aspects of the Women’s Center’s historical figures and events, activism and the challenges of taking action, and the legacy we all leave for the generations coming behind us. The first, titled “Advocacy and Activism: Women at the Heart of the Movement,” set the stage for continued discussions on just how vital connections with others in a movement are. Pegg-Kirby says, “No matter where you look, or what issue, women are often at the center of raising awareness and change.” 

The list of panelists included Dr. Roseann “Chic” Canfora, Nikki Marchmon-Boykin, Lyric Aquino, Tayjua Hines. The event’s moderator was Patricia Smoot Wicks, a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Wicks has over 25 years of experience fostering communication and success for individuals, families and organizations, which led her to found her company Patricia Smoot Wicks Consulting LLC. Wicks is also the interim CEO of OpenM in Akron, Ohio. 

In her opening statements, Wicks emphasized the concepts of activism and advocacy as two distinct entities. As defined by the Miriam Webster Dictionary, advocacy and activism differ in that advocacy is “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” In contrast, activism is “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” The conversation series will be a celebration of these definitions and the women who execute them.  

“Chic” Canfora, witness and survivor of the May 4th shootings at Kent State, is the current chief communications officer for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and adjunct professor at Kent State University. Canfora is an advocate for educating others on the connections between historical movements and the emerging movements of today. Canfora says she began her days in activism to expand her horizons and be a part of something bigger than herself, but the women were always a real inspiration to her. 

Nikki Marchmon-Boykin’s expertise as social studies educator in the Kent City School District and adjunct professor at Kent State University leads her to educate her students on the intersections of technology, current events, and political and socio-cultural empowerment themes. 

As a graduate of Akron Public Schools who was bussed from her predominantly Black community to a predominantly White community for access to educational opportunity, she remembers her mother being her advocate, ensuring she and other students in similar situations got the education they were entitled to receive. Today, she uses her classrooms to advocate for her students and provide an education that reflects them. She says, “I want to make sure that in my spaces, students have access to history that reflects them, particularly Black students, because we know White students have a history that reflects their experiences and their culture.” 

While a student at Kent State, Marchmon-Boykin was a member of Black United Students. She says that although she believes she was born with the spirit for activism, one catalyst for continued effort may have been having such strong examples who came before her. “I’ve never had a problem with using my voice because I’ve always had women around me, Black women in particular, who allowed me to use my voice and didn’t stifle me and didn’t say, “oh, well you know, you didn’t say that right” or “you didn’t do that right” just do what you gotta do. And I’m very grateful for that.” 

Lyric Aquino is a recent graduate of Kent State University working in journalism and anthropology to advocate for her indigenous culture. She currently serves the Lorrain Ohio community working for the Morning Journal as a multimedia reporter and plans to attend NYU’s school of journalism as a master’s candidate. Aquino’s activism began from a young age as she realized the injustices occurring in the erasure of her culture and the lack of representation for Black and Indigenous people in media. She says the strong and outspoken women in her family line inspire her to be the voice for others who feel their own cannot yet be heard. Her greatest motivator is the reclamation of spaces stripped from her ancestors that she can now celebrate and continue fighting for. 

Tayjua Hines, a Junior majoring in pan-African studies, serves as the sitting president of Black United Students at Kent State University. She is also the social media director of Voices Of Color, mentor and navigator for Kupita/Transiciones, and is a First-Year Experience student success leader. Hines says the most significant factor in pursuing activism roles was her ability to speak up and push others to do the same from a young age. Once she was involved in organizations at Kent State, the platforms she became engaged in gave her the ability to say something and do something. She says, “I will never be the first. There are always people before you; there are always examples ahead of you. And that’s what really drives me and motivates me.” 

Hines also spoke about her challenges as a young Black activist and her apparent intersectionality as a woman. At times, she is only perceived from a stereotypical standpoint of being “the angry Black woman,” a common trope used to discredit women of color who speak up about the causes they care about. She says because she always has something to say about everything, “I feel like that’s the biggest obstacle at times because it’s like I’m speaking, but certain people in the room don’t hear me. I’m really working for my community, and sometimes I’ll be sitting in a room with people who look just like me who think the same exact way, and it’s heartbreaking, but It’s like, I’m still going to say what I have to say and either it’s going to be a change made, or we’re going to push to make that change.” 

Mother Theresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” This quote has also inspired the At The Table conversation series celebrating the Women’s Center’s achievements and inspires the activists and advocates in this community moving through space now and in the future. 

Marchmon-Boykin spoke to this same attitude of synergy and appreciation for the past and future, working together by voicing not only your concerns but your achievements and celebrating one another’s successes. “It’s important to say that publicly, and it’s also important for women to say that to each other. “I’m proud of you,” “you’re doing that great work,” and also “are you okay,” “are you taking care of yourself,” “do you need anything?” says Marchmon-Boykin. “I think that’s so important because speaking for Black women, we get into it, and we just go. We know our work is important, but it’s so important to take care of ourselves.”

Moving forward, the panelists discussed how they could individually and collectively progress in their respective passions and causes to create their legacy of change. 

Tayjua Hines says the most important thing for her moving the cause forward, second to speaking out, is showing up. “There’s a lot of power in numbers even if you don’t open your mouth and say anything. Bodies bring a lot of attention, and it shows a lot of solidarity. So, people have different ways of showing activism, but the biggest tuning you can do is just be present.”

Chic Canfora agreed with the idea that numbers matter in activism. “When I was 18, I remember thinking, “what if we had the right to vote?” says Canfora. “Because, you know, our friends were going off to fight in Vietnam, and they didn’t even have the right to vote for the people sending them there. But I think among this generation is a growing number of people who are finding their voice, and I hope they are imagining that they can use their right to vote, which we didn’t have, to reshape their future.” 

Aquino says the best way she has found to move her causes forward is to consume and share media. “I think just simply taking the time to read and let that information saturate and then sharing it with your peers, and your colleagues, and your friends and your family, I think that’s really beneficial. And it can not only open the door up for conversations but can also really lead to some great movement with the petitions that are often attached and things of that nature.”

Patricia Wicks closed by saying, “When we’re at the table, the conversation changes. When we’re at the table, real questions happen. At the table, certain conversations get shut down before they even get started, but the table is important.”

To show up at this particular table, join the conversation by registering for the remaining events titled “Silence and Violence: Speaking Out and Taking a Stand” and “Reclaiming the Body: Countering a Culture of Power and Control” here.

Brianna Camp covers diversity. Contact them at [email protected].