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Center celebrates 10 years of activism in civil rights

By Jennifer DixSpecial to the Daily Planet
Saturday October 28, 2000

Frances Beal has devoted her life to fighting racism. Long before race, class, and gender became popular topics in literary academic theory, Beal identified these concepts as the theoretical basis for oppression, in her 1969 pamphlet “The Black Women’s Manifesto.” From protesting Jim Crow laws in the 1950s to her current work with the Black Radical Congress, which she helped to found, she has been at the forefront of the struggle for social justice. 

It hasn’t been easy. A Bay Area resident since 1981, Beal remembers weeping as she watched the 1988 film A World Apart, which showed a daughter’s pain at the disruptions to her life caused by her activist parents.  

“My mother was active in leftist politics, and I sometimes felt some resentment because we were ‘different.’ And there were times my children complained because I wasn’t there for them,” Beal recalls. “That’s the human side to this, the sacrifice you make.” 

This Sunday, Beal and other Bay Area trailblazers will be honored at the second annual Sisters of Fire Awards Ceremony, honoring “women who light the way.” The awards are sponsored by Berkeley’s Women of Color Resource Center, which celebrates its 10th anniversary at the same event. 

The honorees are an impressive group, a reminder that the Bay Area truly is a center of liberal activism. Besides Beal, the women include former Ms. magazine editor Helen Zia, an award-winning journalist who has led the way in giving a voice to Asian-American women’s experiences; Avotcja Jiltonilro, a popular Latina poet and musician; and Yuri Kochiyama, a lifelong human rights activist who was imprisoned with other Japanese Americans in an American internment camp during World War II. The ceremony also recognizes the local youth organization Third Eye Movement and Native American activist Nilak Butler. Entertainment at the Sisters of Fire ceremony includes poetry, dance, and music, including a performance by the Korean women’s drum group Jamae Sori. 

The Women of Color Resource Center has a lot to celebrate. For ten years it has provided information and developed reports and curricula meant to empower minorities and connect women of different ethnic backgrounds. It boasts an board of directors that includes luminaries such as Angela Davis. Director and co-founder Linda Burnham was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, as was Frances Beal and many other leaders. 

The Center has this year brought out two publications that are finding a wide and avid audience. Working Hard, Staying Poor is a report on the effects of welfare reform intended to balance the generally sunny reports seen in the mainstream media. “We find that in fact it has largely hurt women, especially women of color and increased their economic insecurity,” says center staff member Jung Hee Choi. 

Another publication, Women’s Education in the Global Economy, is a curriculum guide to study the impact of globalization on women around the world. It has received “a tremendous response,” says Choi. Besides the community, religious, and labor organizations one might expect to be interested in the program, the center has received orders from hundreds of university professors of women’s studies and ethnic studies across the country. The demonstrations at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle and subsequent protests have probably helped spur interest in the topic, says Choi. 

The Center’s 10th Anniversary and Sisters of Fire Awards ceremony will be held Sunday at 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. Tickets range from $15 to $50. For more information, call 848-9272.