Activists, colleagues, friends and family gathered in New York City to celebrate those whose courage, leadership and action are moving us forward towards equality and social justice.
Left to Right: Suzanne Lerner (President of Michael Stars), Gloria Steinem (Activist), Teresa Younger (Ms. Foundation CEO & President)
The Ms. Foundation is a forceful voice and champion for women’s progressive causes and works towards advancing solutions that empower females, especially those in marginalized communities. The Gloria Awards are presented to the individuals and organizations whose efforts further women’s rights in the United States. Suzanne was recognized for the work she is doing in supporting numerous causes that focus on women’s empowerment, economic stability, gender reconciliation and gender-based violence.
The award was presented by her close friend, and special guest Maria Bello, who recently released her bestselling book Whatever Love is Love.
Suzanne delivered a speech that was both moving and compelling.
Below is a video and transcript.
“It’s really amazing for me to be standing in front of you. This room is full of people that are such incredible advocates for women. It just does my heart good to see so many people. Thank you Gloria, Teresa, The Ms. Foundation and Board for this honor and I really want to give a special congratulations to the other nominees. This is the reason I fund this type of work. You can hear the importance in the voices of these women tonight.
I’ll begin by telling you a little bit about myself. The Ms. Foundation and what it stands for really has been part of my DNA since growing up a teenager in a small suburb in Chicago. I remember the day that I walked out of my house to my mother’s absolute horror without my pantie girdle (some of you might know what that is) bra-less, wearing a t-shirt I had tie-dyed. It was a tank top I wore as I was on my way to an anti-war demonstration. (Which might show you my age!) In college, I got a different kind of education. I skipped classes to work on a free newspaper, spent hours and hours at political meetings in Madison, Wisconsin, participated in women’s groups and got arrested in Washington, D.C., all the while reading Gloria Steinem and Ms. Magazine!
I became a college dropout, not finding the careers being offered to me fulfilling, so I began working as a secretary in Chicago. I experienced the lack of equality and opportunity for women in the workplace, and I had worked in many different companies in Chicago. At 21, I left on my own and went to travel around the world. I met many women in many different countries that were in poverty without their rights. I quickly realized that could have been me. It was just a matter of where someone is born, and I think everyone in this room recognizes that fact. We’re very lucky to be born here. I was just in Haiti last week and I continually meet women and families in the same circumstances that I saw in the mid-seventies.
In 1986 my husband and I co-founded Michael Stars which Maria graciously told you about. We’re on Gansevoort Street if anyone wants to come visit! Currently, I am the President and we have over 200 employees, 80% of which are women. I personally collaborate, mentor, and partner with many of them. They are incredibly smart, savvy, committed and passionate. Some of you are here tonight. Thank you so much!
I am here because of my commitment to women’s issues, both through my company and my personal activism and philanthropy. I focus my funding primarily in Haiti, but the Ms. Foundation has given me the opportunity to support women-led organizations here in the US. Early on, I took a position to fund those small organizations that people don’t hear about, and don’t get the funding that is typically given to large NGO’s. The Ms. Foundation does just that with their small grantees that all have a big impact. Please give more because you are impacting 140 organizations in the country.
To end the evening I just want to tell you a little bit about my husband. He passed away in late March of prostate cancer after a 7 year battle. He was really an incredibly complicated amazing human being. Some of you know him and you know how right I am when I say that! I really loved and respected his zest for life, his humanity, honesty, business savvy, and compassion. He had an amazing laugh and smile and just really loved life. He was a man’s man, truly, but he was equally a woman’s man. A true feminist who was so excited to see that I received this honor. Thank you so much and have a great night!”
To learn more about Suzanne Lerner, visit her site here.