This year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the right for women to vote, along with Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday. These two historic events should be reason to celebrate the momentous efforts, led by Anthony, for equal rights for women and social justice for all. Her work was enacted in partnership with, and carried forward by, many whose names we may never know, silent heroes we may honor for a moment. However, 2020 also marks a time to pause and be concerned.
Despite the non-existence of the internet, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or other social media platforms, Anthony managed to make her equality agenda known internationally. Her indefatigable spirit forged a path for her to move forward with a singular focus—to secure for women the right to vote. While she was not able to see her work come to fruition in her own lifetime, she did cast her own ballot—and suffered criminal law consequences for doing so before being legally allowed. She took a stand.
What are the qualities of a good leader? Surely, Anthony had focus. She stayed the course in the face of disagreement. She built a team around her of dedicated individuals who shared her passion and contributed to the cause with time, talent, or money. The suffragist mentored young people to rise to the challenges she set, who would carry the mantle when she no longer could. She also recognized the value in friendships, which she nurtured along her journey as evidenced by her personal letters and journals left behind. These are all attributes that the leaders of today can use as a model in their own activism.
So, who are our leaders today, forging a path for issues they are passionate about? Who are the people around us, young and old, carrying a torch for the most pressing social issues of the day: homelessness, the environment, access to physical and mental health services, criminal justice reform, violence prevention, LGBTQ rights? And ask, how do some media outlets treat them? Are they mocked for their style of dress, manners of speaking, or overall appearances? Anthony traveled on a difficult road; she, too, was mocked about her stoic facial features and manner of dress. Yet she persevered.
At the Susan B. Anthony Center at the University of Rochester, we work to help stand behind leaders, young and old, who are seeking to create change. We support change makers throughout their undergraduate and graduate careers, as well as their professional efforts by providing small scholarships and by hosting and participating in community forums to exchange ideas.
We also try to offer refuge and assistance when people feel they are traveling a lonely road as they undergo gender transition, seek to enhance their skills, find a new job, or tackle a difficult policy that must be changed. We can never provide enough services given the vast number of problems in the world today—in our own community, the nation, or abroad. However, we can continue to make an effort every day. And so can you.
So, do you have what it takes to be a leader and make a change in the world around you? As you drive by a homeless person on the side of the road, what are you called to do? As you hear on the news that a family has been involved in a senseless homicide, do you listen and act, or switch channels? Do you have the desire to act yourself, or do you have the resources to help another person or community organizations achieve their goals by offering time, talent, or treasure? You need not act alone. We are stronger together—because divided, we will become tired, stumble, and likely fall.
Please join us in our celebrations this coming year, great or small in scope, to remember our history of how we achieved the right for voting equality, while being mindful of the work yet to do and the justice yet to be won.
At the University of Rochester, we have formed a coalition entitled “Celebration 2020” as we pay honor to our university’s history as well as future efforts to reach equality and health for all. We believe we are stronger together, and ever better—Meliora.
Check out the University of Rochester’s institution-wide 2020 celebration calendar and be sure to post your community events. We want to hear all voices at the table, and collaborate with others as we move forward, remembering who we are, where we are, and where we want and need to go.
Catherine Cerulli is the director of Susan B. Anthony Center and the Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimization at the University of Rochester.