Thursday, December 25, 2014

Hope is knowing that others coming of age will continue to demand justice and equality. I found it on Dec. 16 at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s special tribute to women.

Alvin Ailey Dance Revelations
Credit: Okino on Wikimedia under Creative Commons


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NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–This holiday season, when darkness comes early in the northern hemisphere, I found myself really struggling to feel hopeful.

This was true even though here at Women’s eNews we were going through the most joyous part of our year: selecting and interviewing the Women’s eNews 21 Leaders of the 21st Century 2015 (to be announced Jan. 1). The last month of the year also brings many expressions of support and affection and I was so happy to welcome back Juhie Bhatia and Hajer Naili, our duet of investigative reporters who spent November in Spain and France gathering information about the status of reproductive health and abortion there; a story that makes me so proud of what we do.

Nevertheless, when I looked out beyond our work, despair and extraordinary brutality seemed to be the order of the day.

I won’t detail all the recent news illustrating this point, but two things spring to mind. One is the impunity of college athletes, professional athletes and other high-status men from rape and other charges of violence against women. The other is the re-election this year of U.S. public officials who seem determined to compromise women’s reproductive health with one new law after another, even denying access to contraception and abortion to rape victims.

Hope landed though, as I watched a performance at New York City Center of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater‘s special tribute to women on Dec. 16. My ticket was a holiday gift from my older daughter and her daughter was invited to join us.

The three of us quickly became enthralled. This was my 13-year-old granddaughter’s first Ailey experience and observing the flickers of delight pass over her face opened a well of gratitude for the gift from my daughter of the tickets and for inviting her daughter.

‘Cry’ for All Black Mothers

“Cry,” choreographed by Ailey as a birthday present for his mother was danced in honor of all black mothers that night. Dancer Linda Celeste Sims did it justice with grace and powerfully expressive movements.

Yet, I was waiting with a bit of impatience for the final dances in the company’s signature piece “Revelations,” one that reflects the heritage of their choreographer, the late Alvin Ailey, an African American with deep roots in the segregated South. Danced to traditional American blues, gospel and jazz music “Revelations” is a collage of brilliant dancing, soulful and joyful.

“I Want to Be Ready,” danced by Matthew Rushing on a bare stage pinned me to my seat. The words of the song are “I want to be ready when I die,” downbeat on “die.” Rushing’s movements conjured up images of black male slaves being beaten as well as the vivid scenes of the recent spate of shooting and beatings of unarmed black men by members of law enforcement just as “Cry” epitomized the sorrow of the survivor, past and current.

I peeked at my granddaughter. She too was moved, leaning forward in her seat.

As the musicians again sang the chorus, “I want to be ready when I die,” Rushing flopped on his back and lay still, as if indeed he was ready for the coffin. The sense of black men’s terror–then and now–swept the audience

And then he stood to take his bows. And that was the truth of the moment. I was there in a theater with a meticulously maintained neo-Moorish decor from 1929, sitting next to my family, watching a black man dance in one of the most elite dance troupes on the globe; a dance that reflects slavery’s violence and today’s terror. Sims and Rushing protested both and energized the audience of more than 2,000 with that message.

Roused to a different frame of mind, I offered quiet thanks to President Obama for the Affordable Care Act, which is expected to improve low-income women’s health, and for California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who at 81, persisted in making public the torture of prisoners by the CIA and public exposure could possibly serve to prevent a recurrence.

I looked once again at my family and smiled. The movements of today will also bear the fruit of justice and give rise to similar creativity. Hope is knowing that others coming of age will continue the demand for justice and equality.

Rita Henley Jensen is founder and editor in chief of Women’s eNews.