From the Vote to the Float and Beyond
Villa Gardens Celebrates the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage
It was New Year’s Day, 2020 when I realized what it felt like to be a part of history. I looked out at a sea of white hats and long white dresses on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, marching in the wake of our spectacular Rose Bowl float, Lady Liberty, rising like beacon above us. This year, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of American Women winning the right to vote. Women from every state of the U.S. came together to celebrate. Delores Huerta, Lynnette Greybull, and descendants of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass waved from atop the float to a cheering crowd.
The Years of Hope, Years of Courage Rose Bowl float had grown from the vision of Villa Gardens resident Nan Johnson, a longtime activist and educator. The previous year, a casual conversation between Nan and another resident led to the float’s creation in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The float was the culmination of a year’s worth of incredibly hard work involving Villa Gardens residents, staff and many partner organizations. That January morning, watching it all come together, was truly an exhilarating experience.
A year ago, though, I had a very different perspective. In my “official role” as the sales and marketing assistant for Villa Gardens, I saw myself simply as supporting a project that was meaningful to our residents. As a young women of color, I was keenly aware that while the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, African Americans were still largely disenfranchised until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. So initially, I didn’t feel this anniversary was mine to celebrate.
Still, I was drawn to Nan’s passion about what the float could symbolize beyond the anniversary itself. Nan spoke about the importance of involving young people and how vital communities of color were to the conversation around women’s rights and to the telling of our collective history. I found myself looking for ways that I could contribute, bringing my knowledge of social media and digital marketing to the project.
We met weekly to discuss our goals and plans to move the project forward. Our small group grew to include partner organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women, the League of Women Voters and Women’s Intercultural Global Network. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had felt ambivalent about the anniversary or the suffragist movement that had deliberately excluded women of color for the sake of political expediency. But rather than letting this stop us in our tracks, we started talking about the stories that are often left out of our text books in school. Everyone knows about Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But what about the people of color who helped push their agenda and who played a vital role in the movement? Therefore, we decided that the float would honor the contributions of all the women and men who helped pave the way for the passage of the 19th Amendment, including Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frances E. W. Harper, Mary Church Terrell, Fannie Lou Hamer and Frederick Douglass.
One of the things that makes Villa Gardens so special is the way it supports residents’ passions. Villa quickly became the hub for hosting fundraising and outreach events. Our group continued to grow, evolving into a large diverse community and bringing together people from all over the country who wanted to make this dream a reality.
We quickly realized that our mission went well beyond getting a float into the Rose Parade. As Nan explained, “celebrating this anniversary is just the beginning.” This August, Villa Gardens is hosting a series of Zoom conversations dedicated to both looking back at this pivotal time in our history and looking forward to the work that still needs to be done.
For myself, I have realized that my voice, and all of our voices no matter our race or our age are a vital part of this conversation going forward. We all have so much to teach each other and so much to learn.
–Carmen Boykins, Front Porch sales and marketing coordinator