It was a joyous day for members of South Queens Women’s March as they were joined by elected officials and community leaders to celebrate the opening of their new office space in Richmond Hill on Saturday, April 16, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by prayers, performances and remarks.
About 75 people attended the event held at the new office, located at 130-01 Liberty Ave. New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers and Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson shared their well wishes for the organization.
Light refreshments at the ribbon-cutting were provided by Tropical Isle Roti Shop, Little Guyana Pharmacy and Cafe, Shivram’s Bakery, Singh’s Roti Shop and the Shakti Mission. The event featured an intersectional dance performance from SQWM members Anjali Seegobin, Sabrina Mohammed and Sacha Sulaiman.
For Tannuja Rozario, founding board member of SQWM, the new office space is a dream that her younger self wishes she had growing up in south Queens.
“As a gender justice organization, it is critical to have a space that can be a home away from home for community members and the younger me. Our space will be a resource hub, a safe space for survivors, a community-centered space for monthly pantries, healing activities and workshops, and a space where we cultivate grassroots organizing to build a movement,” Rozario said.
As April 16 commemorated several religious holidays including Easter, Hanuman Jayanti, Ramadan and Passover, the program began with invocation prayers reflective of south Queens’ diverse faith traditions. Debora Chaitlall, SQWM member turned part-time organizer, gave a tearful reflection about the organization’s impact on her life.
“Finding SQWM has been the best thing that happened to me. I’m a part of a community and I have my sisters to help me through any challenges I face. I hope I can be there for them in the same way,” Chaitlall said.
For too long, a space like this did not exist in the community, according to Aminta Kilawan-Narine, founder and director of SQWM.
For over two years, SQWM has been working hard to fulfill its mission to promote gender justice on its streets, to connect women, girls and gender-expansive people to the tools needed to survive and thrive, and to honor their many struggles while centering joyously on its immense resilience.
It’s been Kilawan-Narine’s longtime dream to organize a mass of women of all intersections to march on the streets for women’s rights. SQWM has allowed Kilawan-Narine to find her purpose. After learning of 27-year-old Donna Dojoy’s death by her husband in Ozone Park in 2019, Kilawan-Narine thought about the many women who could’ve used an outlet like SQWM in the community, she said.
“We shouldn’t just mobilize during tragedy; we should also cultivate inclusive and intersectional mechanisms to empower women on these streets — the streets that raised us — in the name of justice for women, girls and gender expansive people,” Kilawan-Narine said.
Though the work isn’t glamorous and is hard and grueling, Kilawan-Narine says the group genuinely enjoys doing it.
“People ask how we are able to do so much. We do more in a month than many fully staffed, well-resourced organizations do in a year. We all do this for the love of community. Not for personal gain, or for accolades and praise or for social media followers. This isn’t charity work; it is solidarity work, and you see that in the way we treat people,” Kilawan-Narine said.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization poured its hearts into meeting its community where they are. SQWM began with an idea to host a women’s march in the south Queens community, starting with five dedicated women of many intersections. The pandemic prevented the march from happening but the organization still followed through with its mission.
Today, SQWM has a growing membership of over 70 individuals who power an unshakeable movement.
Harmehar Kohli, founding board of SQWM, recalled handing out flyers about the march door to door down Lefferts Boulevard. According to Kohli, she didn’t think any of their members ever imagined the day would come when they opened their own office in the community.
“The opening of this location is a testament to the need for more resources in south Queens and a clear yearning for community amongst our female residents. This location is a long-awaited space for dynamic creation, empowerment and compassion in our neighborhood and I feel so blessed and humbled to be a part of this momentous day,” Kohli said.
Despite being founded two years ago, at the height of the pandemic, SQWM became a household name, an entity community members trusted and depended on, according to Nirmala Singh, an SQWM founding board member.
“Fast forward two years later, we now have a physical ‘home’ that will be a brave space, filled with resources to continuously bridge the inequity gap that exists and bring joy to the south Queens community,” Singh said.
Another founding board member, Candace Prince-Modeste, said the story of the growth of SQWM is a unique one, and to bear witness to the opening of the office is a truly momentous occasion.
“I’m extremely proud of all that we’ve accomplished in two short years and am optimistic about how much more we will be able to do for this community because of our new space,” Prince-Modeste said.
At the ceremony, elected officials congratulated SQWM on a remarkable milestone and the work they have done in the community over the last several years.
“I want to let you ladies know how proud I am to be your sister. How proud of you I am to have watched you grow over these years. How proud I am of you to know where your heart has always been and now look where you are,” Adams said. “Since its inception a few years ago, South Queens Women’s March has made an enormous contribution to civic and community life in southeast Queens, and in the Great 28. You have empowered and amplified the voices of diverse women across this borough, connected neighbors to important resources and advocated fiercely for gender and racial justice. Your work has been so critical, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of our own underserved conditions.”
Brooks-Powers said SQWM’s activities have strengthened the vines of the community and made them more connected.
“South Queens Women’s March has done so much to empower the women of southeast Queens, whether it’s career training, voter outreach or cultural programming,” Brooks-Powers said.
According to Anderson, it’s a historical moment for the organization to finally have a physical manifestation of the work they do that is so critical to the neighborhood.
“It’s so important to acknowledge that South Queens Women’s March is an organization that is turning pain into purpose. That is turning pain into healing. That is putting resources into a community that has been left behind and forgotten. And it’s so important to acknowledge that these folks who started this organization are not paid. These are folks who are giving their blood, sweat and tears to this community to make sure that it is well-resourced,” Anderson said.
Richards said it’s important to have community-based organizations at the forefront of conversations around gender justice and SQWM has been at the forefront of so many of these conversations.
“As gender-based violence reached a crisis level during this pandemic, for every one encounter we are seeing 20 that go unreported. I look forward to continuing to support the work of South Queens Women’s March,” Richards said.