Angela Bowen

For six decades, Acey Honoree Angela Bowen has pursued her passions – dance, activism, writing and teaching- influencing and inspiring untold numbers. She trained and taught at the legendary Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Roxbury from 14 to 22. Her talent and skills enabled her to dance professionally and establish the Bowen Peters School of Dance in inner city New Haven, Connecticut, which she ran with her husband for nearly two decades. Bowen learned what it meant to be a strong woman from her dance mentor and her mother. In the 1970s, she discovered Feminism, especially the work of poet warrior, Audre Lorde, convincing her to follow a new life path. Bowen became an out Black Lesbian feminist both nationally and internationally and was one of the first recipients of a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies at Clark University. Dr. Bowen is an Audre Lorde Scholar and has written and spoken about the connections between and across social justice movements. She retired from teaching in the department of Women’s Studies at California State University where she taught for 13 years. Dr. Bowen’s Dissertation: “Who Said it was Simple:  Audre Lorde’s Complex Connections to Three U.S. Liberation Movements, 1952-1992” is the first dissertation about Audre Lorde. The final chapter  “All These Liberations” is included in Lambda Award-winning The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love, and Legacy of Audre Lorde, a bio/anthology by Gloria I. Joseph.

The following interview on Angela Bowen’s life and legacy was fulfilled by her partner, the feminist filmmaker, Jennifer Abod. To learn more about Abod and her documentary, The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen, please visit Women Make Movies, Abod’s Facebook page or the documentary’s Facebook page.

Q&A with Jennifer Abod

How did you and Angela meet?

I first saw Angela in July 1979 in New Haven, Connecticut. She was a speaker at rally after a citywide candle-lit Take Back the Night march protesting violence against women.  

What inspired you, Jennifer, to make the film?

Audre Lorde always said, “Who would believe our stories unless we tell them.”

In the canon of documentary films, stories exploring the complexities of Black women’s lives are rarely told: Black feminists are seldom heard nor seen, and Black lesbians are practically invisible. This film is important to anyone who wants to know more about the history of dance and the emergence of the Black LGBTQ movement. Her story inspires anyone interested in trying to be their authentic self, and challenges us to recognize and appreciate how race, class, gender, age, and sexuality can inform decisions and strategies for survival.

How has Angela’s work changed over the years?

From inner cities streets of Boston, to star dancer, to founder of Connecticut’s beloved Bowen-Peters School of Dance, to Black lesbian feminist activist, to distinguished writer and professor, Angela Bowen has had many identities. In each one, she has encouraged and influenced all those around her to reach their fullest potential and embrace their true selves.

Angela was born in Boston in 1936. She was the sixth of seven children. She was an excellent student and athlete. She loved reading and was a champion track runner and speller. In 1950, when she was 14 years old, she began a love affair with dance that lasted until her early forties. Her mother brought her to dancing school because of the “D” she received in physical education, because of bad posture.

Her dance mentor, Elma Lewis, an alumna of Emerson College, and one of the first recipients of the MacArthur Fellows Grant (1981) opened her school in Roxbury, the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, in 1950. Angela and her sisters were among her first students. Lewis recognized Angela’s natural talents and teaching abilities. She became Lewis’s right hand assistant and the school’s first Prima Ballerina. When she wanted to pursue dance professionally, Lewis didn’t want her to leave and Mrs. Bowen told her that dance was not a career just something to enjoy. Angela enrolled in Emerson College and majored in speech and fine arts. When her mother died, in her early twenties, she left college and moved to New York, where the “No Blacks on Broadway” rule reigned, forcing her to dance in Europe. She danced for 10 months with the historic all “Sepia,” Jazz Train in Italy and Germany.

Dance life on the road wasn’t for her. She chartered a new course and returned to Boston to marry the young man who had been pursuing her. Ken Peters, a drummer, helped establish her dance school, The Bowen Peters Cultural Arts Center, which ran for 19 years. (1963-1982).

With $300 dollars they purposely established their school in a storefront among the abandoned boarded up houses and empty lots in inner city New Haven. Bowen-Peters was a non-profit community arts organization that provided major cultural resources to the minority community. Angela was the school’s director and inspiration. She directed dance recitals and performances, managed teachers, created choreography, and brought choreographers and musicians to the school. She wrote programs and grants, and advocated for minority artists and arts programs in the city and the state.

Late one night, in her room, after her children and husband were asleep, she discovered the work of Audre Lorde; stirring a desire for another life:

I first met the poet and radical Black feminist Audre Lorde in the 1970s at 2 a.m. My family tucked in, I was reading the lesbian magazine Azalea and found myself laughing and thrilled by her writing. Not long after, I met her in the flesh at a feminist bookstore where she was reading her poetry, one-breasted and comfortable without a prosthesis.

Lorde gave Angela her card. That was the beginning of a special relationship between the two Black lesbian feminist activists, writers, and mothers.

Angela and the children joined me in Cambridge and together we moved in as a family. In the early 1980s and 90s, when there were few Black feminists, let alone lesbians speaking out, Angela appeared on local and national radio and television including Black Entertainment Television and WBZ, TV Boston. She spoke and wrote about revolutionary feminism, the relationship between sexism, racism, and homophobia, black lesbian and gay life, and lesbian parenting. She spoke at over 60 colleges, universities, high schools, and conferences, clubs and organizations, including The Girl Scouts of America. Angela wrote in her journal: “I am in the second phase of my life, writing and speaking; knowing that we exist and that all parts of us need to be honored. That is my passion right now.”

Dr. Bowen earned one of the first Women’s Studies Ph.D.’s in the country. She was the first Black woman and out lesbian hired in the 30-year history of the Women’s Studies Department at Cal State Long Beach. She taught in Women’s Studies and briefly in the English Department at Cal State Long Beach, and left after her battle for a course on the writings of Toni Morrison, which she did win. Angela and another colleague created the course U.S. Women of Color, which became a staple in the Women’s Studies Department. During her tenure as President of the Commission on the Status of Women she advocated for equal pay for women. She was the keynote speaker at the first LGBTQ graduation ceremony at CSULB.

What does it mean to see Angela honored by Astraea’s Acey Social Justice Feminist Award?

Angela appreciated the awards and commendations that she received over the decades of her life, but she never cared about being a star. But now, at 81 and living with Alzheimer’s, I am hoping the Acey Award will bring attention to Bowen’s life and work. Angela Bowen was a trailblazer and change agent. She claimed all parts of her selves – A Black lesbian feminist artist, activist, organizer, mother, mentor, writer, professor, and intellectual. Her influence lives in her dance and academic students and in anyone who has heard her speak or read her words. She encourages us to “follow our dreams, but not for ourselves alone,” urges us to “move the line forward,” and reminds us that we “don’t have to do it all at once,” nor “do just one thing.”

 

Eleanor Palacios

Eleanor Palacios, now retired, lives in San Francisco where she continues her activism by volunteering for The Chicana Latina Foundation, OpenHouse, and Puente de la Costa Sur. The Chicana Latina Foundation is an organization whose mission is to empower Chicanas/Latinas through personal, educational, and professional advancement. OpenHouse provides housing, services, and community programs for LGBT seniors. Puente is a resource center on the South Coast that provides services for the farmworkers and their families. In 2003, Eleanor joined the Board of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, transferring over as an employee, to Events Manager, three years later. She continued her position at NCLR until 2013. In 2002 when the San Francisco LGBT Center opened its doors, Eleanor quickly volunteered once a week at the reception desk. It was at this time that she saw a need for more LGBT Latinos to get involved in this new Community Center. She along with 3 friends founded the Latino Forum, a space for LGBT Latinos to meet and gather, plan social events, and be a part of this new Center. The Latino Forum continued for 3 years, with special celebrations promoting Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos. Also in February of 2002 under the name of Lady Iguana Productions, Eleanor produced and created, Riquisimo, an all-Latina lesbian review of comedy, music, spoken word, art, and dance performance. She also served on the board of Astraea between 2009 – 2011. From 1992 until now, Eleanor has also worked part time for Olivia Travel.

Q&A with Eleanor Palacios

Your activism has spanned the decades. Can you tell us about your work with the San Francisco LGBT center, and what it meant to create a space for Latinas and Latinos specifically?

My first involvement with the Center began when it first broke ground. I was one of the Founders, one qualified by donating a certain amount. The Community was quite excited about having a new Center. Since I lived a couple of blocks away I knew that I would volunteer and I did. One evening a week I was at the front desk, answering questions or referring people to the various programs available. After about 6 months it became apparent that not too many Latinos were coming into the Center. It took a few of us to start doing some outreach, we put the word out and soon we had people showing up to our monthly Latino Forum. The Center provided the space and encouraged our participation. At the height of the Forum we had close to 100 people showing up. It was wonderful to have a space where we could discuss our issues.

You have been described as a “madrina”, a godmother to young Latina women who were coming out. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means for you and why mentorship is such a critical part of your work? Did you have mentors as a young lesbian activist?

I did not have mentors when I was younger so I think that is one reason why I think it is so important to provide mentorship as I look back and wish I had. Today I have a lot of young friends, some 10, 15 and 20 years difference. I love the fact that we can have these intergenerational relationships. I learn a lot from these young women and I know they learn from me.

What are some of the specific challenges you see facing Latina lesbians and queer women today?

I think the biggest challenge today is surviving our current political state. It is hard enough being a woman in today’s world, you then add the factor of being a woman of color and lesbian, it just means you have to work that much harder, be more tenacious and be ready to resist.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Astraea Acey Social Justice Feminist Award honoree?

I felt honored and thrilled that I was considered and especially that it is in Katherine’s name.

Brenda Joyce Crawford

Brenda Joyce Crawford has been in the thick of social justice work for over five decades. She’s an unapologetic butch woman who comes from a blue collar working class background in the U.S. South. A great deal of her career has been spent promoting values-based leadership in order to create safe and welcoming environments where the richness of the information that resides within all communities can emerge and be appreciated and included in the planning or change processes. She has worked with such groups as Mental Health Consumer Concerns and Progressive Research & Planning for Action, and has won numerous awards for her community work and her work supporting those with experiences of alcohol and substance abuse, including the California Legislature Assembly Certificate of Recognition for Front Line Work, and Certificates of Recognition and Appreciation from Congresswoman Barbara Lee and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

Crawford now lives in Vallejo, California and does work focusing on cannabis justice via the organization Senior-Cann, a cannabis education and healthy living membership for seniors that seeks to break the stigma associated with medical cannabis and aging.

Q&A with Brenda Joyce Crawford

You’ve been on the frontlines of social justice movements for decades. What first inspired you to get into social justice work? What keeps you doing the work?

I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and my folks were sharecroppers. My earliest recollection of racism was when I was seven years old. I remember hearing this White man speak to my Grandfather like he was a child and my grandfather being extremely deference to this man. I did not understand what was happening, but I will never forget the shame and anger in my poppa’s eyes as he walked away. I think in my childlike understanding of what was happening, I thought, “When I grow up I am going to protect people from ‘mean people’.” This childhood memory has led to my spending many years fighting against Racism, Sexism, homophobia and classism. All of these isms are illness of the spirits that separates us all from our humanity and health. So it has always been important to me promote and work to achieve social justice as ways of achieving health and wholeness in our lives and spirits. What keeps me going is the support of my community and my unwavering commitment to Justice and trying to eliminate barriers that separate us.

How have movements changed since you first started organizing?

The movement is more diverse today and people are more open about their sexual orientation. When I first came out in 1963, many people were closeted and lived in fear of being outed and maybe being the victim of violence. Sadly, today we seem to be going backward under the current administration. However, I still believe we need to continue to have conversations on race and class in the LGBT communities. Without these conversations, we will remain racially polarized where eighteen Black Trans women can be murdered in this country, practically going unnoticed by many mainstream LGBT communities and organizations. In the early days, grassroots organizing was the way in which LGBT communities built communities and developed strategies to achieve civil rights. There seems to be a move toward seeking support from corporations to provide resources to support our struggles, which does not always serve us and leaves out the most marginalized and disenfranchised members of our community.

In Los Angeles in 2003, you organized to bring Black lesbian elders to the National Black Lesbian Conference. Why did it feel so critically important to have elders in that space?

Because before the formation of the National Organization on Black Lesbian Aging (NOBLA), our voices were not heard, honored or even sought to contribute to LGBT aging conversations. I along with my sisters were aging and services were being developed without our input. Very little research was being conducted to discover the health risks and develop healthy aging strategies for Black Lesbians. Many of us when we age become frightened because of the extreme social isolation and homophobia in many Black Aging and Older Adult service organizations. I wanted to bring older Black Lesbians together, first to show women from all around the country that we are not alone, and next to get information on what our needs were as we age so that culturally appropriate services could be developed. I also wanted to expose many younger Black Lesbians to Black Lesbian Elders as a way of creating intergenerational conversations and relationships. It was important that younger women see and experience that we are all stronger together. I wanted to highlight and illustrate how ageism in the Black Lesbian communities hurts us all young and old.

That gathering was one of the highlights of my life.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Astraea Acey Social Justice Feminist Award?

I am grateful, honored and humbled. I continue to do the work at 73 because unfortunately, there is still work to be done. My hope is that by continuing to work for full inclusion and equality now that I am older and my work includes the wisdom that aging brings, can be more effective and have a greater impact on my community. Thank you all for this recognition. I really appreciate being selected.

Meet our grantee partner, Immigrant Youth Coalition

An interview with Immigrant Youth Coalition’s Communications Coordinator Yessica Gonzalez.

The Immigrant Youth Coalition (IYC) is an undocumented and queer/trans youth led organization based in California, that mobilizes youth, families and incarcerated people to end the criminalization of immigrants and people of color. Through story-based strategies and grassroots organizing, IYC brings the struggles of directly impacted communities to the forefront of our movements to create social, cultural and policy change.  

In the video above, IYC Communications Coordinator Yessica Gonzalez shares more about the importance of the organization’s work, as well as what it’s meant to receive support from Astraea.

Learn more about Immigrant Youth Coalition.

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Video transcript:

I think meeting other resilient queer, undocumented folks who have become my best friends, and creating a different world that we’re envisioning forward, that’s been one of the powerful moments doing this work.

There’s a lot of media attention around immigrant visibility, and we always see the good, light-skin student who is valedictorian as the one who should get citizenship. So when there are other folks who don’t fit into that criteria, they’re easier to be targeted because then they don’t seem as the ones who are deserving of all these other treatments.

A few years ago we launched a campaign called the TRUST Act to stop the collaboration between local law enforcement and immigration. That was really instrumental because it would stop people getting targeted. Or, at least, when they were stopped by police and asked for an I.D., or questioned for anything, they wouldn’t be directly funneled into a detention center, and it would give more security to folks who were victims of domestic violence, or who had been victims of a crime to call upon somebody and not fear that they would be deported or fear direct persecution or direct criminalization through immigration enforcement.

We know that citizenship isn’t the answer because a piece of paper isn’t going to take away the anxiety, depression, trauma that a lot of people are going through or absolve the targeting and criminalization of folks. Colorism is a reality, so by saying “it’s beyond citizenship, and it’s about stopping deportations,” I think that is more of the framing that we want to go towards.

Astraea was actually our first funder back in 2013, and thanks to the support of Astraea, we’ve been able to get more access to funds and sustain the work that we’ve been doing and supporting it through leadership development. And we are seeing other youth who are undocumented and who are queer creating more spaces for themselves. And, also, supporting other folks so we can continue the work and create long-term visioning.

I think personally, growing up undocumented and getting to know other undocumented folks and knowing that we’re resilient people! Everybody thinks that we’re this sad story but no, undocumented people are great! Yeah, we’re hard-working but yeah, we also know how to have fun, you know? We also know how to smile. We also know how to laugh. We also know how to do other amazing things. And I think seeing somebody reunite with their family after they’ve been incarcerated or detained, being able to mobilize, empower themselves to tell other people about the work and that it’s okay to fight back and it’s okay to take on your own case. And then seeing them outside of a detention center, when they’re back with their community, back with their family, to me that has been the highlight of this whole work. And it always reminds me why we continue to do this.

Ellen Page and Jason Reitman to hold CASABLANCA live read benefitting Astraea

Join us on December 13, 2018 for a special live reading of Casablanca with Writer/Director Jason Reitman and Academy Award nominated actress Ellen Page! All proceeds will benefit Astraea.

Come away with us to Casablanca as Writer/Director Jason Reitman, in collaboration with Academy Award nominated actress Ellen Page, brings back his acclaimed “Live Read” series with a modern diverse cast of artists reimagining the classic 1940s film. Cast members will include Ellen Page, Kiersey Clemons, Hannah Gadsby, Emily Hampshire, Indya Moore, Kate Moennig and Olivia Wilde.

Enjoy an evening at the iconic Ace Theater in downtown Los Angeles and show up in true Casablanca style with your trench coat and fedora. Cocktails will be served, and nostalgic memorabilia will be available for purchase. Join us there!

Date: December 13, 2018
Time: 8pm PST
Location: Ace Theater, Los Angeles, California

*All proceeds to benefit LGBTQI grassroots activists through Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which supports the bravest and most radical organizations fighting for change.

Tickets

 

 

Press about the event:

For more information, please contact Astraea’s Develop Officer for Special Events, Sally Troncoso, via stroncoso@astraeafoundation.org or 212-810-4155.

Astraea’s 2018 Fueling the Frontlines Gala

Mark your calendars: Astraea’s signature West Coast event Fueling the Frontlines returns to Los Angeles on Thursday, November 8, 2018!

Mark your calendars: Astraea’s signature West Coast event, the Fueling the Frontlines Awards, returns to Los Angeles on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at the NeueHouse Hollywood. Join us as we celebrate and honor activists, artists and philanthropists who are leading the new era of resistance and fueling the movement for LGBTQI justice.

Purchase tickets here!

#Fuelthefrontlines

Angela Bowen – It is our job to know her!

Honoring the life of Black lesbian feminist activist and dancer Angela Bowen.

Black. Lesbian. Feminist. Artist. Activist. Organizer. Mother. Mentor. Writer. Professor. Intellectual. Her influence lives on in anyone who watched her dance, heard her speak or read her words.

It is with profound respect, sadness, awe and gratitude that we honor the life of Angela Bowen who died on July 12, 2018 at the age of 82, after fighting Alzheimer’s disease for a number of years. Astraea was privileged to recognize her formidable influence and the gift of her life by presenting her as an Acey Social Justice Feminist Award honoree in July 2017; the award honors lesbian and trans women of color over the age of 62 who have made significant but under-recognized contributions to our movements. It uplifts their legacy and tells their stories.

Angela Bowen followed her uncompromising vision across the decades of her life in the face of poverty, racism, sexism, ageism and homophobia. She influenced and inspired legends by being herself, encouraging people to have faith in themselves, to discover their own talents, and to follow their dreams, but not for themselves alone, rather to “move the line forward,” she said, reminding us “we don’t have to do just one thing.”

“I’m a black, lesbian, feminist, writer, activist,” Bowen once said. “I see all of those as equal functions. I feel as though I’ve got a mission to be out front.”

And indeed she was.

She trained and taught at the legendary Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Roxbury from 14 to 22. Her talent and skills enabled her to dance professionally and establish the Bowen Peters School of Dance in inner city New Haven, Connecticut, which she ran with her husband for nearly two decades. In the 1970s, she discovered feminism and specifically the work of poet warrior, Audre Lorde, leading her to follow a new life path. Bowen came out as lesbian in the 1980’s and was an active speaker, writer, and advocate for groups such as the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. She was one of the first recipients of a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies at Clark University. As an Audre Lorde Scholar, she wrote and spoke about the connections between and across social justice movements, advocating fiercely for black youth.

She met her longtime partner, Dr. Jennifer Lynn Abod, while living in Cambridge, and after more than 30 years together, she and Abod married in 2013.

When stories exploring the complexities of black lesbian women’s lives are rarely told, Angela Bowen is someone we should all know.

“Angela Bowen’s name should roll off our tongues with pride. She danced in and through her identities, owning blackness, lesbian feminism, vision and grace. It is our job to know her. This is why and how we need to stay connected,” said Astraea Executive Director J. Bob Alotta.

Read this interview with Jennifer Abod on the life and legacy of Angela Bowen and the film she made “The passionate pursuits of Angela Bowen”—because in the words of Audre Lorde, “Who would believe our stories unless we tell them?”

Dignity and Power Now

Dignity and Power Now was created to be the principle organization for a multifaceted, trauma informed, healing, motivated movement to end state violence and mass incarceration.

Dignity and Power Now was created to be the principle organization for a multifaceted, trauma informed, healing, motivated movement to end state violence and mass incarceration. Dignity and Power Now is founded and chaired by Black Lives Matter Cofounder Patrisse Khan-Cullors. Dignity and Power Now (DPN) is a Los Angeles based grassroots organization founded in 2012 that fights for the dignity and power of all incarcerated people, their families, and communities. Our mission is to build a Black and Brown led abolitionist movement rooted in community power towards the goal of achieving transformative justice and healing justice for all incarcerated people, their families, and communities.

Meet our grantee partner, TGIJP

Listen as TGIJP current and former staff share more about their work supporting incarcerated and formerly incarcerated trans and gender nonconforming people.

TGIJP was founded in 2004 with the mission to challenge and end human rights abuses against transgender, gender variant and intersex people, especially transgender women, in California prisons and beyond.

In the video above, TGIJP current and former staff share more about their work supporting incarcerated and formerly incarcerated trans and gender nonconforming people.

Learn more about TGIJP.

Donate

 

 

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Video transcript:

[Miss Major]: My generation has leaped over cars, ran from police, been beaten, stoned, puked, had, thrown underneath the bus, and then told, “What’s your problem? Why can’t you just get over it?”

Well the things that were happening for the transgender women of color at the time that we began was primarily the same thing that’s going on now. That they’re being picked up and harassed for just doing things that involve their daily lives, that they haven’t done anything that warrants them being taken up off the street, abused and beaten and thrown into jail.

And so the purpose of us was to give them a sense of hope, a meaning, to let them know that somebody gave a damn about who they were.

[Janetta Johnson:] The majority of the women that come in for services are formerly incarcerated homeless transgender women. There’s a lot of psychological and emotional abuse. When trans women are basically verbally attacked by the jail staff, it puts trauma on top of the trauma that we already face being trans people.

There’s not a system set up in there to provide adequate, culturally competent medical and mental health.

[Janetta Johnson into megaphone]: “Our incarcerated members know that we’re here and we support them.”

[Miss Major:] The funding from Astraea was a blessing because, you know, nobody wants to deal with anyone in prison, period.

The money that we got gave us an opportunity to take those things that people thought about my community, and change them by educating them, by giving them the opportunity to alter and change their lives to something better.

[Janetta Johnson:] Astraea gave us an opportunity to continue to support our programs. We bring in a bunch of volunteers and we correspond to trans, gender nonconforming folks that are in prison and getting out of prison.

We have a family concept, and you know, Miss Major’s the mother of all of us.

I’m very happy and grateful that I get to lead this organization into the future.

I would like to see TGIJP be able to provide a lot more support

for transgender women that are in prison and be a collective of all Black trans folks taking care of each other and taking care of our community.

[Miss Major:] I went to prison, I lived in the street, I had to struggle. You know.

And once you’ve done that you go, “Oh god, if I can stop some young girl from having to go through this, I gotta do it.” You know.

And you have to reach down and help the next person up.

Meet Astraea donor, Alice Hom

Astraea donor Alice Hom shares why she chooses to #GiveToAstraea to support grassroots LGBTQI activism all over the world.

Astraea donor Alice Hom is a historian and community builder invested in bridging diverse and overlapping communities. She served on Astraea’s board during the early 00’s, and now serves on the boards of the Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women, California Humanities, and Borealis Philanthropy.

In the video above, listen as Alice shares why she chooses to #GiveToAstraea to support grassroots LGBTQI activism all over the world.

Listen to Alice Y. Hom’s podcast, Historically Queer, uncovering historical and contemporary stories about LGBTQ Activists of Color, at www.historicallyqueer.com

Want to join Alice as a long-time Astraea supporter? Donate here or join our donor alliance!