In a Penn Law School classroom, seven women shared their personal stories in an event entitled "Women Who Don't Usually Lecture."
On April 4, guest speakers from the Philadelphia area were invited to Penn Law and spoke for 10 minutes each about their experiences as women. While the speakers came from different backgrounds, they all encouraged non-conformity and resilience.
"Yarnbomber" Jessie Hemmons, businesswoman Syreeta Scott, hip-hop artist Bahamadia, fashion designer Tamar Daniel, principal Shavon Savage, pastor Michele Ward, and social worker Geremi James-Batista discussed defining moments in their lives. Along with formal titles, they also identified themselves as “cat whisperer,” "joy bringer," or “cultural influencer."
The “Women Who Don’t Usually Lecture” idea is inspired by the ZE.ZE organization in Israel, which hosted a lecture entitled “People Who Don’t Usually Lecture.” The organization seeks to hold events that “bring together diverse members of a community for an intimate and moving large-scale interaction with storytelling.” Penn Law student Tuli Mendelawe, one of the organizers, had the idea to adopt this format with an interesting twist.
Hemmons described her craft as “overtly feminine.” Street art, she said, is often dominated by men, and she made it clear at the beginning of her lecture that “I’m a female making street art.”
Hemmons described a turning point in her life while she was a juvenile delinquent, when she felt isolated for being a minority in the environment she was in. When she was taught crocheting, a common pastime among the other girls, she felt less socially-isolated, discovering "this new language that I have with all these women in the room."
She described an event she thought to be hilarious: "yarnbombing" the Rocky Statue by putting a pink sweater on it. The idea was to “emasculate a hyper masculine icon.” For a French TV show, she even put a string bikini on the Frank Rizzo statue.
Scott shared her experiences of being a black woman, and her struggles and victories as a businesswoman in the beauty industry. She described the feeling of being a “square peg in a round hole," and noted how women often feel compelled to alter their features to "fit in and feel comfortable in an environment not made for [them]," instead of staying true to their "authentic beauty."
She discussed her hair care business and how she got on that path through taking a "brave chance."
The four women who organized this event are in the one-year Master of Laws program at Penn — a program for lawyers trained in other parts of the world.
"The idea was to get women from really unconventional backgrounds that we don't have at the Law School usually," organizer and LLM student Anusha Ramesh from India said. "What I was really curious about was how all of them would come together in one event and how it would all gel together."
Mendelawe said, “We decided we want to do some kind of event that is different from what we usually have in the Law School. And then we had no idea what, we just knew that we wanted women to be the center of the event.”
LLM student Talya Kornitzer said that the four women who organized the event were all from different places, but were united by “this network of international women."
"It somehow ended up being our exploration of Philadelphia in a way,” Kornitzer said. “Our goal here was to just explore … human experience.”
Attendee and LLM student Derin Coker said the event was better than she expected. Her takeaway from the speakers' stories was that one should "find [one]self and [one's] space."
“What stood out to me was the fact that it did all gel together so well," Ramesh said. "Everyone had their own story to tell and a way to tell it.”