This past Wednesday saw eight women enter the sunbathed Boston afternoon with liberating confidence after Rosie’s Place—a renowned sanctuary for the local female homeless population—deemed them graduates of the shelter’s Leadership Institute. The ceremony, which marked the end of the program’s summer session for this year, showcased what each woman had learned and how it played into their respective challenges and ideas for moving forward.
A respite from the oppressing heat of the concrete-laden South End, Rosie’s Place sits in the shadow of Boston Medical Center. Its lobby is in constant movement, occupied by guests seeking shelter and the volunteers aiding them. At 1:30 p.m., a crowd of just over a couple of dozen sifts through the lobby and into a large open room with a makeshift stage setup. The crowd represents a variety of people: shelter volunteers, interns working specifically with the Leadership Institute and friends. They all congregate to observe the accomplishments of the eight graduates.
Once the crowd had settled, the ceremony started with a brief explanatory introduction by Adrianna Rosembert, a self-advocacy organizer involved with the program. “The program started off as a storytelling class, and it really evolved because the stories that were emerging from our first group related to larger social, systemic issues,” said Rosembert.
“It’s about making the personal political, and the political personal.”
The Leadership Institute is a five-week, 10-session long course hosted by Rosie’s Place. Setting out to invoke change with Rosembert’s described theme in mind, the program empowers women by teaching social justice leadership. The educators utilize storytelling to teach public speaking and a thorough analysis of economic disparity in the country.
“We began by talking about how leadership is about both presence and influence … and both have to do with our stories,” said Lani Peterson, one of the instructors. “How do we articulate them in a way that impassions and inspires others to follow us?”
After introductions, the eight women debuted a poems they wrote collectively titled “I Used to Be, But Now I Am, and Someday I Hope to Be.” The recital of the piece then led directly into a presentation segment, in which each of the graduates individually told their personal stories. Susan Chihambakwe, one of the graduates, opened up about her experience of domestic abuse.
“I was controlled financially, physically and emotionally by my husband… My hope for the future is to use my experiences to help other women that have been or are currently in my situation.”
Karen Holmes, another of the graduates, spoke about her experience of sexism in the workplace. “I’m a carpenter at [Floorcoverers Local 2168]… I decided to open up a business of my own because when projects were over, myself being the only female on the job, I was always the first to go.” Using her new business and the skills she learned at the Leadership Institute, Holmes hopes to employ women in difficult economic circumstances.
The ceremony closed with the handing out of official graduation certificates and an activity showcasing wealth inequality in the United States, creating a human bar graph to visualize the nation’s pay spread between quintiles.
Rosie’s Place also offers other educational opportunities throughout the year and several other outreach and advocacy programs. The shelter offers free meals year round, sleeping quarters for up to 21 days and health services.