Twenty women from the MIT community attended the Million Woman March on October 25, travelling by bus from 77 Massachusetts Ave., across town to Dudley Square and down to Philadelphia to join the international celebration of sisterhood.
MIT supporters of the women's journey included Dean Isaac Colbert of the Graduate Education Office, Dean Ayida Mthembu of Counseling and Support Services, and Michelle Oshima of the Women's Studies Program.
But the energy came from the travellers themselves.
Freshman Aisha Stroman recounted the MIT group's first steps toward Philadelphia.
"The ride on the MBTA buses was actually the most exciting part to me. Before we left, some of the men from Chocolate City came to see us off and relate some of their experiences from the Million Man March. They gave us words of inspiration and told us we were becoming a part of history. Everyone was excited, and we were so happy that even the people on the bus shared our feelings with us.
"When we got on the charter bus to Philly, we were with a lot of older [27 and up] women and they seemed really proud to see active college students. It was well worth the six-hour ride," said Ms. Stroman.
Speakers at the Million Woman March included US Rep. Maxine Waters, Sistah Souljah, Winnie Mandela, Jada Pinkett as the emcee, Minister Ava Muhammed, and Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women. The event was held on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with the stage in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts.
In Philadelphia, the message of the Million Woman March was loud, clear and empowering.
"This march was about voices. It was about the power of a collective, the great power that people have when they work together," said Kamla Topsey, a sophomore in aeronautics and astronautics. "Here at MIT, it seems that we often forget the power of a collective, whether it's in doing problem sets, working together as student groups to plan an event, or organizing as students to create change in our school. Often, we claim that we are too busy to even voice our opinions, much less get together with someone we do not know to do something positive."
The MIT students were inspired by reasons both personal and political. "I was inspired to go to the march because I wanted to be a part of this celebration of sisterhood. It was the day to accept ourselves and love ourselves for being black and female. Also, we, the organizers of the Black Women's Alliance, felt that the trip would be a good way of uniting the MIT women who took the journey," said Ms. Topsey.
"The concept of a million black women gathering to show support for each other and their community inspired me to go," said Jolene N. Saul, a sophomore in economics.
Ms. Saul noted the political possibilities of the march as well. "The event embraces the purpose of BWA, which is to promote awareness, activism, unity and friendship, both within and outside the MIT community," she said.
The Million Woman March has continued to affect the students who attended since their return to MIT, they agreed.
"I have found that being involved and trying to get others involved at MIT can be frustrating sometimes, because MIT is so intense academically," Ms. Saul said. "At times you doubt whether you should be trying to do anything at all. Going to the march let me know that for whatever I want to do, my sisters and community care and are supporting me. I came home from the march feeling that I could do anything and do it well."
"In the scope of MIT, this march made many of us realize how important it is that we are here. For example, Kamla is the only black woman in our class in Course XVI. I am one of the four in Course VI. When we came together [for the march], we felt a sisterhood and a responsibility," said Ms. Stroman.
"It's hard to be a double minority, to be a black woman. An event like the march makes you realize that you have a support system and you can make it through as long as you respect yourself and others, and be proud of who you are," she said. "I came back to MIT with an even greater respect for myself and those who have paved the way for me, like [Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor] Dr. Lynda Jordan."
For Ms. Stroman, the events in Philadelphia highlighted problems of a national scope which affect life at MIT as well.
"The march was significant because the issues that black women face are never truly addressed. The truth is that the mother is the core of the black family and backbone of black culture. Though there are problems with our men too, they tend to overshadow the problems we have as women: finding careers, single parenthood, low self-esteem, and lack of pride in who we are and who we can be. We as black women tend to forget that we need to be strong for each other and be positive amidst jealousy and controversy and petty things that break our sisterhood," she said. The march "was our way of showing that we too represent a power in this nation, one to be reckoned with."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 5, 1997.