Members of the Mount Holyoke College community gathered for a week of events revolving around the impact of women of color, including a conference and a celebration of the College’s first known student of color, Hortense Parker.
The Women of Color Trailblazers Leadership Conference on April 4 focused on encouraging dialogue about race, ethnicity, and gender and celebrating the accomplishments of women of color. It also included panel discussions, networking opportunities, and workshops such as "Learning and Leadership through Oral History," "Taking Action to Make Your Dreams a Reality," and "How Immigrations Became Illegal."
Karyn Parsons, the actress, television producer, and writer best known for her starring role in the 1990s TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Ilyasah Shabazz, a community organizer, motivational speaker, and author, gave keynote talks at the conference. Shabazz has focused much of her community work on encouraging at-risk youth to pursue higher education. She also has written books for children and adults that draw on her heritage as the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, for whom the College's Shabazz Cultural Center is named.
The sixth annual Hortense Parker Celebration on April 2 revolved around the theme "Reflecting on Our Past, Recognizing Our Future,” with talks by Liza A. Talusan, director of intercultural affairs at Stonehill College, and Sonia Nieto, a University of Massachusetts professor emerita of language, literacy, and culture.
When Hortense Parker arrived to attend Mount Holyoke, the College did not know she was African American, archival records indicate. Despite the segregationist practices of the time, College officials allowed her to stay, and she graduated with the class of 1883. Parker was an accomplished pianist, and taught music at schools in three states after leaving the College.
Other events during the week included an intergroup dialogue workshop on how race and ethnicity impact participants' daily lives. The Blanchard Student Art Gallery hosted an exhibition about women of color at Mount Holyoke from 1883 to the present. And the MHC community created an image of Hortense Parker from hundreds of ceramic tiles.