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A Civil Rights Leader from the 1960s Inspires Hartt Opera Student in Her Fight for Women’s Rights

Posted 09/24/2014
Posted by David Isgur

The civil rights movement is truly a global movement, belonging to people across the world, not just the United States. A prime example of that is Ruby Nightingale, a vocal performance major at the University of Hartford’s The Hartt School, who was born in Australia and has lived with her family in Hong Kong for the past seven years. Even though she was a young person living outside of the U.S., she was drawn to the powerful words and themes expressed by poet Audre Lorde.

“Lorde called on America to fight hatred and celebrate differences, with poetry as her megaphone,” Nightingale wrote. “Her voice still inspires positive change today, as the relevance of her writing remains and the feminist movement she fought for continues to revolutionize.”

Nightingale’s paper on how she was inspired by the words of Lorde was selected as the top paper in the “Voices for Change” essay contest. Nightingale’s paper was selected from among the 57 students who submitted essays. Five finalists, including Nightingale, presented their papers to an audience at the “Voices of Yesterday, Leaders of Tomorrow” session of the Empowering Change program on Thursday, Sept. 18.

Student Essay winnersEach of the essayists picked some of the lesser known, but still critical, members of the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s. Nightingale notes that Lorde was not on the original list compiled by event organizers, but she pushed for the inclusion of Lourde, who described herself as a “black, lesbian, feminist, mother, lover, warrior, poet.”

Nightingale wrote of Lorde: “Born in 1934, she used her West-Indies heritage, painfully frank poetry, and sharp New York tongue to leave her mark on the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Lorde fought not only for the feminist movement, but also within it, inspiring a more inclusive movement, free of ignorance towards women of color and lesbian women.”

Nightingale also noted that there are still many issues facing women that need a movement to keep pushing them forward — issues as sexual assault and domestic violence; equal pay for equal work; respect for women’s reproductive rights; and media-driven body image issues.

“Audre Lorde’s goals remain relevant and necessary. She believed in the power of words, and her words have helped to create the unity necessary for fighting against today’s war on women,” Nightingale wrote in her essay.

“I am personally inspired by the strength behind the vulnerability in her writing. She was fearlessly honest about weakness, which liberates us from the expectations of perfection we face as woman,” she wrote. “Audre Lorde's path inspires positive change, because against many odds, she persisted. She believed in talking about difficult things and confronting her most inner doubts. She believed in change.”

The Voices for Change essay program that Nightingale took part in was put together by the University’s Women’s Education and Leadership Fund (WELFund) and the Student Government Association. To enter, students were asked to write a two-page essay about on a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and answer the question: “How does this leader inspire you to make change in the world?”

Five students were selected to present their essays on Thursday, Sept. 18 — Zephyr Strassner ’16, a sociology student in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S); Christina Palioglou ’18, a finance major in the Barney School of Business; Colin Worrich ’17, an acoustical engineering and music major in the College of Engineering, Technology and Architecture (CETA); Anna Pan ’15, a dual accounting/biology-chemistry major in Barney and A&S; and Nightingale ’15, who studies opera in The Hartt School.

Nightingale was selected as the top essayist and will receive a cash prize of $750. Pan was the second-place winner and will receive a $500 cash prize. The other three finalists will each receive a $250 prize.Civil Rights activist Ruby Sales

Those students and the others attending the “Voices of Yesterday, Leaders of Tomorrow” session heard an inspiring message from Ruby Sales, who as a teenager in the 1960s, worked as a student freedom fighter in Alabama. Sales is currently founder and director of the SpiriutHouse Project, a national nonprofit that uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice and spiritual maturity.