Sun 5/31 @ 6pm
Women, speak your mind. The last Sunday of the month is the perfect platform to do so at SHE :: See Her. Hear Her., a monthly open mic series created for and by women, with men encouraged to attend in support. Started by local organization She Speaks, SHE aims to be bold… to help women concur their fears and work together with other women for the greater good.
Aside from SHE, She Speaks is hosting Gather the Women, a conversation taking place Mon 5/25 – Sat 5/30 at 10am at Edgewater Park. Women are encouraged to attend and discuss ways to help heal our community in light of issues of excessive force, violence and injustice.
We spoke to She Speaks founder and director Shelly Gracon about the evolution of She Speaks and the ways women must save the world.
CoolCleveland: Is this a new open mic series?
Shelly Gracon: She Speaks began in March of 2010 as an open mic poetry event at Visible Voice Books in Tremont. We then moved to the now defunct Arts Collinwood Café (now Callaloo Café) where we ran an open mic and slam competition until fall of 2011. She Speaks went on hiatus until we re-emerged at Guide to Kulchur in April of last year. We have now expanded to Mahall’s Lanes in Lakewood and just added our east side location this month at B Side Liquor Lounge. SHE is the new version of the open mic.
Where did the idea for an open mic session for women come from?
When She Speaks first began back in 2010, it was an effort to bring together women to share our truth in a space that we could call our own. So often women are not the main presence in a space, even within our poetry community it is often very male-dominated. I felt it to be important to allow for a space where men are there to listen only, and not participate, as so often is the case for women.
We need to creatively express ourselves in an environment that feels safe and exists to support our work, without the voice of men directing the process.
What’s new for She Speaks?
She Speaks is growing. With the addition of the east side open mic we are able to expand our reach even further and engage college students from the University Circle area as well as broaden and diversify our demographic.
In addition, local activist, organizer and writer, Genevieve Mitchell, has joined She Speaks as co-director. Her focus will be working with me and the community to enhance our programming efforts and strategize how best to grow our movement to reach more women of color. She will also direct and lead our Community Speaks forum discussions. This program began in January in an effort to have difficult discussions around community violence.
We are working to expand the topics and engage both men and women in open dialogue in an effort to come up with solutions on how we can work together to create solutions to very challenging issues. I am currently working to also take our Pose and Prose program out into the community in an effort to reach more women. This program has been very successful as a yoga and writing experience, but we have mainly focused on yoga studios.
I think it is important to meet women where they are and allow them to be exposed to mindfulness as way to strengthen, process and heal, whether or not they have the means to do so. I am hoping at some point to have this program funded so that we do not have to charge a fee. For now, we are going to move to a donation-based fee in an effort to respond to the needs of marginalized communities.
And what does the future entail?
She Speaks is becoming a growing movement that works to address inequity through socially engaged art and dialogue with a focus on strengthening the female voice, without exclusion. We are becoming much more than the initial open mic that began so many years ago.
It is our hope that we continue to expand our programming which will allow us to reach more communities and more women. It is so important that the voices of women are heard, as we hold within us the answers to many of the issues we face as a society. However, we must work together to collectively heal. Many of us have experienced tremendous hardships, and we don’t talk about them. We must talk in order to heal.
Without women leading the effort of change on a systemic level, the patriarchal power structures that have created so much of the imbalances we are currently experiencing will continue on. It is literally up to us to save the planet. In order to do that work, we have to delve into the dark places of ourselves and be willing to show up for each other — share those truths and move forward in an effort to help our communities.
My goal with this work is to allow the community to take over so much so that I can step outside of the position of leadership. I want women to come up with their own ideas on how we can bring awareness to social injustices through the arts. This can be done in so many ways, whether it is through public art, demonstrations, community engagement and organizing efforts … the possibilities are endless.
When women come together mountains move. The mountains of injustice in our city and among us as women have to shift. Women are tired of being targets of violence on many levels, and we are ready to fight back. Not only for ourselves, but for all of humanity. Our time has come.
How do you choose the guest hosts?
We attempt to reach out to women of varying backgrounds whether that be race, gender expression, age. The goal is to provide representation of all types of women in an effort to be as inclusive as possible. Sometimes we have hosts who also feature, and last month a youth slam poet hosted because we also featured females from the One Mic Open slam team. This month our new co-director will host. Really, it just depends on the month. We invite anyone to reach out to us that would like to host.
Biggest local issue for women in your opinion?
Good question. I don’t think it is so much a specific issue we face as women. I feel it is more about looking at how we can both help each other as well as our communities become stronger and more equitable. I feel that when the women can lead the process of healing, sustainable change is not only possible but inevitable.
Yes, we have our own set of issues. Many. However, feminism is changing. It is becoming less about us as a gender, and more about us as potential leaders of change. So to answer the question, the biggest issue, and this is not local to Cleveland, is how we empower women to take ownership of our role as both healers and leaders, change makers.
It is up to us to shift the power away from the masculine ego and back to feminine compassion and empathy.
What do you hope guests take away from the event?
I hope they leave feeling enriched. I have seen some women who never thought they would get up and share return only to read some of the most amazing poetry or thoughts I have ever heard. We hold so much within us, we just have to be willing to show up and speak our truth. I just want guests, no matter how they identify in terms of gender expression, to leave with a greater understanding of the power of the female voice.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would add that women quite literally sustain the planet, and we need to be placed in positions of both leadership and power in order for us to truly see a shift toward healing and balance in the world. The work of She Speaks is to strengthen the voice of women to then be able to feel strong and empowered enough to go after those positions, and to also work within their own families, communities and workplaces to have conversations about the social injustices we face as a whole.
The voice of women will be what saves us from ourselves. The violence we see, the patriarchal systems of oppression that keep marginalized communities stagnant, have to be dismantled.
The only way to do that is to shift the power away from the men and to the women. To strike a balance of collaboration and sustainable, long-term change. Until then, we will continue to see and experience the degradation of each other and the planet.
Cool Cleveland correspondent Sarah Valek studied art and writing at Ithaca College. After graduation, she came back to Cle and served two years as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. She can be found on all sides of the city in pursuit of homeschooling activities for her son and the perfect soy latte. Contact her at CoolEditor@CoolCleveland.com or via Twitter.