By Jennifer L. Warren
GOSHEN – History was resurrected Saturday afternoon in the unforgettable form of four iconic, pioneer females, masterfully unfolding their transformative journeys.
Whether it was Florence Nightingale, clad in her trademark white bonnet and traditional nursing garb, passionately delivering the intense need for medical care for all; formally adorned hair care millionaire, philanthropist and entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, insisting on the power of following one’s dreams; 20th Century fashion monger, Coco Chanel, smiling wide and blowing kisses to the crowd; or abolitionist and social activist Harriet Tubman soothingly reciting a church hymn as she intently forged ahead in her tireless efforts to rescue as many slaves as possible, each performance riveted those in attendance, reminding them of the indelible footprints women have carved throughout history. Each performance further served as a striking reminder of the afternoon’s overall purpose: Paying tribute to all women while celebrating Women’s History Month in a program titled, “I’m Every Women,” hosted by “Let’s Talk,” an organization created in 1997 aimed at uniting and empowering women.
“Our past is so very important, as we learn from it about who we are; everyone has a history and a story to tell and be heard, and our children should learn as much of those stories as possible,” Shirley Sutphin, Let’s Talk CEO told a roomful of guests inside of Delancey’s Restaurant in Goshen. “My hope is that these presentations change you in some positive way; we are all the same and we really need to share and celebrate that beauty.”
Sutphin herself has spent much of her life lifting others up. The event initiated with her recognizing several pivotal, female community members, presenting each with a plaque as well as words of unwavering gratitude. Included in those honors, were newly elected Town of Goshen Mayor, Molly O’Donnell, the second female ever to hold that esteemed position and local real estate broker, Janet Rendle, for her record sales. Sutphin made it a further point to expand upon the impressive feats of several others in the room, including musician Lisa Jensen, who along with Kofi Donker, provided moving instrumental entertainment during the program.
“We have some absolutely amazing women here,” Sutphin continued to emphasize as well as urge to mingle and network. “We are truly better when we lift one another up.”
That elevation bar resonated with each riveting performance. First, there was Ondrea Lynn, bringing Nightingale, “The Lady with the Lamp,” to life, as she emphatically stressed the declining status of her dire military surroundings.
“The soldiers are ill and piling up with rodents all over the floor; we have reduced the death rate to two-third, but it’s still not enough,” stressed the modestly, fiery Lynn, absorbed in her character. “God has given me a purpose to be a nurse, and I will make changes in the world.”
Following Lynn’s mesmerizing reenactment, Akilah Sutphin, elegantly clad in a tan dress and gold jewelry as Madam C.J. Walker, took a seat, verbally unraveling her rough beginnings as well as unwillingness to cower in the face of them. The self-made businesswomen and first African-American female millionaire, insisted, “Don’t wait for opportunities to happen; you have to make them happen.”
Someone who followed that exact mantra confidently made her way into the room next, capturing everyone’s undivided attention. Feminist and fashion trendsetter, charismatic Coco Chanel, characteristically poised and sporting fine jewelry and sharp clothing, and known for her enduring verbiage, including, “Fashion changes, but style endures,” was potently brought to life by Susannah Devine, who left awestruck spectators with yet another Chanel classic quote, “You can be great at forty, but classy and fabulous the rest of your life.”
Rounding out the talented offerings of reenactments was Genevieve Noble Silverberg, wearing all black garments, hunched over, carrying a lantern, singing and steadfast to her mission of slave rescuing. In total, there were ten missions, saving about 70 slaves as well as the development of the freedom catalyst: Underground Railroad. Dubbed “Moses” by many, Tubman traveled by night in secrecy, but the deep imprints of fortitude and perseverance she etched on our proud history’s framework and lives today forever sound loudly.
“I always knew I was destined to be free, and my time would come,” emphasized Noble Silverberg as the pioneer Tubman. “Every night I went to bed, God put it on me I was destined for greatness.”
It’s that very belief in oneself, along with united spirit of women- as well as all people- that Shirley Sutphin is intent on creating with every life she touches and event she holds. Everyone present Saturday was in some way positively touched by that uplifting people magic.
“This is all about women supporting women, just people supporting people,” said Devine. “We are all coming together for a positive purpose and knowing that if you don’t know history, you are bound to repeat it.” Reflecting further, the mother and grandmother as well as co-owner of a website design firm, Devine added, “Every person here today who was portrayed resonates a great deal still in 2023, and we can learn so much from their lives as well as from one another.”