They say if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. We hope that’s true because it sure felt like we connected with a vibrant crowd of cool women at our first Out Loud event in Manhattan last week. It was an energized, sold-out, standing-room-only gathering of the Tribe.
There was talking, debating, laughing, hugging, and a little bit of crying as we got together to network and make ourselves heard. Eight fired-up speakers gave voice to our goal of telling the world “Screw Invisibility! Watch Older Women Change the World.” To make sure more of the world heard us, we streamed the event on Facebook Live.
Screw Invisibility: Setting the Stage
The event took place in an airy loft near Union Square Park, with super-high ceilings and spectacularly big windows, which gave us a great downtown vibe. The renowned foodie favorite Gramercy Tavern provided hors d’oeuvres (if we could beam you the tiny tomato and corn tarts, we would, but they disappeared so fast), and our friends at Tito’s served up some lovely Lime Gimlets.
Our sponsors—Tito’s Handmade Vodka, UNtied, and PANYC Salon (we love you!)—supported our big moment in the Big Apple, and profits went to help two valuable organizations, Amazing Community, which guides women over 50 who are re-entering or remaining in the workforce, and Girls Write Now, which mentors young women by pairing them with professional female writers.
Rethinking What We Can Do
The loft filled up quickly, and NextTribe co-founder Jeannie Ralston kicked things off wearing her “Can You See Me Now?” fluorescent safety vest that she had made for the Women’s March back in January 2017. With our our rallying cry “Screw Invisibility,” the event was off and running.
Ashton Applewhite, a noted anti-ageism activist and author of the blog and book, This Chair Rocks, gave a passionate talk about the need to be visible. For some of us that will mean choosing not to color our hair or plump up our wrinkles; for others, it will be stating our age often and with complete candor so that people get used to seeing women our age in the culture. But regardless, Ashton stressed that how we age is an individual choice, and she encouraged us to be kind with ourselves and others—to not feel “less than” because we are older, but to embrace the gift of aging and the incredible experiences, smarts, humor, compassion, and power it instills in us.
“Join forces against ageism. Embrace what stigmatizes us,” she said, before pointing out how getting older enriches us. “(We gain) authenticity, confidence, perspective, and my mother said her legs got better. Priorities are clearer. We want less, we care less about what people think, which is really liberating. For many, the later years are the best years. What can we do? We can learn to look more generously at others and ourselves.”
Join forces against ageism. Embrace what stigmatizes us.
Her rousing call to own our age was followed by a chat with Linda Rodin, a smart, sophisticated, and stylish model and entrepreneur at age 70. Her message was to take chances and not let any messages about being “too old” to do something cloud our vision. Linda has become an Instagram celebrity with almost a quarter of a million followers at @lindaandwinks for her fashion sense—denim, major sunnies, gray hair swept up into topknots. She spoke about not letting anyone tell her to stop wearing jeans; remembered the time she tried fillers and decided, despite some peer pressure, it wasn’t for her; and recounted learning her way around social media—and loving it. NextTribe was also treated to news of her next venture, an Instagram-driven business of fabulous doggie accessories at lindaandwinkslove.com.
Speaking and Singing Her Truth
Our third guest beamed in by video: Singer-songwriter Judy Collins spoke to our gathering about the absolutely critical importance of, during bumpy times like ours, of showing up and taking action. She spoke about how women our age have deep knowledge and creativity. We have the power to open our hearts and use our voices, “whether by voting, volunteering, rising to the top definition of who you are or becoming who you think you might be.”
She encouraged women our age to delve into a spiritual approach, whatever you believe in.
Find the thing in your life that’s impossible, and go and do it!
“Meditation is important, forgiveness is important. We have to detach from rage, from anger, from so many things,” she said, and then she shared the wrenching story of how those tools helped her when her son died by suicide and she felt she couldn’t go on. Judy’s closing words to our audience must be repeated, as well: “Be outrageous, be grateful, and counteract this outbreak of bullying and hatred—be kind and loving and understanding and do the best you can. Find the thing in your life that’s impossible, and go and do it!”
Embracing Diversity, Taking Action
Judy’s moving words were followed by two remarkable women: Atiya Aftab and Sheryl Olitzky, who represented their organization, the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which connects Muslim and Jewish women to “make love stronger than hate.” Sheryl was inspired to start it when, after becoming a grandmother, she traveled to Poland and experienced so much hatred and discrimination that she knew she had to do something. Her way was connecting Jewish and Muslim women back home in New Jersey, and with Atiya as her partner, creating a non-political way to promote understanding. The organization has gone national, and Sheryl and Atiya left our audience with this thought: “Embrace diversity. This is the age to raise your voice, pray with your feet, and have hope. You are the change and can influence the next generation.”
The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, founder of the Center for Retirement Security at Georgetown University and formerly the first female lieutenant governor of Maryland, then gave a dynamic talk. She shared anecdotes about everything from how she was berated when in public office for not wearing enough rouge and lipstick, to a bit of mom-bragging about her four daughters, to sharing her plan for helping all Americans save enough for retirement versus the terrifyingly low amount they currently save (half have nothing!). She got a rousing round of applause when she quoted one of her father Robert F. Kennedy’s favorite sayings—“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis preserve their neutrality,” and urged everyone to “get involved, get engaged, make a difference.” She added that he also would like to quote George Bernard Shaw, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”
Loving Mid- and Later Life
Annabelle Gurwitch, actor, comedian, and author, shared hilarious stories from her life as a woman “of a certain age” in the trenches of Hollywood. “Fifty is 80 in actress years,” she said. She spoke of unwittingly being cast as a crone—an elderly hag in the Middle Ages—and being told on set that she didn’t need any hair or makeup help. She was “good to go”! But despite such moments in LA, Gurwitch has found the silver lining. Her closing words had the audience cheering: “The worst thing would be to peak early. Everything up to this moment is early peaking. Why can’t it be that the best moments are the ones you haven’t had yet?”
Our last speaker, Veronica Chambers, author and editor at the New York Times, ended the evening with a chat about finding her place and how all of us can pursue our passions in life. She spoke of growing up in a state of triple invisibility—black, poor, and female. She learned in time that “what the world may sees as your weakness, what you have less of, may be what the world most needs.”
The worst thing would be to peak early. Everything up to this moment is early peaking.
She explained, “As we saw in Alabama, voting is a lifestyle for black women. We show up, we show out, we vote.” She then went on to encourage us all at this powerful moment in our lives to figure out “what’s worth throwing yourself through a wall for. We have the power to decide how far we want to go, how hard we want to work. We have to figure out what is the difference between ‘This would be nice’ and ‘This is absolutely my dream.’ Once that’s clear, you’re ready to work toward the powerful dream.”
Our powerful dream of having a memorable event in NYC certainly came true. We look forward to doing it again and in all places where our Tribe gathers. We’re still working on an even more powerful dream: Instead of being shoved off the stage as they grow older, women can continue to be a vital part of our culture, using their wisdom and experience to create the world they want to see. Can we get an amen?
Watch Judy Collins’ video here:
All photos by Lisa Ramsay