17th annual Words of Women essay contest, International Women’s Day event is set
“It doesn’t matter where women are, we’re working. We are all working to make the world what it is,” declared activist Christine Jarosz. “That’s why the women’s movement is a working women’s movement. It started with the factory workers.”
The month of March is Women’s History Month, and it starts off with International Women’s Day on March 8. And in Dallas every year, the Hello Sisters International Women’s Day event celebrates and honors the women who work to keep the world working.
The annual Hello Sisters event started with an essay contest, and that contest remains the centerpiece of the celebration each year. It began, Jarosz noted, as a project of the Lesbian Resource Center.
Jarosz co-founded LRC and served as it first and only coordinator. The center was located in an old building on Skiles Street, just off Live Oak, and operated on membership fees — $40 a year for a regular membership, or $10 a month to be “A Founding Mother.”
LRC offered a wide variety of programs and activities, starting with a lending library and including the Womyn for Womyn Lesbian University a peer education program, an exercise program, a housing referral program, a monthly dance and so much more. The idea of the center, Jarosz said, was not just to provide women with a meeting space and resources, but to give them a voice.
So many women, she said, were — and still are — isolated. Whether they live in the big city, way out in a rural area, even in another country altogether, Jarosz wanted to find a way to give them a voice. Thus was born the Words of Women essay contest. And Hello Sisters was built around that.
In looking for someplace to preserve the essays submitted for the first Words of Women contest, Jarosz approached the Dallas Women’s Museum. “But they told me, ‘we don’t take words,’” she said. “But I wanted people to see these essays, to hear what these women had to say.”
So she created Hello Sisters to give contest winners a chance to read their essays out loud. The first one was held at the Women’s Museum.
“Each year, it got bigger,” Jarosz said. “Each year, we added things — exhibitors, speakers, musicians, dancers. In my mind, everything about the event is designed to make the essay contest winner each year feel like the most important woman in the world.”
For six years, the Women’s Museum hosted Hello Sisters. Then the museum closed, and the event moved to the Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake, where it has been held for the last 10 years, presented by a committee called The Mother Board.
“We have no belief that this event is ours,” Jarosz said of herself and the other organizers. “We’re just lucky enough to be the ones who help make it happen.”
International Women’s Day is on March 8 each year, which obviously doesn’t always fall on a weekend day. So organizers hold Hello Sisters on the closest Saturday, and then on March 8 host the Just-A-Dinner event. This year’s dinner will be at Afrah’s Restaurant, 318 E. Beltline in Richardson, from 7:30-10 p.m. Dinner costs about $15.
But the main event, Hello Sisters and the announcement of the essay contest winner, will be held Saturday, March 4, from noon-5:30 p.m., at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther St. (on the east shore of White Rock Lake). In addition to the essay contest winner, the even will feature the Hello Sisters 100 Yard Sign art display, arts, crafts, music, stories and speakers discussing the status of women.
The event is open to vendors, who pay only $25 and bring their own table and chairs to set up their exhibits. Organizers are also accepting event sponsors. “That’s how we pay for everything, through vendor fees and sponsors,” Jarosz said. “Everything we do is for free. This is not a fundraiser. It’s a community event.”
This year’s winning essay and past winners’ essays at the Words of Women website, WordsOfWomen.org. This year’s winner is a local woman, Jarosz said. But last year’s winner was from Seoul, South Korea, and the year before from California. Other previous winning essays have come from India and Afghanistan.
“The year the woman from Afghanistan won, she couldn’t be here, of course, but her aunt was in school in New Mexico, and she paid herself to fly in to be here to read her niece’s essay at the event,” Jarosz said.
This essay contest, Jarosz said, is to her one of the most important things she has accomplished in a lifetime of activism. “I have a lot of joyful moments, but the time I am the happiest is when I can pick up the phone and call the winner of the essay contest,” she said.
“One year, the winner was from Garland. I didn’t know her, but I called her house and a teenage girl answered. She sounded totally bored and uninterested, until I told her who I was. And then all that bored teenager stuff was gone. She was so excited.
I could hear her, ‘Mama! Mama! It’s them! The essay contest! You won!’
“Right then, I really saw the power of this one little essay contest,” Jarosz continued. “That’s why I do what I do, so that women have a voice. So they know they are heard and recognized and appreciated. So they know how important they are.
“We have to support and encourage each other. That’s why we make these things happen. That’s why it is important.”
To volunteer for the Hello Sisters International Women’s Day event, or to be a vendor or a sponsor, or to RSVP for Just-A-Dinner, call 347-933-1256.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 24, 2017.