Brooklyn College Professor Pens Biography on Shirley Chisholm

(Article published on Park Slope Patch on Jan. 28, 2014)

Barbara Winslow is a professor of Women’s Studies at Brooklyn College and a 30-year resident of Park Slope who is responsible for starting and running the Shirley Chisholm Project/Brooklyn Women’s Activism at Brooklyn College.

She was asked to pen the first biography in 40 years on Chisholm for Carol Berkin’s series of books, ‘Lives of American Women’, and jumped at the chance.

Chisholm, who was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1924, became the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and became the first woman to run for president in 1972. She was a sought-after public speaker and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) who once remarked that, “Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes.”

Patch had the opportunity to speak with Professor Winslow about Chisholm, the impact she had on her life and the new book, ‘Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change’.

When did you start the Shirley Chisholm Project, and what are some of your biggest achievements with the project to date?

I started the project in 2006, and I would say the overall greatest accomplishment is keeping Shirley Chisholm’s name alive and reintroducing her to a new generation of people in Brooklyn and across the country to whom she was. We also have the largest collection of archival material about Chisholm as part of the project in our library.

We do extraordinary public events around Shirley Chisholm day in November and have had Gloria Steinem, Anita Hill, Melissa Harris-Perry and others come and speak about the importance of Ms. Chisholm and her legacy.

Given your ties to Ms. Chisholm, when did you decide to write her bio and what was it that made you finally decide to do so?

I was asked to write this bio by Carol Berkin, who was a presidential professor at Baruch College before she retired. She was originating a series of books, ‘Lives of American Women’, and wanted me to do one on Shirley Chisholm. As soon as she asked, it took me a ‘New York nanosecond’ to say yes.

What is it about her that’s inspired you so much, and what do you hope readers take from your book?

I was in a liberation group in Seattle, Wash. in 1972 when she ran for president. I believe our group sent $15 to her campaign, which in 1972 was the equivalent of sending her hundreds of dollars, so that was very exciting. She inspired me 40 years ago. 

When I was teaching in Brooklyn College, I was reminded that she was a graduate of the college. When I proposed we name a women’s study for research (in her name) I was astounded that many of my colleagues, professors of women’s studies did not know who she was. I was galvanized to create this project so that her life and legacy would not be forgotten. While Chisholm is the focus right now, lives of so many other women need to be written about and understood too. 

I think what’s important about this book is that not only is it the first scholarly biography of her, but the book is part of a series that is designed to bring women’s lives into the school’s curriculum, and that’s what I’m very proud of.

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Gay Miller Place Alumni Return to Inspire Current LGBTQ Students

(Full story as published on the Miller Place-Rocky Point Patch)

By Rich Arleo

Three alumni take part in the Live Out Loud organization’s Homecoming Project to speak with current LGBTQ Miller Place students.

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When Miller Place alumni Doug Shapiro, Kate O’Brien and Michael Pesce went to high school as gay youths, acceptance at the time in the 80’s and 90’s was tough to come by.

Fast forward to 2013, and while there is more widespread acceptance, LGBTQ youth still must deal with the challenges of coming out. The three alumni teamed up with Live Out Loud’s Homecoming Project and Miller Place High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance to share their stories with students going through their own struggles and triumphs; sharing the important message that while it is never easy, it can get better.

Live Out Loud has been doing their Homecoming Project since 2008 as a way of connecting youths to role models and leaders in the LGBTQ community.

“Kids are coming out younger and younger,” said founder Leo Preziosi, Jr. “A lot of times the support systems aren’t there so…the LGBT community has to play an active role.”

Shapiro, a 1988 graduate of Miller Place, had originally decided to take part in the project before inviting friends O’Brien and Pesce. The singer, actor, and voice-over talent was thrilled to see the support systems that these students now have.

“It was pretty empowering and wonderful,” Shapiro said. “Each of us were able to bring a certain element that was needed. I didn’t realize I was gay in high school despite really obvious signs, but now to have kids that are out and proud and to have students there to support them is a complete turnaround.”

Pesce, who like Shapiro graduated from Syracuse University as a theater actor, graduated from Miller Place in 1995. A longtime friend of Preziosi, Pesce jumped at the opportunity to speak as someone who is gay and comfortable with the label of his sexual orientation.

“It was a chance to explain to these kids how it felt back then when understanding my own innate sexuality was very confusing and how I found my way from where they’re sitting, through college to what I’m living now; an adult life where everything has fallen into place,” he said.

“I know at their age they may not necessarily feel that that’s going to be the case, even though there is currently much more visibility for the LGBTQ community.”

The message touched Rebecca Ogno, president of the school’s GSA, who helped organize the event.

“It was just such an inspiring message that each and everyone shared that day,” Ogno said. “Even coming from me as president of the GSA, myself being openly gay, it really did affect me that much. I know for a fact that even the people in the audience that were straight were just so moved…it was absolutely beautiful.”

O’Brien, a 1991 alumna of MPHS, is now Director of Education for a Jewish nonprofit organization in New York City.

After marrying her wife in 2010, she felt more and more that she needed to tell her story, “If for no other reason than to open people to the possibility that coming out to themselves and to others – as LGBTQ or in other ways they keep hidden – is part of becoming who they were created to be.”

“I was terrified walking into MPHS again for the first time since I graduated,”
O’Brien laughed. “It was a reparative experience. I came to give my support and to create a space for dialogue and imagination. I was overwhelmed to feel so embraced by my co-presenters, former teachers, and the students.”

While there is clearly more widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community in today’s society, Pesce and Preziosi stressed that there is still a long way to go and the young kids and teens still have many obstacles to overcome.

“We’re not getting it right as a country,” Preziosi said. “There’s so much more that we can do to support students…high school really is the most important part.”

Pesce added, “It’s very difficult for myself as a member of the gay community to see what we’ve been seeing recently in the past couple of years, which is something those of us in the gay community have known for years, that the suicide rate is incredibly high for at risk youth, specifically LGBTQ. It’s very scary.”

If Ogno speaks for the majority of students in the room who listened to the three alumni speak, it’s clear that their message hit home and had a positive impact on everyone there.

“If anything it was just motivation, definitely inspiration to just keep going and keep being who you are,” she said.

“I would talk to all the kids in the school if I had the opportunity,” Pesce said, “ My story is one of an insecure gay youth, but all kids have something about which they feel insecure.

“All kids have to deal with the issue of ‘coming out’ in some way in reference to who they are or where they’re from. Kids are bullied for a myriad of reasons and no matter what that might be, we have to understand it and support them unconditionally.”