The YWCA Brooklyn Celebrates 100 Years of Women's Suffrage

January 24, 2018

“Young women leaders need to know that leadership doesn’t need to be perfect,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo (D-NYS District 35). “Your expertise is your life experience, and that is so very valuable.” On the evening of January 11th, the YWCA Brooklyn held an event to celebrate one hundred years of Women’s Suffrage in New York State.


New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, New York City Council Majority leader Laurie Cumbo, New York State Assembly member Jo Anne Simon, and YWCA Brooklyn CEO & President Martha Kamber sat on a panel to honor the history of women’s civic leadership in our country, to empower young women, to bring light to the challenges of women in leadership positions today and promote the advancement of women of color in leadership positions now and in the future.


Public Advocate Letitia James led with a speech directed to the young women of the YWCA Brooklyn with a great message of empowerment to “believe in your convictions.” Women in our history have represented the value and importance of leadership and strength for centuries. It is because of women who believed in their own convictions that the United States government passed the nineteenth amendment granting women’s right to vote in August of 1920.

New York Public Advocate Letitia James (left) beside Martha Kamber President of the YWCA Brooklyn, Women’s Suffrage event, January 2018, YWCA Brooklyn.

Photo by Stella Magloire

The YWCA Brooklyn was a natural location for this discussion of smart, accomplished women. As Martha Kamber noted, the YWCA Brooklyn housed the first racially integrated programs of any YWCA or YMCA in the country in 1943. That made a fitting location to hear Kelli Owens, Director of Women's Affairs, for Governor Andrew Cuomo, update the diverse audience about key reforms within our state capital, particularly in areas of domestic violence, sexual assault in the workplace, contraception, equal pay and child care, and notably: Governor Cuomo’s proposal to prevent people convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun. (Under current law, a person convicted of a felony domestic violence charge must surrender their guns, but misdemeanor convictions are not covered.)


On this night, we also honored fellow young women within the YWCA’s Young Women’s Leadership, Empowerment and Academic Development program, or YW Brooklyn LEAD. The program launched four years ago to empower and support young women of color in their effort to attend and finish college. The first five girls who participated are now all in their first year of college. They had the opportunity to ask questions and receive advice from the legislators on the panel.


Sen. Montgomery recognized that “from the suffrage movement to the labor movement to the women’s movement, we are still dealing with the same stuff.” Her advice to the audience and YW LEAD members was to read. She shared her favorite books and novels, including Hillary Clinton’s latest book, What happened. She cited a passage that reads, “It’s hard to be a woman: you must think like a man, act like a young lady and work like a horse.” Sen. Montgomery calls on us to recognize women’s struggles in history and how they relate to us now, saying, “It is very important, whether you like [Hillary Clinton] or don’t like her, it’s time for us to talk to each other and to think about how we relate to other women in power.”


State Senator Velmanette Montgomery on panel beside NYC Council Majority Leader Lori Cumbo (right). Photo by Stella Magloire


Voting Early and (More) Often

Jo Anne Simon (Assembly member for the 52nd District in New York), shared her stance on lowering the voting age in America, arguing that it’s crucial to provide young people with a voice. She, along with Council Member Cumbo,- both spoke about how automatic voting registrations and lowering the voting age would significantly impact the power of young voters in America.

Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo shared her reflections on being the first woman of color to serve as majority leader of the New York city Council. In 2017, she became a new mother at the age of 42, while in the same year running in a primary, a general election and going through Majority leader nominations: “I have been battle tested and I’m stronger than I ever knew. Cumbo spoke candidly about the struggles she faces in comparison to her male counterparts, especially as a mother of an infant. But,- she also described the strength she feels in being able to do both.


Bathrooms and Babies
The crowd in the room - mostly women - cheered to learn about the BABIES Act, legislation requires that both men's and women's restrooms in publicly accessible federal buildings contain baby changing tables.

Laurie Cumbo, Majority leader (left) and Assembly member Jo Ann Simon (right). Photo by Stella Magloire


Martha Kamber, CEO & President of the YWCA

Brooklyn speaking at the podium, Women’s Suffrage

event, January 2018, YWCA Brooklyn.

Photo by Stella Magloire



As a young woman new to the YW Brooklyn LEAD program, I found this event very empowering. Meeting these strong and powerful women really allowed me to see with my own eyes that anything is possible. I left thinking about strength and faith in one’s self - and how it can build your internal drive. I am aware that it is our job as young women in America to carry on the brave legacy of these women and those who came before them. As I venture off to college in fall of 2018, I hope to do my part to continue bringing recognition to our history and reformation to our future.


YWCA Brooklyn representatives (left to right) Martha Kamber President of the YWCA Brooklyn, Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Rolanda Telesford director of Communications & External Relations at YWCA Brooklyn, and Brittnee Rock director of Girls and Women Empowerment at YWCA Brooklyn surrounded by YW LEADers of the YWCA Brooklyn.

Photo by Stella Magloire