Bolo Bahen! Speak Sister! emerged from the 2009 Arts & Empowerment (A&E) Program, an interactive series of workshops focused on the issue of domestic violence explored through the media of poetry, prose, film and dialogue. Workshops were held from January to April 2009 in Queens, New York. The A&E program sought to harness and develop the voices and the power of women and girls by encouraging them to share their thoughts, emotions, experiences and, crucially, their visions for change.
We are delighted to share the book's introduction below.
Walking Our New Road into Being: Women of the South Asian Diaspora
on Self-Awareness and Empowerment
by Taij Kumarie Moteelall
In a recent workshop on Living Ahimsa*, Sri Swamini Mayatitananda, lovingly known as Mother Maya, explained that living in awareness means clarifying our questions rather than knowing the answers. In the spirit of living Ahimsa, I open this book with the same question that inspired me to start organizing women in my community:
How do we manifest a world illuminated by our third eye--
a world where we are whole and grounded--
having been ruptured and uprooted time and time again?
Jahajee Sisters envision a world in which sisterhood is so strong it stomps out patriarchy, ends violence against women, and restores balance. Our journey for justice embodies collective power every step of the way—we are walking our new road into being. By standing in our full power, silence is replaced by songs of liberation, poems of resistance, and stories of honor. Together, we strive to uphold truth and lift up humanity.
Bolo Bahen! Speak Sister! is an anthology of poetry produced by participants of the Arts and Empowerment (A&E) Program co-sponsored by Jahajee Sisters and Sakhi for South Asian Women. For ten Sundays, women across three generations from Guyana, India, Jamaica, Pakistan, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and the United States gathered at the Blue Star Center of New York to heal wounds, reclaim identity and build solidarity. By releasing stories kept sheltered for too long, week after week, we witnessed transformations in ourselves and each other.
The writings that fill the following pages weave together our laughter, tears, insights, and dreams of birthing a new day. The formula used to guide the A&E program was: Self-Awareness ~› Empowerment ~› Community Organizing ~› Ending Violence Against Women
Through this process we fostered inner awareness—becoming more mindful of our words and deeds through constant reflection—for we believe that we must first change ourselves in order to change our world. Realizing that a true revolution happens from the inside out, we honed inner resilience and developed a circle of support. Navigating the personal and public domains, we step up and step out to engage in community dialogue and boldly proclaim that violence against women will never be tolerated. We utilize the arts and activism as tools to uplift voices and realize visions.
During a session on community engagement, program participants coined the following definition of Arts Activism: Using creative expression in the form of writing, drama and performance to fight for a cause, battle resistance to change, and inspire community empowerment and equality.
In another session, we created sculptures with our bodies to depict our experiences as part of the A&E program. Those who had adopted similar postures clustered together to discuss what inspired our poses. Collectively, we came up with similies and metaphors speaking of our “change process” through the course of the workshops. These brief collaborative pieces reflect the program’s impact on participants and frame our collection of poetry:
We were once caterpillars
emerging from cocoons
now butterflies with iron wings
soaring to new heights.
The reshaping of community
is like blowing glass
molded in the fire of violence
dipped in waters of reflection
creating priceless gifts
holding the beauty of unity.
Bolo Bahen! Speak Sister! is a testament to dynamic arts-based community organizing. Our intention is for this publication to serve as a catalyst—cultivating awareness and inspiring action. By shedding light and filling gaps in literary and social justice movements, we are moving voices from the margins a little closer to the center—expanding the center to fit all.
*Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which means “absence of the desire to hurt.”