It was the kind of room, the kind of evening really, that could induce “pinch me” moments at every turn.
In a long, fire engine red dress model Duckie Thot was trying to find just the right pose for the photo booth. Principal ballerina Misty Copeland embraced fellow American Ballet Theater dancer Isabella Boylston with a glee reminiscent of “omg, I haven’t seen you in forever!” Trailblazers like feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat casually among Hollywood stars and journalists.
Steinem, in reflecting on her decades long work fighting for women, told The Daily Beast, “I can’t imagine anything more interesting, more rewarding, more angering, more worthwhile.” Discussing the current #MeToo moment and intergenerational work required for lasting change she said, “I’m always hopeful because I remember when it was worse, that’s one of the good things about being older and fortunately I work with women who well understand that it should be better, have energy and anger and together we make a movement.”
Diane von Furstenberg, the evening’s host, (who is married to Barry Diller, chairman of IAC, The Daily Beast’s parent company) held court and worked the room with her signature warmth. In a nod to the designer, more than a few guests opted to wear floral pieces synonymous with the brand, bringing spring inside the United Nations and mirroring the unseasonably warm New York City evening.
Still, there was nothing ordinary about the evening which was a call to action to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time.
With a U.S. strike in Syria looming, Luma Mufleh, chief executive of Fugees Family Inc. which uses soccer and education to help refugee children, brought the audience to tears as she described the worsening crisis. According to CARE there are currently 65 million refugees worldwide, with five million Syrians having fled their country due to ongoing conflict.
“We are at a time in history where we can try and put someone on Mars, we can order a car on our phone but yet we cannot protect and take care of each other,” she said in her acceptance speech for the People’s Voice Award during the 9th annual DVF Awards. The event, now in its ninth year celebrates women who are change agents in transforming the lives of others and provides funding to support their charitable work. “The number should not overwhelm you, it should not make you sit back and say there’s nothing I can do. It should fire you up to say ‘no we need to stop this, this can not happen in our lifetime,” said Mufleh, who encouraged the support of grassroots organizations.
Like Mufleh, each honoree used personal and familial stories along with a deep sense of conviction to their roots to shape their work— a reminder that within our life stories are seeds which when cultivated can provide the nutrients to create change within the wider community.
Other recipients included Copeland, who was honored with the Inspiration Award for her work in expanding the reach of classical ballet in underserved communities. Ariela Suster and Jaha Dukureh both received the International Award for their dedication to providing safe havens to the communities they serve. Suster, a former editor, founded the accessories and jewelry Sequence with workshops in her native El Salvador to provide employment opportunities to young men at risk of joining gangs.
“One of the coolest things to see is that after all the training now they are creating work featured in runway shows and their work is super valued,” Suster told the Beast. Sequence’s work was featured in DVF’s Spring 2018 collection and is sold in U.S. retail locations for the brand. “Some of our guys didn’t think they could have big goals and now some are fulfilling them like building houses for their families,” she said, adding that one of the young men who initially joined the brand is now a member of the design team.
Nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, Dukureh has dedicated her life to helping women and girl survivors deal with the impact of female genital mutilation and child marriage through Safe Hands for Girls. Having endured both, Dukereh took a moment to reflect during her acceptance speech. “Young women like me don’t ever make it this far. A lot of times we end up being footnotes in research papers. People always import solutions to our communities but never want to see us as change agents,” Dukereh said adding that her decision to tackle these issues cost her the support of some in family members. “It can get very lonely when you’re doing work like this and not having the right support system around you can cause a lot of issues so we are there to be each other’s keepers,” she told the Beast of other survivors who share their stories.
Justice Sotomayor, who took the stage amid a standing ovation for her Lifetime Leadership Award, recalled the lives of her mother and abuelita who forged their own paths despite hardships. “We cannot be bystanders in our life,” she said, adding “the stories of your grandmothers, your mothers, the women in your life who have uplifted you— don’t forget their stories. They are the stories that will keep us moving.”
As her speech and the evening drew to a close, some guests were seen wiping tears from their eyes. On an elevator leaving the awards, one guest turned to me and said “man, I feel like a slacker.”
I paused and replied, “we all have a lot of work to do.”