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Gloria Steinem receives Century Award from the New York Women's Foundation

Gloria Steinem and Jessamyn Rodriguez on the carpet with a couple of young admirers
Gloria Steinem and Jessamyn Rodriguez on the carpet with a couple of young admirers
Linda Covello

In a March 23rd piece in The New York Times Sunday Review section, Gail Collins wrote the following about her profile subject, Gloria Steinem: "when she goes to events, young women flock around her." This was certainly the case last Thursday when Steinem was presented with the New York Women's Foundation's Century Award, which honors a woman leader for her social activism, strategic philanthropy and work on behalf of low-income women spanning many decades. Collins went on to recount how overwhelmed journalist Ruchira Gupta became when she toured India recently with Steinem to promote "As if Women Matter", a collection of Steinem's writings repurposed for an Indian audience. According to Collins, Gupta, upon seeing the enormous lines of people waiting to take pictures, ask questions and share stories, said to Steinem, "why are you giving them so much time?" Steinem, she said, told her: "this is the only opportunity you might have for human contact with this person. So how can you not engage?" Steinem certainly demonstrated that maxim last Thursday, when, after the presentation she mingled with guests at a reception on the 8th floor of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. She patiently and good naturedly posed with dozens of admirerers who crowded into the frame for pictures with the feminist icon.

Gloria Steinem on the carpet at the 2014 Celebrating Women Breakfast
Linda Covello

The Century Award was presented to Steinem at the NYWF's 27th annual Celebrating Women Breakfast at the Marriott Marquis on Broadway in Times Square. The sold out event welcomed over 2,200 men and women, raising $2 million, which will be added to grant funds the foundation will distribute to 70 community-based, women-led, non-profit companies and organizations throughout New York City in 2014. The New York Women's Foundation is a cross-cultural alliance of women, serving as a voice for women and a force for change. The Foundation identifies innovative organizations that are effecting change for women in the communities they serve. NYWF strategically funds organizations and programs that move women, girls and families toward long-term economic security through individual transformation and systemic change, mobilizing leaders and community partners as philanthropists and change agents. NYWF funds programs that promote economic security and justice, anti-violence and safety, health and sexual rights, and reproductive justice for women and girls in New York City.

The NYWF also honored Jessamyn Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, and Soffiyah Elijah, the Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York. Rodriguez has used her passions for baking and social justice to lead the growth of Hot Bread Kitchen from a visionary idea to a thriving bakery and workforce development program. In 2010, Rodriguez was selected as an inaugural entrepreneur for The Hitachi Foundation Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs grant, and was also awarded the first annual Coro New York Alumni Award for Civic Leadership. She also received a 2008 Echoing Green Fellowship and the Eileen Fisher Company's Grant for Women Entrepreneurs in 2007. Before starting Hot Bread Kitchen, Rodriguez spent a decade working for NGOs, the government, and the United Nations. Focusing on human rights, education and immigration issues, Rodriguez's work has taken her to Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Bosnia, Guatemala, and Chile. She has an MPA from Columbia University, a BA from the University of British Columbia and a Master Baker certificate from the New School University. Rodriguez was also the first woman hired as a baker at Chef Daniel Boulud's renowned Restaurant Daniel.

Elijah has served as the Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York since March 2011. An accomplished advocate, attorney, scholar and educator, Elijah is the first woman and first person of color to lead the nearly 170-year old organization in its mission to create a fairer and more humane criminal justice system. She has been named by Governor Cuomo to co-lead the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice. Under Elijah's leadership, the Correctional Association has significantly expanded both the size and diversity of its staff, particularly increasing the number of formerly incarcerated people holding leadership roles at the organization. Prior to leading the Correctional Association, Elijah served as Deputy Director at the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School, where she was responsible for leading the fulfillment, development, and expansion of the Institute's work to address the urgent needs of the indigent in the criminal justice system. As a clinical instructor at the Institute, she trained hundreds of law students to become effective and ethical lawyers and to engage in local and national reform of criminal and juvenile justice policies.

Both women received the NYWF's Celebrating Women Award, which is given to women whose significant achievements have influenced the lives of - and provided a role model for - women and girls. Each honoree was presented with a CWB Walking Stick Award, designed by NYWF grantee partner Youth Empowerment Mission. The sticks symbolize the trailblazing role of the women being honored, as well as the energy, creativity and enterprise of their grantee partners. Since 2007, young women in YEM's Blossom Program for Girls have used their talent and ingenuity to decorate each stick with words, symbols and pictures that signify the contribution made by the woman being honored. The sticks, made from locally harvested wood, are imbued with the spirit of the woman being honored. Founded in 1995, YEM is a community-based organization serving the critical needs of young people living in Bedford-Stuyvesant and the surrounding communities of Central Brooklyn. Their award-winning Blossom Program provides a safe haven for girls, 13-21, who live in high-risk environments, based on the core belief that "all girls deserve to blossom".

The Breakfast opened with a performance from Lavender Light Gospel Choir, followed by a welcoming from Anne Delaney, the Board Chair. Ana Oliveira, President & CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation gave an impassioned speech, and referred to the audience as the “sitting march of our move for justice.” She told the audience that there was, “A humming in the room. A humming for justice. A humming for fairness.” And urged guests to “Raise that humming to a louder sound between this breakfast and next year’s.” The 2,200 guests were each given a pair of Steinem's trademark aviators and asked to don them in homage to the Century Award honoree. The morning concluded on a powerful note, when legendary singer and songwriter Judy Collins took the stage and sang an a cappella rendition of ‘Amazing Grace,’ flanked by the honorees, grantee partners and several representatives from the New York Women’s Foundation.