Like so many Black women, I was excited about the movie “ Hidden Figures.” My enthusiasm skyrocketed when I got a letter from Trinity United Church of Christ’s First Lady and Black woman engineer, Monica Moss, inviting me to a showing of the movie for families on Chicago’s South Side. Even Monica, who grew up in the shadow of NASA headquarters, where her father worked, and won a NASA scholarship to attend Spelman College and study STEM, had never heard of the women in “Hidden Figures” until the movie came out. The film fanned the flames of her desire to encourage more Black women to enter math, science and engineering and encouraged her to bring families to see the film as a start toward that goal. Seeing her invitation to my Trinity church family inspired me to pay it forward to my local community in Chicago’s western suburbs. So, at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 12, I decided to organize a movie date on Monday, January 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Here’s how I did it, step by step:
Thursday, January 12Step One: Realize this is a good idea and call our local movie theater and discover they have an opportunity for a private screening for 200 that Monday. Step Two: Brainstorm possible community funders and partners. Step Three: Stop to brainstorm at my favorite local restaurant, George’s, and notice that the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce is next door. Pray quickly to God, channel the spirit of Rosa Parks and Gloria Steinem and hum Adele’s “Chasing Pavements.” Then, walk in the office and ask them to fund the event! Step Five: Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Yen not only thinks it's a great idea but wants to fill the entire theater! I calmly act like it's no big deal and make sure my facial expression is portraying confidence and calm. (And try not to sing Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” out loud.) Step Six: Watch a perfect illustration of community, love and networking play out in 20 minutes. Cathy finds the amazing Anthony Clark, executive director of Suburban Unity Alliance, and asks him to co-sponsor the event. She writes an $1,800 check to the theater and gets confirmation that Suburban Unity Alliance is on board! Step Seven: Head straight to the Lake Street Theater and discover there is a 10:00 a.m. showing on Monday but—plot twist—the movie manager misspoke when promising a private screening for just our group. I resolve to obtain tickets for our group within the next 15 minutes, before 5:00 p.m.! Step Eight: Ignore annoyed glares from movie staff as I switch from "Nice Lady" to "Boss Lady" and insist on speaking with the corporate office to complete ticket transaction before 5:00 p.m. (Suppress urge to yell like Katy Perry: You’re gonna hear me roar!) Step Nine: Negotiate with the theater’s corporate office to purchase tickets to use the space for discussion before and after the movie. Purchase tickets, get receipt, email confirmation to Cathy and Anthony. Step 11: Email my crew of women and say something eloquent like "I'm a badass!" while explaining that in 2 hours I got 200 tickets for community members and a presentation in the theater. Thank God and the spirits of Rosa and Gloria, play Beyonce and crash at 7:00 p.m. in an elated feminist high.
Friday, January 13Step One: Wake in panic, realizing it was not a dream. I did plan an event for 200 people on Monday and have already purchased tickets. Step Two: Set Friday goal: get 250 confirmations. Like any event organizer, I assume 20 percent of those confirmed won’t actually show up. Because of my deep involvement with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop, I’m committed to bringing as many local Girl Scouts and their families as I can. I also want to include as many members of my community as possible: St. Luke’s Parish School, New Morning Star Baptist Church and all my organizer friends on Facebook. Step Three: Contact Oak Park River Forest Community Bank and ask if they will donate funds to purchase an additional 150 tickets. Step Four: Speak with the community manager at Community Bank, which partners with our Girl Scout troop, and she says yes to my request to support 50 tickets for Girl Scouts. Have quick panic attack about getting 50 Girl Scouts and their family members to the movie. Step Five: Celebrate with a planning/brainstorming meeting at Buzz Café and enjoy a cookie and realize my St. Edmund’s Girl Scouts Troop and families is more than the 50 people I need. Thank God and the spirits of Rosa and Gloria, then sing to myself "Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. Step Six: Late Friday night, Anthony Clark sends an amazing flyer to promote the movie screening. Quickly email it to all my networks. Great conversation with Anthony reassures me that we will get 150 community folks with the flyer. I follow his lead and call it a night.
The WeekendStep One: By Saturday at noon, 400 people confirm their attendance for the event! Step Two: Spend the rest of the day with family and sleeping, interrupted by quick calls with the movie manager every few hours to check on details. Not totally comfortable they are ready... Step Three: Sunday morning, email the movie theater and Suburban Unity Alliance a draft agenda for the event. 9:00 a.m. Doors open 9:15-9:45 a.m. Anthony Clark leads a community conversation 10-11:30 a.m. Movie 11:30-12:00 p.m. Post-movie discussion Step Four: Take a break and celebrate with a two-hour binge of Drunk History. Cry a little at the Harriet Tubman episode. Afterwards, feel re-energized to make sure women and girls see “Hidden Figures.”
MondayStep One: Awaken at 7:30 a.m. and see that it is raining and cold. Have brief panic attack. Step Two: Give myself the "I am woman hear me roar" motivational speech. Step Three: Realize that motivational speech took a little longer than planned and now I’m running late. Step Four: Grab older daughter, my rock and anchor, and head for the theater. Step Five: En route, Anthony calls, saying the theater is not opening the doors. Assure him I will handle it and be there in 5 minutes. Step Six: Channel the spirits of Rosa and Gloria and the chorus of “Freedom” by Beyonce. Call the theater and demand they open the doors immediately. Step Seven: Arrive at the theater and meet my new best friend, Anthony. Give him a big hug and tell him to make everyone feel warm and cozy. Step Eight: Morph into organizing machine. Get people seated, doors open, concession stand open, while also welcoming new and old friends, giving hugs and love to all my people! Step Nine: Meet my other new friend, Christian Harris, a board member of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce, who asks the right question: "What do you need me to do?" Hug Christian, thank God, channel Rosa and Gloria, and realize there is no time for an internal prep song. Christian takes over herding people into the theater; Anthony starts the discussion inside; I relax for a moment and grab a celebratory snack from the concession stand. Step 10: I take the movie theater stage to give a quick talk and am overwhelmed by the love in my village. Even in the rain, we got all 350 people we had expected. It’s a beautiful, diverse audience: friends, family, Black, White, Latino, mixed, all ages and genders. Step 11: Manage to say something coherent about the significance of this day, of this movie, and of our community’s specialness in being able to unite in three days to bring so many together to honor and learn about the hidden figures of NASA, but also to connect with the "hidden figures" who are our neighbors. (Suppress sudden urge to sing “Kumbya.”) Step 12: After the movie, enjoy a celebratory snack of ice cream at Brown Cow and then take a two-day nap. In the midst of the crazy division that is shown on television and social media about our country, it was amazing to see all the love, unity and community happening in my village. I couldn’t have done it alone. Truly, it took a village: Oak Park Chamber of Commerce, Suburban Unity Alliance, Oak Park River Forest Community Bank, St. Luke Parish School, St. Edmund’s Girl Scout Troop, New Morning Star Baptist Church, George’s and Buzz Café restaurants and countless other community members who aren't part of organizations. While humming Sinatra’s “ My Kind of Town,” realize my village, Chicago, community, rocks!
ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now.