DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. — Throughout the middle and high school years in the United States, Americans primarily learn about history from a male point of view. However, many women have made significant contributions to society from the classroom to the boardroom at all levels in society, which is one of the main reasons women are celebrated in March during Women’s History Month.
Tank-automotive and Armaments Command commemorated Women’s History Month virtually on Mar. 23 at the Detroit Arsenal.
The theme for this year’s Women’s History Month is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced”, was carried over from last year’s celebration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage and the passing of the 19th Amendment, we also celebrate the contributions of all women who have made a difference.
This year, TACOM honored two Detroiters, Dr. Terry Blackhawk and Suma Rosen, who through their work have had an impact on the lives of children and youth in the Detroit area.
Col. Santee Vasquez, TACOM’s Chief of Staff, offered opening remarks and welcomed the keynote speakers.
“As a senior leader in the Army, I’m in a unique position because I not only have a voice for the team and Soldiers but as a female and senior leader, I have a voice for women everywhere,” said Vasquez. “I welcome the opportunity to honor and encourage women of all ages and ethnicities to explore the opportunities presented to them.”
As a public educator, Blackhawk founded the Inside Out Literary Arts Project in Detroit in 1995. She started the program to share the power of poetry and writing to help youth with their self-expressions and improve their literary skills within their classes and their communities.
“Inside Out was a big changing point in my life,” said Blackhawk, “We encourage young writers to think broadly, create bravely, and share their voices with the wider world.”
According to Blackhawk, one of her students at the time the name of the project was chosen said that “we are taking what is inside of us out into the world.”
After receiving their first grant, Inside Out was to gain entrance into more Detroit area high schools and middle schools. Eventually, those schools were able to start budgeting to have the program to be a part of their curriculum.
“There are so many peak moments for Inside Out for the 20 years I was there,” said Blackhawk, “And there’s even more going on now with the way the program has become more flexible and adapted to COVID.”
Blackhawk recognized that there has been a lot of teamwork behind the effort to make Inside Out happen and that has allowed the program to work for so long.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama presented Blackhawk with the National Endowment of the Arts “Coming Up Taller Award” in 2009. She was also inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2019.
Although Blackhawk started the program, Suma Rosen has been the Executive Director since 2017.
Rosen is also an educator by trade and she has brought tremendous corporate, non-profit, and educational experience to the program.
“We are all about amplifying student voice,” said Rosen, “We help young people find their inside voice and bring it out.”
The Inside Out program brings career writers into classrooms throughout the metro Detroit area. The writers partner with teachers to help the youth in their classrooms to build the tools to share their voices and thoughts.
“While this program has become the spark that has started in a classroom around poetry, there is power in the program for those that don’t become poets,” Rosen said, “It helps others find their voice and shapes how they interact with the world.”
One of the way’s the program has pivoted in today’s world with the pandemic going on is they are encouraging the youth to keep a journal as a way to continue to express themselves.
“When COVID first hit Michigan, we had to put a stop to the in-person aspect of our work,” said Rosen, “We reached out to our writers and wanted to create online content that we can share with all our school partners.”
The program expanded to provide Inside Out at Home, which evolved into bringing live instruction to students in a virtual format.
Both ladies have worked tirelessly to improve the educational success of Detroit’s inner-city youth and give them a voice that deserves to be heard.
“There’s always an opportunity to listen to what young people have to say, and to empower them to share their voices,” said Rosen.
Rosen invited Justin Rogers, Inside Out Citywide Poets Coordinator, to join her to share his experiences from when he was a teen and part of the program.
“I’ve had a chance to see generations move forward and see Inside Out continue to grow,” said Rogers, “And see how it’s used to change and transform not only youth’s lives, but also [observe] the organization’s transformation as the world around it has changed.”
Rogers attributed the success of Inside Out to the leadership of Blackhawk and Rosen and the teams they have led to mentor the youth.
“I want to thank you for giving me a space to celebrate women and talk about the influence they’ve had influence in my life,” said Rogers.
The primary overall message from Inside Out is to continue to move forward, chase your dreams, and continue to support and encourage one another. A very important message when it comes to celebrating women and encouraging them to break through perceived barriers.