In history books, the accomplishments of black women are among those most underrepresented. Through her Emerson Foundation project this summer, Jorett Joseph ’15 aims to research and recognize the efforts of black women who have promoted justice within their communities.
Her project, “Justice through Love: Community Building Efforts of Black Women,” has two stages; first, she is researching the involvement of black women in mutual aid societies in the 19th and 20th centuries. Then, she travelled to Haiti to create a literacy program in an orphanage, showing how young black women today can continue to spread justice in modern communities. Joseph’s project advisor is Professor of Africana Studies Shelley Haley.
“Throughout history black women are viewed as second class citizens and their efforts go unrecognized,” Joseph commented. She is researching the accomplishments of black women who have gone largely unacknowledged, noting, “I hope to restore visibility to these groups which have so often been omitted from Eurocentric American history.” Joseph found a prime example of the underrepresentation of black women in the history of mutual aid societies, organizations that worked to assist needy groups such as orphans and the aged.
Many of these societies in the 19th and 20th centuries were run by or depended on participation from black women. These women often held full-time domestic positions while they worked to pay off church mortgages, provide aid for the needy, fund the building of libraries and help their communities in other ways. Joseph asserts that despite the fact that these women “were the backbones and foundations of their communities,” they are often left out of historical writing. “Many scholars are aware that the work women completed in mutual aid societies goes untold,” she remarked. “These scholars further write about the work of white women and leave a sentence or paragraph dedicated to the work of black women.” Joseph is trying to correct that problem in her own research.
In August, Joseph traveled to Port-au-Prince Haiti, where she has ancestral roots. There, she is working to create a children’s library and literacy program at the Humanitarian Foundation of Doctor Dufreny, an orphanage and community center. She has conducted a book drive and will be donating books in English, Spanish and French to the library. “Having a diverse education will help these children think critically and develop different perspectives about their environment,” Joseph explained. Joseph, who is interested in fashion, also worked this summer with Steve Madden Ltd., and the company agreed to help by sending boxes of shoes and bags to the orphanage in Haiti.
Her experience working with Steve Madden impressed her with the possibilities of building on connections. “Communication, networking, pulling resources, and taking initiative are all components of community building,” Joseph explained. “This is exactly what these African-American women did years ago. They gathered together to promote justice and fulfill the needs of their communities.”
After completing her research project, Joseph wants to continue promoting social responsibility within corporations and helping the “extended global community of African descent.” She explained, “For me as a student in the 21st century, justice continues to be the public face of love.” She hopes to encourage other young women to consider the improvements they can make in their own communities, affirming, “Black women in the 19th and 20th century improved the states of their communities. It is now black women’s responsibility to continue this work within the future.”
Joseph is a graduate of North Miami Beach Senior High School.