On May 19th, Kathy Kilrain del Rio, our Director of Program & Development, received the Ruth L. Lockhart Feminist Activist Award from the Mable Wadsworth Women’s Health Center. It’s an incredible honor and we are so proud to see her work recognized. The award is named for named for one of the Center’s founders and its first executive director, who retired last year after 23 years of service. Kathy received the award for her tireless activism as a leader for women throughout Maine as well as her passion for making feminist organizations and advocacy inclusive for all women and raising up the voices of the most vulnerable in our work toward a truly equitable future.
Following are remarks made by Andrea Irwin, executive director of Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center, when she presented Kathy with the award, as well as Kathy’s remarks at the awards dinner. You can see more photos from the evening at http://bit.ly/281GA0x.
Presentation by Andrea Irwin:
I have the distinct pleasure of presenting this next award, the Ruth L. Lockhart Feminist Activist Award.
The award is named for my predecessor, Ruth L. Lockhart, who we gathered one year ago in this very room to honor for her 23 years of service to Mabel Wadsworth Center as its first executive director, and for playing a major role in helping to start this organization more than 31 years ago.
Ruth’s commitment to feminism and activism is unparalleled. Aptly depicted as “wonder woman” as part of last year’s celebration, Ruth’s leadership has inspired future generations to take up the mantle of reproductive rights advocacy. She clearly championed women’s health locally but also played significant roles at both the state and national levels to advocate and agitate for abortion access and gender equality. Quite simply, the landscape of reproductive rights in Maine would look quite different were it not for Ruth Lockhart.
It is therefore fitting that tonight we present this award, the “Ruth L. Lockhart Feminist Activism Award” to another fearless feminist who inspires younger generations to take action and make a difference in the world.
So please allow me to tell you about the recipient, Kathy Kilrain del Rio.
Kathy has spent her life working to educate and empower others while trying to build a more just world. Originally from upstate New York, she began her career as an educator—teaching people of all ages from preschool to GED programs in a NYS correctional facility.
Luckily for all of us, she and her husband Hiram, who is also here tonight, (along with her parents and sister and several other members of her family) decided to make Maine their home in 2006.
Kathy served as Executive Director of Literacy Volunteers of Greater Saco-Biddeford and taught English classes for New Mainers in adult education programs. She also worked on adult literacy issues at Literacy Volunteers of Maine where she helped create the Easy-to-Read Voter Guide with the League of Women Voters of Maine. She trained people about adult literacy issues including civic engagement, learning disabilities, self-advocacy, and the intersections of poverty and education.
In 2012, Kathy joined the staff of the Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine Women’ Policy Center where she oversees program, outreach, fundraising, and communications efforts. These two organizations are very special to us. They are wonderful coalition partners and their small staff of four, including Kathy, easily does the work of at least a dozen people. Tonight other staff Eliza Townsend and Molly Bogart are also here. Their purpose is to ensure that Maine women have a voice at the state house and in other places decisions are being made. Advocating for women’s health, including our reproductive rights, is just one of the four issue areas they focus on, but they never fail to bring awareness of abortion access to the forefront, or to connect the dots between women’s access to basic health care like birth control and abortion care as key to their economic security.
Kathy has worn many hats there but some of her key accomplishments include – organizing two iterations of the Maine Women’s Summit on Economic Security, developing training materials and programs for advocates and partner organizations, and coordinating press conferences and rallies on key issues affecting women in Maine.
She also co-chairs the Alliance for Maine Women, of which Mabel Wadsworth Center is a member, and helps engage Maine Women’s Lobby members, the public, the media, and legislators on issues involving violence, discrimination, health care, and economic security.
Kathy is also an organizer where she resides in Portland. She worked extensively on Portland’s recent ordinance raising the city’s minimum wage and the ongoing fight to protect General Assistance for immigrants in Maine. She is proud to serve as part of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and support its ongoing communication efforts on a wide range of issues impacting the immigrant community.
In fact, a year ago, she was unable to attend this event, because she was helping to lead a rally in Portland to oppose the Governor’s proposed general assistance cuts.
Kathy serves on the board of Emerge Maine and is a 2010 graduate of the program. She has been a part of many leadership and training programs such as the Sigma Class of the ICL Leadership Intensive. Additionally, she has volunteered on several ballot initiative campaigns, including the effort to reinstate same-day voter registration. She was a trainer for the Speakers Bureau for Marriage Equality in 2012 and served as the team leader for the York County team.
Kathy is passionate about making feminist organizations and advocacy inclusive for all women and raising up the voices of the most vulnerable in our work toward a truly equitable future.
As you may infer from this long list of accomplishments and activities, to say that Kathy is tireless is an understatement.
What isn’t necessarily conveyed in this bio, however, is her awesome capacity for engaging with and leading people of various groups, from different backgrounds, with sometimes competing agendas, toward a single, unified goal in coalitions. I have led and participated in coalitions and there is a common refrain or cliché that leading a coalition is like herding cats, so I know how challenging the work can be. Kathy leads several statewide coalitions and alliances with tremendous skill and organizational ability, always acting with diplomacy and poise. And less sexy but equally important, she is always professional, kind and dependable.
Working as an organizer and an activist in times like this, with increased division and animosity, is challenging and we need more people like Kathy. She makes our state a better place and is relentlessly optimistic about our ability to stay the course when all signs are pointing us in another direction. She inspires us on a daily basis to do better, work harder, and fight longer.
Most important, Kathy is a true social change agent. A fearless feminist. An Organizer. And leader. I am honored to call her my colleague and my friend and truly honored to present her with this award, the Ruth L. Lockhart Feminist Activist Award.
Remarks by Kathy Kilrain del Rio:
Thank you so much. I’m incredibly honored to be receiving this award named for such a remarkable woman who has done so much for women. Ruth, you are an inspiration and I will work hard to live up to your example. Thank you also to everyone at Mabel Wadsworth for providing excellent care and doing so with a feminist spirit. When Andrea and Abbie first called to tell me about this award, I was speechless. It means the world to me.
I grew up surrounded by songs of rebellion, protest, peace, and justice. I watched Princess Leia stand up to Darth Vader, Wonder Woman defeat the bad guys with her lasso of truth, Jessica Fletcher fearlessly take on sexists and murderers. The ringwraith who couldn’t be defeated by any man was brought down by a woman. Is it any wonder that I grew up to believe I could save the world?!
Well, I did believe that then and I still believe it now. Though along the way I realized that you can’t save the world by yourself. That’s why I’m grateful that I am surrounded by so many people who nurture my dreams.
Eliza Townsend at the Maine Women’s Lobby who took a chance on me, and gives me opportunities to take on new challenges while freely sharing her knowledge and experience. My coworkers Danna Hayes and Molly Bogart who not only do amazing work, but also understand that sometimes you need to indulge in rainbows, unicorns, and glitter. Thank you to so many of you in this room who I get to work with in coalitions or through Emerge Maine. We can only succeed by supporting one another – you all get that and live it and I am grateful that I get to learn from you and collaborate with you all. That’s a gift I treasure. My dear friends both near and far who challenge me to be my best self and revitalize me when I am overwhelmed. Especially Kristen Stevens who sees the brilliance in everyone, and Karen Wyman who has helped me to articulate my values and the best way to live them time after time. And finally to my entire family who has enveloped me in love all my life. I know how precious that is and I value it every day. I’d especially like to thank my husband Hiram who is always by my side in whatever I do and makes it possible for me to hold myself together. Thank you, my Love. My sister Paddy who helped me learn to follow my own path with faith that it will indeed lead somewhere. And to my parents who truly made me believe I could accomplish anything, be anyone I want to be, and have cheered me on every step of the way.
Thank you all.
When I was a little girl, my favorite books were Harold and the Purple Crayon and Horton Hears a Who. Anyone in my life who has had a little kid knows that I still love these two stories and give them to every child I know. When I think about what I want to do with my life, those two books always come to mind. I believe they taught me three important lessons that I try to live almost every day. Harold taught me that I can create the story – can create the world that I want to live. Sometimes it may not turn out exactly as you think it will, but then you pick up your crayon and try again. Each of us needs to decide what we want the world we live in to look like. And then we need to do what we can to make that a reality. The Maine Women’s Lobby works for a future where all of us can live our lives free from violence and free from discrimination. A future where each and every one of us has true access to a full range of health care, and all of us have real economic security. I believe that vision can become a reality. And we can take a step closer to it each day. I know that may sound like a fantasy to some, but to me it’s not. We may not make it there in my lifetime, but it can exist and I am going to do my best to bring it about as soon as possible.
That brings me to Horton’s lessons. He taught me that a person’s a person no matter how small. All of us have experienced being the unseen person at some time or another. Or being seen and disregarded. For some, that is a daily, almost constant struggle. It shouldn’t be. Every single human being has value. Every single one of us deserves to be seen, deserves to be heard, deserves to be able to meet our basic needs – and then go beyond those basics to thrive. Every single person deserves to feel loved, accepted, heard, and seen.
In working on women’s rights, I hear almost daily someone say, “I can’t believe we’re still fighting these same fights.” Or “We’ve been working on equality for decades and we’re still not there.” I’ve said these words, too. But while we certainly face attacks on rights that should be settled, I think we’re actually in a much better place to win today. While I know that for many in this room, intersectionality isn’t a new concept, I think the recognition that we can’t work for any cause in a vacuum is becoming better understood by more people. If we want to truly see and hear each person and their needs, we have to see their whole selves. We can’t work for reproductive justice without racial justice, without economic justice, without acknowledging the challenges someone may be facing because of their unique experiences. Not all our identities are visible so we can’t assume we know someone’s story from the outside. It is imperative that we help each other to see one another as vibrant individuals. And that we hold each other accountable when we overlook that complexity.
That brings me to the last lesson from Horton – that we need everyone’s voice to succeed. I don’t know if it’s the most important lesson, but it’s the one that gives me the most hope in our work. To succeed we do need everyone’s voice. The beauty of seeing issues as inter connected is that it means more of us have a stake in the success of all our issues. We can invite more and more people in. It also means it’s our responsibility to step up and help others in their struggles, too. Because if we all add our voices and our efforts together, we’ll be heard. We’ll succeed. I know that is true. And it will happen.
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up with many songs in my life. One of those is probably known by you all: ‘This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let it Shine’. When I look out on this room, I see a beautiful glow from each of you. Everyone has something that makes their light shine out. What is it that makes you glimmer? What is that makes each of us blaze? I think the way we’ll triumph is to nurture each other’s sparks. Give each other a chance to be radiant. Together we are a dazzling ball of justice that is unstoppable.