Five of these women shared the stage in Brooklyn on Monday night in an emotional showing of perseverance and force. They were each honored for contributions and achievements they were the first to make.
Those honored were Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim American woman to represent the U.S. during the Olympics competing in a hijab, Sarah Weddington, who represented “Jane Roe” in the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortions, Katie Couric, the first solo female anchor of a nightly news program, Laverne Cox, the first transgender woman to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy for an acting role, and Ruby Bridges, who became the first black student to attend William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.
These women have encountered diverse obstacles, but they’re connected by their refusal to let adversity stand in their way. Weddington told the crowd her desire to break barriers for women started on her high school basketball team, where she was told by coaches she could only play a certain amount as to not impact her “reproductive capacity,” which they called her “meal ticket.”
“I thought I could find something else,” she said, to laughs from the audience.
Bridges, who recalled the “hundreds of parents” who pulled their children out of school on the day she arrived for class in 1960, shared what she’s learned spending time in schools throughout her adult life. “Racism is a grown-up disease, and we should stop using our kids to spread it.”
Cox, who garnered her acting nomination for her role on “Orange is the New Black,” stressed the importance of working together to create change. “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone in the waters to create many ripples,” she said, quoting Mother Teresa and crediting transgender actress Candis Cayne for casting a stone that kept her pushing forward in her career. “Today, as more of us declare our right to exist in public space, our many ripples will become tidal waves of change.”
To call the visual of these five women sharing a stage inspiring would be an understatement. But their messages, both of success and struggle, spoke directly to the hundreds of high school students in attendance. They were encouraged by presenter and actress Zazie Beetz to follow these women’s leads.
″Girls up top, that’s how you do it,” she said. “So whether any of you plan to be the first female NFL coach, the first female Navy SEAL, the first female goddamn president ― remember the women on this stage, and then go get your first.”
Watch the entire awards ceremony ― and fast forward to the 1:58 mark to see the “Firsts” segment ― above.