Growing up in East New York, Cheryl Powell's late father Moses Powell was an American pioneer of martial arts, and her mother was an activist and pioneer for the Head Start Program. Photo: Supplied

When Brooklyn registered nurse Cheryl Powell was first invited to participate in the Red Carpet for Social Justice, she was a little intimidated.

The event — which celebrates the city’s nurses and frontline workers — invites participants to celebrate their diversity by wearing cultural dress and performing to show off their heritage.

However, being born and raised in New York City put Powell in the minority of a workforce with roots all over the world.

“I represent the United States of America, so that makes me different,” she said. “I don’t align myself with any dance or cultural dress that the other women wear so pridefully, so I didn’t know where I fit in,” she said.

But one thing she did align with was the fight against racial inequality — a reality she has lived with in this country her whole life.

Registered nurse and NYSNA member Cheryl Powell as Angela Davis in 2016. Photo: Supplied

As a result, in the last five years she’s participated, Powell has made a point to represent and perform as the nation’s leading female civil rights activists.

One year she dressed at American political activist Angela Davis, tucking her long dreadlocks under an afro wig to perform one of Davis’ infamous speeches at the event.

Afterwards another participant from Egypt approached her to let her known her mother named her after Davis — a fact that made Powell realize the international power of female leaders. “It really pulled it together for me,” she said.

Another year she went as Ntozake Shange, reading the poem ‘Sorry’ from ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf.’

This year, Powell — who works at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center — will be going as the late American poet Maya Angelou, reading her beloved poem ‘Still I Rise.’

“It speaks to us women — no matter what you do to us we’re still rising,” Powell said.

The 2021 Red Carpet for Social Justice will be held virtually on Wednesday March 31 at 6 p.m., with the participants already recording their parts in a studio.

The Red Carpet is an annual shared celebration of women’s accomplishments, diversity and collective strength. The event was originally started about 10 years ago by 1199SEIU, the largest healthcare union in the nation.

It has since grown to include more than 20 other unions and labor groups including the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), of which Powell is a member.

Hundreds are expected to tune in online to cheer on the evening’s stars who have chosen to pay tribute to either their cultural heritage or a woman they admire by performing, dancing, or singing their way down the Red Carpet.

AG James will deliver a keynote. Photo: Andrea Leonhardt for BK Reader.

The event brings together women from across the labor movement and builds solidarity around common social justice struggles.

This year, New York Attorney General Letitia James will be delivering the keynote address, while NYS Assembly Member Karines Reyes will be giving a special announcement.

The event is produced by the International Women’s Red Carpet for Justice Coalition — which includes a number of nursing unions and labor organizations — the Manhattan Network El Barrio Studio and La Reina del Barrio Inc.

For more information on where to watch, click here.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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