NEW YORK (AP) — Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, encouraged women to find inspiration to fight for equity as she accepted the Ms. Foundation Women of Vision Award Tuesday night, with Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown.
“It’s never too late to start,” Meghan said at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in Manhattan. “You can be the visionary of your own life… There is still so much work to be done.”
Her acceptance speech closed out the Ms. Foundation for Women’s annual gala, part of the nation’s oldest women’s foundation celebration of its 50th anniversary. The gala also kicked off the foundation’s largest fundraising campaign ever — $100 million over the next 12 months — that will be used to further the organization’s equity-centered initiatives and its mission of advancing women’s collective power.
The foundation is already more than halfway to its goal. It announced that the late photographer and philanthropist Lucia Woods Lindley donated $50 million, the largest bequest in the foundation’s history. Proceeds from the gala itself raised another $1 million, and nearly $500,000 was donated by attendees during dinner.
With her mother, Doria Ragland, in the audience, Meghan recounted how Ms. Magazine was always in their house and how it affected her world view.
“I am a woman who remains inspired and driven by this organization,” she said, looking over at Ms. Foundation co-founder Gloria Steinem, who introduced her alongside current foundation CEO Teresa C. Younger. “It allowed me to recognize that part of my greater value and purpose in life was to advocate for those who felt unheard, to stand up to injustice, and to not be afraid of saying what is true and what is just and what is right.”
Though the event was her first public appearance since she skipped the coronation of her father-in-law King Charles III earlier this month in order to stay at home in California for her son Prince Archie’s fourth birthday, she made no mention of the ceremony. Her husband Prince Harry attended the coronation in London and then rushed back to California.
Meghan and Prince Harry direct their philanthropy through their Archewell Foundation, which provided nearly 13 million COVID-19 vaccines with partner Global Citizen and helped resettle nearly 175,000 refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan in the United States with partner Welcome.US, according to its 2022 annual report.
Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans said the Archewell Foundation leaders helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the COVID-19 vaccines through Global Citizen VAX Live, while also helping convince the world’s wealthiest nations to provide some of the doses to those living in other nations. Evans said he was impressed with Meghan’s work ethic as they teamed up at roundtables promoting the event in 2021.
“I would say she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and be practical,” Evans told The Associated Press. “When you see someone willing to spend their time, not doing the glamorous stuff, but willing to do the behind- the-scenes stuff, that’s always a good sign.”
Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown received her Woman of Vision award from her longtime friend #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke, who led the attendees in song to welcome Brown to the stage. Brown then delivered an uplifting song of her own, before delivering a poignant speech about working for change.
“Even pain has a purpose,” she said. “What’s happening in this country right now, this isn’t just a matter about what the Republicans or the Democrats are going to do. It really is a question about what is it that we’re going to do collectively to lean into this moment of discomfort and recognize it as an opportunity to get it right because we haven’t gotten it right.”
Broadway star Audra McDonald took a break from her current tour to attend the gala to show her support for the Duchess of Sussex and Brown. “I love her so much,” McDonald said of Brown. “It’s an honor getting to know her a little bit and picking her brain and getting to see that passion and that drive and that wisdom. She’s a hero.”
Brown’s organization Black Voters Matter works with communities in 25 states and the District of Columbia to make their voting more effective, while her Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute funds voter education, registrations and other programs to expand access to voting.
“I don’t know how she does it all,” McDonald said. “She put the boots on the ground.”
The Ms. foundation also honored Wanda Irving, co-founder of Dr. Shalon’s Maternal Action Project, and Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of URGE, as well as Texas abortion rights activist Olivia Julianna and LGBTQ+ advocate Rebekah Bruesehoff.
“I no longer say I am fighting for equality,” said Julianna, accepting her award as an emerging leader. “In modern day America I am not fighting for equality. I am fighting for liberation from a white supremacist patriarchal system. As an openly queer Latin woman, make no mistake, I do not want to be equal to men in this country. I do not want the power to oppress with intention.”
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