Movement Mujeres launches fellowship for women of color in Texas

Valeria Olivares, Reporter

Movement Mujeres announced its inaugural fellowship class of 25 women from Texas who will be part of a two-year training and mentorship program that began Feb. 6.

“Being part of Movement Mujeres will help me turn my thoughts into actions and not only just actions, but positive impact,” selected fellow Saleeta Shirazali Rajwani said.

Movement Mujeres began last November and is spearheaded by Deeds Not Words, a nonprofit led by former Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis. Deeds Not Words pushes for equality through civic and political engagement of young women, and Jolt Initiative, a nonprofit organization founded by Cristina Tzintzún that seeks to increase the civic participation of Latinos in Texas.

“Upon learning of my acceptance, I was overcome with feelings of pride and humility,” Kwentoria Williams, a selected fellow from Houston, Texas said in a press release. “I am eager to accept the clarion call to empower and engage women of color in Texas with this movement and my fellow mujeres.”

After announcing its fellowship program in November, more than 245 applications were submitted. Of those, only 25 women from 14 cities throughout Texas were chosen.

“The 25 that we did select have demonstrated some real leadership capacity already, a heartfelt desire to make improvements in Texas for women of color in their communities and across the state and represented a vision of what they wanted to do,” Davis said.

Fellows were chosen from a variety of cities in Texas, including El Paso, Austin, Brownsville, Euless, Dallas, Garland, Lewisville, among others.

“I applied to Movement Mujeres because we have to lift up the voices of women of color,” Gabriela Castañeda said.

Castañeda is the fellow chosen from El Paso, Texas. She is a former DACA recipient who has been working with Border Network for Human Rights, an immigration reform and human rights advocacy organization based in El Paso, Texas, since 2004.

Another of the selected fellows is Saleeta Shirazali Rajwani from Lewisville, Texas. Rajwani is a first-generation college student who graduated from The University of Southern California in 2016. She is the daughter of two immigrant parents; her father comes from India and her mother from Pakistan. After graduating, she became incredibly involved in helping at-risk students and children within her community.

“It’s really hard being a woman, right? Especially a woman of color, just because a lot of people don’t see you as an authority or leader or that your opinions are valid,” Rajwani said. “I really wanted to be part of a community that was full of leaders, full of women who are leaders, so that we can build skills and learn from each other, help each other out.” 

The fellowship seeks to help women acquire the necessary skills to navigate politics in order to build power, influence and lead. The ultimate goal is to get women into prime positions of power within the government and nonprofit organizations, build a cohort of women leaders of color who can support each other and essentially push for systematic change by being a channel for the underrepresented voices of their Texan communities, organizers said.

“It’s a radical proposition to say we are going to invest in the people who have been ignored and underestimated because we believe that they are the ones that are going to transform our state,” said Cristina Tzintzún, executive director of Jolt and co-founder of Movement Mujeres.

One of the downsides of the program is that limited funds restrain its ability to provide access to the fellowship for even more women, Davis said.

Funding for the fellowship comes from the NoVo Foundation, a social justice foundation that launched the $34 million Radical Hope Fund. The fund divided the money among 19 grantees, and presented Movement Mujeres with $2 million.

“The funds will be spread out over a four-year period,” Davis said. “We use those (funds) to hire staff. We added six people across our two organizations who bring with them experience in curriculum writing and training, in visual communications, in graphic art design, in the logistics of … running the program, scheduling the fellowship workshops, so on and so forth.”

The fellows will also be awarded a $1,200 yearly stipend, adding up to $60,000 that will be divided among the women during the fellowship’s two-year duration, as well as travel and childcare expenses.

Quarterly two-day gatherings comprise the fellowship. During those gatherings, the fellows will take part in intensive training and workshops. The first set of sessions will be Thursday, Feb. 28. The fellows will have to focus on identity, power and the story of self.

“Movement Mujeres was created to support women who want to ‘stand up and speak up’ instead, and I’m proud to be a part of teaching these extraordinary young women about the lessons I’ve learned on how to most effectively be heard,” Davis said.