As our leaders and institutions attempt to silence women, activists, and especially women activists, now more than ever, we need to lift each other up. MRG is celebrating, elevating, and sharing women’s voices through our Lilla Jewel Fund. Women tell their own stories: the stories of their friends, families, and neighbors, and allow us to expand who is seen, listened to, and valued in our community. This year we are excited to amplify the voices of two spoken word artists, Tazha Williams and Meysha Harville, as the winner and runner-up, of MRG’s Lilla Jewel Award for Women Artists.

The Lilla Jewel Fund elevates the work of women artists in Oregon who advance a social message through their work, with a particular emphasis on women of color and queer women. The fund was created over 20 years ago to honor Lilla Jewel, a radical suffragist, artist, and mother.

This year’s awardees embody Lilla Jewel’s spirit by using art as a way to celebrate their own identify and as a platform to share the stories of unseen community members. Each of them was born to be an artist and uses their art to elevate their activism.

Tazha Williams is a multi-faceted artist: painter, drummer, poet, and intersectional advocate. Art and activism are an inherent part of her identity. To Tazha, “(activism) is a lifestyle, not a choice or something I wake up and decide. It is being a voice for the voiceless. It is a societal and generational obligation to affect the things that our parents were not able to, and are still not able to, change.”

Similarly, she has always seen herself as an artist. “Every child starts out as an artist and are either encouraged to keep doing it or not. My family saw something special in me and encouraged me to move along that path.” Through her art, Tazha shares her representation of individuals from marginalized communities and illustrates the systemic oppression they face. “Painting images of marginalized people (specifically folks of African descent), and writing poems about our experiences, defy the common narrative that we are not worthy of being seen holistically.”

When Tazha shares her art as the Lilla Jewel Award, she would like people to challenge themselves to be more of a voice for marginalized communities. Don’t just call yourselves allies or say you are interested in Social Justice, but find ways that you can make change, specifically positive change.

Meysha Harville began writing when she was very young. Traumatic events in her childhood led her to writing, which allowed her to share her voice. “I quickly realized that these written words were my voice. They were my only means of expression. I would write the things that I couldn’t say out loud. I could trust the paper.” This desire to share her voice is the root of her activism. “People were speaking for me and saying the wrong things. They were making assumptions around my silence. Filling in the blanks with the wrong things pushed me to be an activist.”

To Meysha, art and activism come together through the act of sharing. “I can’t just be an artist for me; it is selfish. How can I know if it is any good if I don’t share it?” Meysha shares her art at open mics and through her work as an educator.

Join us as Justice within Reach to enjoy a performance from Tazha and stay tuned for events throughout the year that elevate women’s voices and share the art of our winners.