Herald reporter looks back at an unforgettable experience being honored as part of Gallery 66's Women's History Month exhibit

Published on Friday, 6 May 2022 15:02
Written by Ciara Hooks


NEW BRITAIN – As Gallery 66’s Women’s History Month Exhibit, with myself as one of those honored, comes to an end it feels like just the beginning.

The room was filled with so much love and support at the Opening Reception and Chill & Chat back in March. Guests intently listened to our stories, showed their appreciation for what we do and encouraged us to keep up the great work. A beautiful relationship formed between myself and a few of the other incredibly talented honorees and we plan to connect again very soon to plan and host more events in the near future to support the community.

But this is the start of my journey.

“I wanted to talk to you about a celebration at the Gallery; we’re going to recognize five women for Women’s History Month and I would like to recognize you, celebrate you. How about that?” asked Adrian Elliott, curator, the day she delivered me the big news of my nomination.

Originally I thought it was one of our normal chats about another event she wanted me to cover as a reporter, but clearly I was in for a huge surprise.

“Me?” I asked in shock.

“You? Yes, you,” she said. “I know you’d be like, ‘why me?’ and I’m prepared to answer the why. So the exhibit/celebration is recognizing five women in different aspects of artistry: the reporter, the singer, the photographer, the artist and the poet. And our kids need local heroes. They need to see the people in the grocery stores, they need to see us at the banks, you know, regular atmospheres but making a big impact.”

I was speechless, but extremely honored and super excited. With just a week or so to spare I dove into my archives to find the four works for the Gallery to display.

Though I’ve only been in editorial for two years and 11 months, at that moment, I had already written hundreds of stories, so how could I possibly narrow it down to four? Four stories that mean something to me or had a huge impact or response or were worth sharing. I racked my brain for days, sifting through stories, connecting the dots and finally the decisions were made.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “cool, the hard part is done, the rest should be a breeze.” Absolutely not!

I needed a headshot, a bio, and the most challenging part of it all, get in front of a room full of people and speak, not only once, but twice. Now I know what you’re thinking, again, “what’s the issue,” right? “You’re a reporter, don’t you talk to people all the time?” Yes, individually, but I absolutely dread public speaking and avoid it like the plague, so my nerves were through the roof.

Come the Opening Reception on March 30 I was prepared physically: red Fashion Nova jumpsuit, diamond encrusted J. Lo heels, a Louis Vuitton clutch, hair laid, makeup done and nails and toes done, too. But mentally I had nothing prepared. In order to keep from being nervous, I had to just think about this as a fun event I was attending, just hanging with family and friends enjoying art.

“I’ve worked with this woman for years and I have nothing but total respect for the way she works with such calm,” Elliott said. “I can go on and on about the vigilance because I don’t even know how you do it. You do the Stop & Shop thing, you’re writing stories, etc. I want to introduce our next honoree. Ciara, tell us about this thing that you do.”

The room erupted with applause as I walked up to my display.

“I honestly didn’t know my journey was going to take me here,” I started. “I always knew I wanted to go to college, you know, do something with myself, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I kind of liked fashion a lot; I took fashion design classes and stuff like that, but when I got to college I looked through the list of things that they offered (fashion wasn’t an option) so I was like you know what I love writing. I’m not much of a big talker as you guys can see (the room filled with light laughter) so I love telling stories with my words, writing.”

Three years ago I wrote my first feature article, which was the first one on the display.

“The story is about teen vaping, which was very popular at that moment,” I explained. “So I got paid for it, it ended up on the front page (the crowd cheered and clapped), a lot of people saw it, liked it, and it kind of gave me that motivation and that push to be like ‘OK, I can really do this; I can take it seriously and people enjoy what I write.’”

The next story in the display was about the American Savings Foundation.

“They were a big part of me getting through college because they gave me a lot of scholarships and me and Maria (Falvo) were tight – she was always motivating me,” I said. “They also gave me a summer job so I thought it was important for me to write this story and it was their 25th anniversary so that was very special for me.”

My third piece on display was an article featuring one of my best friends in high school, Demeree Douglas, who is an artist.

“She paints about natural hair, Black women’s hair journey, and empowering women,” I shared. “So I went to her show and it was supposed to be just for fun, just to support her, and my (other) friend was like, ‘wel,l why don’t you write about it’ and I was like ‘you know why not?’ So I wrote the story, it came out great, and she said a lot of people loved the story and a lot of other news outlets shared the story as well. So I thought it was very special to me because she’s doing what she loves and it was her very first art show. I’m doing what I love, this is my first show, so I thought I’d put that on display so everybody can get to know her work and see my work.”

The final work I decided to display was New Britain’s 150th Birthday Party for the kids at Camp Total Rec.

“Of course I’m from New Britain, born and raised, I went to school at Central in New Britain, I’m working at the Herald, which is in New Britain, so I thought it was important to highlight that its New Britain’s 150th birthday. And I was also in summer camps the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, all that type of stuff, and I thought it was really cool because all of the kids, their faces lit up when Erin (Stewart) came. They were so excited to meet her, to see her and to be a part of this special celebration,” I said. “So I thought I would highlight that. It was special to me and for them and the city.”

Come the Chill & Chat on April 6, once again physically I was prepared: white and pink Fashion Nova jumpsuit, black and gold Jessica Simpson heels, Louis Vuitton clutch, hair laid, makeup done and nails and toes done too. But mentally still not prepared, but miraculously delivered. Everyone enjoyed shrimp cocktail and wine as they checked out the exhibits and chatted amongst each other before the presentations began.

PoeticSOULdier (Grace Figueroa) and I, both fresh from work, were ready and excited to share the process of how we do what we do and connect with our guests.

“I’m a staff writer for the New Britain Herald. I cover art, entertainment and business for New Britain, Berlin and Newington,” I said. “Before an event I write up a list of interview questions. Now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic I include questions pertaining to that as well. I used to use a notebook and pen to take notes, but now I record it on my IPhone. Once I get back to the office I listen to all the sound bites from the event, transcribe them and write the story.”

I was asked, as a New Britainite, is it hard living here and reporting about it?

“No, I am a very objective and transparent person, so that is how I approach and write every story regardless if I know the persons involved or not,” I responded. “I haven’t had any issues or complaints so far and everyone seems to like what I write.”

I was asked what was the hardest story I worked on?

“Honestly, not to be cliché, but I loved every story I worked on,” I responded. “Probably the hardest stories for me are around election time because my responsibility is covering the polls and things can get a little intense.”

My inspirations and motivations are Issa Rae, Ava DuVernay, Aaliyah, Sister Souljah, the author of The Coldest Winter Ever, Noire, the author of Thong on Fire, Essence Magazine, Seventeen Magazine and Word Up Magazine.

“But my family has always been my biggest motivation,” I added. “My parents are my biggest cheerleaders and supporters. I was always afraid to disappoint them so I try to make the best decisions I could. I always knew they wanted me to go to college and believed I could do great things, so since 8th grade I knew I needed to graduate and go to college. I didn’t know for what, I just knew that’s what I needed to do. But from basketball, to track, to double dutch, to dancing at talent shows my family supported me every step of the way.”

I also shared a poem I had written in the summer of 2021 while I was out of work due to kidney stone operations. And as a fun interactive activity Elliott passed around a notepad and a pen and each guests jotted one or two lines to create a beautiful community poem that PoeticSOULdier read at the end of the event.

“Empowerment in our community. Love is unity. The voice you need to achieve. The ability to receive. To accept ones fate just like the job on Indeed. Head held high. Crown to the sky. Take a deep breath and let your power glow. Back straight. Powerful voice. Confident. I’m valuable. I will be heard. Hear me as I cry my story my word. As I scream my peace and breath. The echoes tell me that everything will be hunky dory as long I continue to tell my story,” she recited.

This was quite a magical experience. It unlocked parts of me I didn’t know were there and fueled my motivation even more. Where I’m going from here, who knows? I don’t put myself in a box. Also, I want do something positive for the community, and uplift everyone and give back.

Thank you again Adrian, Dennis and the Gallery for this opportunity because it really means so much to me. It really helped me have more confidence in myself and gave me the push I needed to keep following my dreams.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns, New Britain on Friday, 6 May 2022 15:02. Updated: Friday, 6 May 2022 15:04.