Zenaida Peterson ’15 Advocates For Marginalized Communities

October 05, 2017

Zenaida Peterson Class of 2015

We talked with Zenaida about her work in organizing a local slam poetry tournament and being an activist for her community.

​What program were you in at Simmons? What's your current job title?

Political Science and Sociology, with a minor in Public Policy. I'm doing tenant organizing for an organization called the Community Action Agency of Somerville; they're mainly trying to preserve affordable housing in Somerville. This is a service year program with the Quaker Voluntary Service.

What is the FEMS tournament?

Feminine Empowerment Movement Slam Tournament (FEMS) is a community-based grassroots initiative that culminates in the first annual poetry national competition and festival for feminine-identified people in Boston, MA. Currently, we're organizing as a community that centers around marginalized voices. Our team is facilitating intentional dialogues that aim to acknowledge, unlearn and purge the toxic power dynamics that make our artistic homes hostile. We're currently hosting events to develop new poets and artists of all ages. These events also serve as a showcase for the work that they're doing in their art and in their communities.

What inspired you to start the FEMS tournament?

I'm a poet who slams. As an adult, after having graduated from Simmons and now trying to participate in the adult poetry scene, I found it a lot harder to make it onto teams as a feminine person. I've been in conversation with other femmes who've felt the same. One evening I posted on Facebook that I wanted the feminine people in the poetry community to have a space. I woke up the next morning and people agreed saying, “Yeah, this needs to happen!” That birthed the idea. I wanted to create a space for myself and then it became something that other people really needed and wanted.

How did Simmons help prepare you to start organizing this tournament?

I started competing with poetry competitively at Simmons. My coach was the assistant athletics director at the time, Janae Johnson. With her heavy-handed assistance, I helped found the Simmons Speaks poetry team and was one of a few students that made it into an organization. I coached the team this past year with Melissa Lozada-Oliva '15, another founder. 

The community at Simmons is phenomenal because it's nurturing of Femmes and the feminine as a women-centered college. Being there gave me the space to lead in ways I didn't know I could. Simmons gave me a place where I could be myself and fight for what I wanted. It was an easy transition to fight for injustice as an adult.

What has been your favorite part of the process?

My favorite part has been the community. At our first fundraiser there were so many people who came that had never read in front of people before and who had never felt comfortable sharing their work. There were so many people who heard about this event and felt like this was a space that they could feel comfortable existing in. They shared that with the audience. Hearing people say that they were feeling comfortable reading for the first time was really inspiring. Also, getting to meet all the people who want this to happen and believe in this has been so great. It feels really validating and beautiful.

What advice would you give the current Simmons students who want to do poetry, activism or want to make a difference in their community?

Don't let anybody tell you no. Fight for what you want. Nothing like FEMS existed before this, but that didn't mean it shouldn't exist. Just because you don't have a space yet doesn't mean you don't deserve one. Take on everything you want.