Uma Thurman Believes in Women Supporting Women

The actress sat down with InStyle at the Women Making History Awards Gala to talk about her philanthropy with Room To Grow and activist Julie Burns.

Uma Thurman: NHWM Story

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At the National Women’s Political Caucus’s founding meeting on July 10, 1971 in Washington, D.C., Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Cited in textbooks across America, the civil rights activist is well-known for dedicating her life to advocating for voting rights and economic equality for African-Americans. While we might be familiar with Hamer’s fight, there are many more Black feminists that have gone unknown for far too long. Thanks to institutions like the National Women’s History Museum, their stories are having their rightful moment in the spotlight with a new exhibit, “We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist DC.

Located at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, the interactive exhibit (curated by historians Sherie M. Randolph and Kendra T. Field) highlights 20+ thought leaders, academics, and activists who fought for liberation through intersectional issues such as reproductive justice, bodily autonomy, and LGBTQ+ rights. Despite their own limited freedom, the feminists included in this exhibit have always championed community, service, and courage in the hopes that their choices create more agency for others. The exhibit’s website shares why highlighting “Black feminism” specifically was important: “Individually and as part of broader coalitions, [these people] articulated their understanding of Black womanhood, the intersectional oppression Black women experience, and the full meaning of freedom and liberation.”

The museum’s Women Making History Awards Gala, is living proof that liberating others through service continues to be a tenet worth celebrating. Friday evening, the National Women’s History Museum honored five women who have made a sizable impact in their communities, including actress and activist Uma Thurman for her dedicated work with the nonprofit Room To Grow. Started by former social worker Julie Burns, Room to Grow provides critical support to families raising young children in low-income circumstances with strategies to advance child development, essential resources for babies and toddlers, and ways to forge connections with community resources. Meeting as two neighbors in the same building, Uma Thurman was introduced to the organization by Burns, and was immediately struck by her passion for supporting families struggling in New York City. 

“[Julie Burns]’s an individual who, on her own, had an idea and found a way to execute it, and that idea has helped thousands and thousands of children. She's always been an inspiration as a being: self-motivated, determined, compassionate, caring, and highly capable. It's been a joy to support her work and fight for it every day of my entire adult life, really,” Thurman says.

25 years later, the pair is still going strong — and Room to Grow has expanded to other cities.

“We've been able to go from supporting hundreds of families in New York to now thousands in both New York and in Boston,” Julie Burns shared. “I’m proudest of our continued capacity to serve many more children with our work.” Burns credits her passion for helping others to a figure from childhood: her grandmother. “[She] grew up at a time where she did not go into a formal profession, but she was committed to helping others. She served in the war with other women [facilitating] bonds and then for many, many years — well into her eighties — she was a volunteer at a hospital in Miami where she lived. Her spirit lives in me.” Seeing the success Room to Grow has had thus far, Thurman is determined to see the organization thrive tenfold — with a goal of sites all over the country.

“One thing about an organization like Room to Grow is that the work is substantial, enduring, and never-ending because there are nonstop babies being born in a world without an equal playing field, economically. It's not a handout — it's much more integrated than that. I have always felt very passionately about seeing the program be developed and refined by expanding to Boston and embedding itself in another community. It's so clear to me how the program would work in any community, and how it's needed in every community.”

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