Yesterday was magical, a wholly uplifting series of events that made my heart feel full and helped me make the wise decision to head to bed early rather than continue watching the final presidential debate.
Through the boys' school, I have met some tremendous women, women who inspire me and who are making the world a better place in the ways that they parent, live, work and effect positive change.
Diara recently invited me to attend the Washington Area Women's Foundation annual Leadership Luncheon. WAWF is an organization of which she's been part for some time, and I quickly saw why. It is an anti-poverty foundation dedicated to economic empowerment for women and girls through education, job training, and childcare (which of course helps make all education and job training infinitely more possible).
WAWF's programming is rooted in research and data and is the only foundation in the DC area that focuses exclusively on investing in women. And, as we heard from WAWF's President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, WAWF will be doubling down on its commitment to standing publicly and proudly for racial equity by helping "write a new narrative that celebrates women and girls of color." and funding a great deal of research on their realities. For example, African American girls comprise 8% of the student population but receive 14% of suspensions. Why?
Since 1998, WAWF has awarded "nearly $11 million in grants to more than 170 community-based organizations in the Washington, D.C. region" and between January and December 2015 alone, "helped women increase their income and assets by $3.6 million." One keynote speaker was Juanita King, a woman who was addicted to crack cocaine for more than 20 years, became HIV positive during that time, and spent time in prison for drug distribution. Determined to get back on her feet, Juanita enrolled in Goodwill's Hospitality Training Program (funded in part by WAWF) and recently celebrated two years of employment at the Marriott Marquis in DC and 8 years of staying clean. In her speech, she proudly called herself an "overcomer" and it was clear that everyone agreed completely. What a bright light.
Lesli, another good friend I met through schools, emceed the luncheon, and Valerie Jarrett (yes, that Valerie Jarrett) was the primary keynote. I'm a pretty politically aware person, but as Ms. Jarrett walked us through just some of the Obama administration's accomplishments on behalf of women, anti-poverty work, education, and gender and pay equity, I was deeply moved. Increased prioritization of STEM education, sexual assault prevention programming, dropping poverty and unemployment rates, continued low teen pregnancy rates, the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act AND a subsequent Executive Order to further work against unequal pay....
I look forward to getting more involved in the Women's Foundation because together, we do thrive.
After hurrying home to change, pick up the kids, and drop them back home, I headed out to Anne Arundel Community College. Imelda (our wonderful housekeeper who we've known for six years) was graduating from AACC's GED program. I was so honored that she invited me and would not have missed the ceremony for the world. Her mom, Dalila, was in from Mexico, and the two of us and Imelda's good friend and colleague, Jackie, were Imelda's cheering section.
I've written about Imelda before. She is very special to me, and I am continually inspired by her work ethic, innate dignity, kindness, and perseverance. I am so proud of her and hope she'll allow me to continue cheering her on as she begins her college career at AACC.
As I looked around the room last night, I was, again, intensely moved. The three student speakers talked about how depression, early pregnancies, and life challenges had caused them to decide to leave high school years ago. How they never thought they'd be standing on the stage, diploma in hand, futures bright. There were graduates of all ages beaming with pride and joy as they moved tassel from left to right. There was babies and children and parents and grandparents cheering from the seats below.
I thought about how much harder some must work than others, how poverty and other disadvantages are so terribly difficult to overcome, and although I reveled in the celebration, I also felt my heart pinch.
There is such great inequality in this country, and it is unjust and deeply sad. I am so grateful for organizations like the Women's Foundation and Anne Arundel Community College, places and people who know that none of us can do it alone, and some need and deserve extra support.
I stopped watching the debate last night because after such an uplifting day of community and togetherness, I felt my elation dissipating with every lie, interruption, and snarky attempt to divide and sow mistrust that Trump sneered out. Neither candidate is perfect, but only Clinton seems to have any real commitment to unity. To strengthening the communal quilt that we as a country so desperately need for both shelter and cohesion.
Women like Juanita and Imelda don't need more challenges in their lives. They need more support. Together we can do better. Together we can thrive.