Some people think that celebrities shouldn’t be role models, that role models should be parents, teachers and people who play a part in children’s every day lives. But let’s face it, many people, me included can point to various ways that famous people have had impacts on our lives.
Since it’s Women’s History Month, it’s a good a time as any to pay homage to two amazing women from different generations.
Let’s start with American author and poet Maya Angelou. Her accomplishments speak volumes. She has published six autobiographies, five books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years. As her poem eloquently states, she is “a woman. Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman.” That’s her.
But she’s special to me for more than just that.
I met Ms. Angelou on a field trip with my 8th grade English class. She was in St. Louis to deliver a lecture about expressing your passion through writing. As a budding writer, I was more than engaged … I was enthralled. She delivered the information as only a storyteller of her caliber would … in lilting eloquence that kept her young audience captivated.
During the small meet and greet that followed, I was able to speak with Ms. Angelou and shake her hand. She asked me the expected questions and just as I was ready to move on, she gripped my hand a little tighter and said, “You are a girl with something to say. I see it and one day every one else will too.”
The fact that the moment is still frozen in my 13 year old brain became evident when I interviewed Ms. Angelou for the first time. I cried the entire time. Not only did her words change the way I saw myself, but changed the way I carried myself. I was a girl/woman with something to say and I still am. It has shaped my career, my passion, my life. I will forever be grateful to Ms. Angelou for her generosity and grace.
It should be a reminder to all of us that if positive words can have such a lasting effect, imagine how negative words can break a young girl’s spirit, and sometimes that brokenness can last a life time.
As women, whether we’re talking to little girls, teenagers or our peers, we should recognize the power of our words and make sure we’re doing more building up than tearing down. We act like it’s our nature to throw shade on the accomplishments of other women who are doing well when in reality, it’s a combination of insecurity and envy.
Last week, CNN announced that Soledad O’Brien’s morning show “Starting Point,” had been canceled. Her presence will be missed not only because she was bright, energetic and not afraid to “go there,” with guests who often just didn’t get it, but because she was an example of someone who worked hard and paid her dues.
I’m impressed not only by what she does as a journalist in front of and behind the camera as producer, but how well she represents as sister juggling a busy home life with four kids and a husband.
I hear some of you now.
A sister? She’s a rich woman with maids, nannies and doesn’t have to deal with the problems the average woman has to deal with.
Is that shade you’re throwing her way? If so, why?
During Hurricane Katrina, Soledad waded through deep and dirty water getting the job done. She reported on the lives lost and the survivors and for that she was rewarded with a promotion from CNN. In addition, She and her husband created the Soledad O’Brien & Brad Raymond Foundation to provide young women the resources to over come unexpected barriers that would limit their success. They run it along with Soledad’s best friend Kim Bondy. It was Bondy who called their attention to a young girl from New Orleans needing a scholarship to attend school.
Now years later, that company has decided her services are no longer needed.
It will be interesting to see what happens next but in the meantime, I’m sure her devotion to girls, her family and her craft will continue.
Over the years I’ve encountered many women including Maya Angelou and Soledad O’Brien that have taught me lessons about perseverance and being the women God called us to be.
No matter how tough things get, we have a purpose and we’re often making a difference whether we realize it or not. The things we say and the way we live our lives matter to those we influence.
For this month, let’s set a goal for eliminating the cycle of hating on other women. Let’s commit to changing our talk to include words that are uplifting and empowering and make an extra effort to tell a girl that she’s important and encourage her to find and develop her gift. Let’s give her something to hold on so that years from now when she comes across racism, sexism and unforeseen set backs she’ll continue to rise and shine.