Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat’s 2015 Leadership Luncheon Remarks

On October 15, The Women’s Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood- Shabat, gave the following remarks at the 2015 Leadership Luncheon.

Good afternoon. Wow – what an amazing crowd! I’m Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, and I’m thrilled to welcome you to today’s luncheon.

At each of your plates sits a small blue or orange envelope marked Wait to Open. The suspense has been tough, I know! But inside that envelope sits your fate for the next few minutes: either that of a woman thriving, or that of a woman struggling.

So now I’d like you to open your envelopes.

If you have a blue envelope, you are living the life of a woman who is thriving. You likely graduated from high school, college and maybe even grad school. You are employed and earn a comfortable salary. You can afford high-quality child care, a home of your own, and you set aside money each month for savings. If you opened your envelope to learn that you are thriving, I’d like you to stay seated.

If you have an orange envelope, then you are living the life of a woman struggling to get by. It’s likely that you graduated from high school, but college wasn’t an option. You are employed at a local chain restaurant, making $21,000 per year – minimum wage – barely enough to cover your bills, let alone child care for your toddler. Each week, you cobble together coverage through friends, family, and neighbors, wondering if your daughter is learning what she needs to be prepared for kindergarten. Each month, you make tough choices about which bills you will pay – whether it’s your daughter’s asthma medication or the heating bill – because you can’t cover both of them in full.

Thriving Struggling Cards

If you’ve found yourself with an orange envelope, please stand.

Take note. Look around. 1 of every 4 individuals in this room is now standing.

1 in 4.

These are people you know. They are your neighbors, colleagues, and friends.

The women and men standing are representative of the 476,000 women and girls in this region who are struggling to get by.

But why? It doesn’t have to be this way.

●    What if – right now – we doubled down on our investments to build economic security in this region?

●    What if for every door that felt closed off to a woman, we helped open 2 more doors of opportunity?

●    What if, instead of making assumptions, we took the time to listen – really listen – to what women need,
so we can tailor solutions that will truly help them get ahead?

If we were to do this, then you could all take a seat. And as you take your seat at the table, know that, in doing so, you’re creating new seats at the table. This is what a model community looks like—a place where we all have comfortable seats at the table, and ample opportunities to thrive.

It’s not so far out of reach.

Last year, I stood on this stage and shared my own personal journey. Having come from a place of struggle, I am now thriving. And so this work is very personal for me. My mom and daughters are here with me again today, and although I argued a little bit with my oldest daughter Katia about whether she should really miss a day of school, she said to me, “Mom, I want to see what you do. It’s really important to me.” And there you have it. That’s the difference. Because my trajectory changed, her trajectory has changed, and she sees other possibilities.

JFAM large

But that’s not the case for far too many women and girls in our community. When mired in the challenges of poverty, especially when it’s the only life you’ve ever know, it’s hard to lift your head up and see a brighter future for yourself and your family.

When we talk about female poverty in our region, 1 in 4, we must explicitly talk about the disproportionate impact this has on women and girls of color.

16 percent of Black women and 14 percent of Latinas live in poverty compared with 6 percent of white women.

And when we look at families led by single women, the disparities for women of color are truly staggering.

What’s happening with women and girls of color in our community is so deeply connected and intertwined with what is happening to men and boys of color. My Brother’s Keeper has ignited an unprecedented investment in boys and young men of color, an investment and conversation that is long overdue. I applaud our trifecta of leadership—the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and the Chancellor—for these efforts.

I think we can all agree that this isn’t about one gender or another. This isn’t about pitting girls against boys. This is about investing in the future of our community, investing in our children.

What we need now, more than ever is bold action.

So today, I am challenging our community to join The Women’s Foundation and boldly invest a collective $100 million over the next five years in our region’s women and families, many of whom are women of color.

Join The Women’s Foundation in committing to moving the 476,000 women and girls currently facing economic hardship to a place of consistent economic stability. Our region’s families deserve nothing less.

To aid in these efforts, in the coming months we will be unveiling a donor advised fund model that will transform how we collectively invest in this work. Because we can achieve this, and when we do, we will transform our community. We will transform lives.

To better appreciate the life-altering nature of our work, I want you to consider the story of Okema.

Three years ago, Okema stood on this stage and shared her personal journey. In her mid-20s she found herself unemployed, trying to raise her daughter single-handedly. She enrolled SOME’s Center for Employment Training where she graduated and ultimately earned a job working for SOME. Today, 8 years later, Okema is now the Lead Employment Retention Specialist at SOME. That means she is the person responsible for ensuring that recent graduates have the support they need to stay in their jobs for the long-term. And she has the real life experience to share. I recently ran into Okema, and she shared with me that she now wants to become a life coach. Imagine that – talk about paying it forward?

It’s success stories like Okema’s that make this work both critical and rewarding. We can’t be intimidated or daunted by the staggering statistics. We have to focus on what’s possible and the positive signs of progress that we are seeing every day.

Last year, our grantmaking reached nearly 7,000 women, and as a result:

●    Women collectively saved close to a quarter of a million dollars.

●    More than 400 women increased their collective incomes by $1.5 million through new jobs or advancing to higher paying jobs.

These are impressive results, but we know much more needs to be done. Over the next five years, we are committed to increasing our investments in this community from $1 million to $5 million.

But those investments can only be successful if the women they support aren’t hindered by other barriers—like access to child care or transportation.

DC is poised to become one of the most generous places in the country for low-income workers seeking paid family and medical leave. Regardless of where you stand on how we pay for this benefit, there is no ignoring that the time has come to have this important conversation.

This is just one of the many reasons why The Women’s Foundation is also committing to coordinating our work with those community partners and policymakers who are positioned to remove barriers and enact tangible policies that improve the lives of women and girls.

You are each here today because you know one very simple truth: when women are strong, our community is strong. And yet, just a stone’s throw away—whether it’s Langley Park, Bailey’s Crossroads, or Anacostia—there are roughly 30,000 single moms who are struggling to make ends meet, and their children know nothing else but what it feels like to scrape by.

So yes, bold visions are needed, but bold actions are overdue. Today, I’ve laid out for you our commitments, but I want to know what will each of you do to change the uncomfortable reality for so many women and girls?

You are The Women’s Foundation. We are The Women’s Foundation. Together we will invest in our greatest innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, and changemakers.

Together, we can change the FUTURE.

We don’t need to look any further – WE have the power to make this happen.

And NOW is the time.

Thank you.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat’s Luncheon Remarks

On October 23, The Women’s Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood- Shabat, gave the following remarks at the 2014 Leadership Luncheon. Please click here to see a video of her delivering the speech in its entirety.

Here. Now. For Her. – is this year’s luncheon theme.  I hope as you thought about coming today, you also took a moment to reflect on what this means to you.

Why are you here, now—in this moment?  Who is the “her” in your life who has touched you profoundly, or whose life you have touched? 

For me, this theme is deeply personal. You see, in many ways, I am HER.  And I am here today because of my mother, Dianna Lockwood.

My mom grew up poor in a small town in NH, on a working farm, the youngest of three sisters. She never had the opportunity to go to college.  She met my dad while working as a medical transcriptionist at a VA hospital in Vermont.  He was a physician’s assistant.  They created a wonderful life—two kids and a house they built on 10 acres of land.


And then the summer I was 10, it all changed. I remember the day well – my mom and dad came home in the middle of the day looking very sad and confused.  It was the early 80s, and many of you will remember, a recession was hitting the country.  The small private doctor’s office in our hometown was struggling financially, so they made a business decision – lay off the person who made the most (my dad) and the person who made the least (my mom). That decision changed our lives forever.

Up until that point, my dad was a high-functioning alcoholic. But being laid off crushed him, and he turned to alcohol frequently and worked only sporadically. We repaired our relationship later in my life, and he was an amazing grandfather to my girls before he passed away 5 years ago. But for the rest of my childhood, it was my mom who got up every day and put one foot in front of the other, consistently working two and three jobs to make ends meet.

I knew that my mom was making great sacrifices so that my brother and I would have the opportunities that she did not.  I could see how tired and stressed she was, and I’m certain there were many days when she’d simply had enough. I learned early on that if I wanted something, I needed to work hard to earn it.  I got my first job at 15.  That summer, and every summer for the rest of high school, I too worked two jobs, selling tickets at the local race track by day and waitressing at the local Pizza Hut by night.

I worked not because I wanted extra spending money, but to pay for basic necessities and do what I could to save for college. My mom always regretted not having that opportunity, but was determined that her children would.  It wasn’t easy financially, and I worked full-time pretty much the entire way, but I am proud to say that I am the first person on my mom’s side of the family to not only get a 4-year degree, but also a master’s degree.

Today is a big deal for my mom.  She’s here, with my husband, my daughters, and my brother.  She’s watching her little girl on stage, running a nonprofit in the nation’s capital, remembering some very dark days, and I know she’s thinking, “Damn, it was all worth it.”

Women's Foundation Luncheon 2014

So, I do what I do because of her. I’ve devoted my career to working on behalf of low-income women and their families because I want her to know that the investment she made in me, all of her sacrifices, were not in vain.  And now that I’m a mother, I have a new, more profound understanding of what she did, and I know that as I strive to make a better life for my own daughters, I am paying forward what my mother has given me.

But, my story is just one story.  There are many, many others.  Thousands of women who do all they can to ensure their children and families can step beyond their own experiences and limitations to live their dreams and achieve their potential.  But sometimes having a dream and working hard is not enough. Sometimes the deck is stacked against you.

There are more than 200,000 women and girls living in poverty across the Washington metropolitan region. Sadly, that statistic hasn’t changed significantly in recent years, particularly in light of the recession and what has now become a slow and prolonged recovery for those most in need. That stat also doesn’t capture the additional 250,000 women and girls who are living just above the poverty line, but certainly aren’t earning enough to make ends meet.

As frustrating as these numbers are, and as impatient as we all are for change, we have to remember that most women in our community didn’t suddenly fall into poverty.  It’s multigenerational.  And just as it didn’t happen overnight, it won’t be resolved overnight.

What does it take to move women and girls from a place of economic vulnerability to security?

The answers to that question and the issues our region faces are complex, but now is the time to stand firm in our commitment, craft a bold vision, and re-double our efforts so that future generations of girls can achieve their dreams. That’s why we launched an innovative two-generation initiative to work with middle school aged girls and their female caregivers—whether that’s a mother, grandmother, or another women responsible for guiding and shaping that girl.

You all remember what it was like to be in middle school. It’s a difficult transition under the best of circumstances. As girls develop into young women, there are clear and critical markers that can support or challenge their future economic security.

Our goals for investing in girls are to support high school completion, develop self-esteem, encourage positive choices, and empower them as social change agents.

Our goals for investing in women are to obtain jobs with family sustaining wages and benefits, support increased financial capability, and provide the foundational skills that allow them to break the cycle of poverty for their children.

In the past year, we’ve been proud to partner with College Success Foundation, DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative and YWCA National Capital Area to help forge collaborations and creative thinking on ways to serve both middle school aged girls and their female caregivers with programming that meets their individual needs, while also bringing them together so that they can support one another on this journey. This work will first launch in Ward 7, but our goal is expand our two-generation work across the region, so that the 53,000 girls currently living in poverty can have a brighter future.

The two-generation strategy actually builds and expands upon a decade of investments in our community that have focused on low-income women and women-headed families specifically. Through our grantmaking program, Stepping Stones, we have invested more than $7 million. And that investment has helped over 10,000 women increase their incomes and assets by $45 million through higher wages, decreased debt, and increased savings.


Yes, these are impactful outcomes, but I believe we need to think bigger.  We are capable of doing more.  How do we move from 10,000 women to 100,000 or 200,000?  My goal is to, one day, stand before you and say we’ve accomplished this.  And I believe we can do it.

The Women’s Foundation has a powerful voice, and we have a responsibility to use that voice and our power as a convener to affect greater change. Yes, our investments in the community are critically important, but so too is our voice and our deep expertise and knowledge.  These are tools we can leverage, and it’s the combination of our investments and our influence that will ultimately have the greatest impact.

But it’s not just about us.  I know that no one organization can single-handedly end poverty.  This will require unprecedented collaboration and partnership among philanthropy, business, government, nonprofits, and individuals. And we need all of you, here in this room, to help spark a movement. We are poised and ready to lead that movement, and I want each of you to join me. Let’s harness our collective strength to, in turn, strengthen others.

This is the time—NOW.

Because what we do in this moment will shape the future of our communities. There are thousands of women and girls who need us now, more than ever.  Each one of them has hopes and dreams, and they deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Stand with us. 


Thank you.


Every Day is Election Day: Catching up with Rebecca Sive

Around this time last year, we hosted a Brown Bag Lunch with Rebecca Sive, author of Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House. Since that event, Rebecca has been touring the country talking about her book and meeting with women at all levels of leadership. We were lucky enough to catch-up with Rebecca by phone recently for an update on what she has learned through these conversations with women across the country. 

What are some of the top things that you have learned in the last year traveling around the country talking to people about your book?

I think the thing that stood out to me the most is that — across race, ethnic, age and geographic lines — there are women everywhere who want to be politically active. That was very interesting to me, not to mention heartwarming. Going into the book tour, I thought perhaps women’s sentiments would differ from place to place, but they didn’t. Everywhere across our country, there are women who are very clear that being a public office holder is very important to them.  And there are also, for instance, women who have already been the PTA president or a member of the school board, who have now decided that the next step is the state legislature or some other higher office. That was wonderful to see and hear about. They were not a homogeneous group, either, but a heterogeneous group of women who care deeply about their communities and making them better.

Related to this was the eagerness I saw to learn how to run and win: “How do I go about running for office? What are the steps I can take to do that, to seek the leadership position I want?”

Something else that I think is important, and that I saw reaffirmed — throughout my book tour — was how important it is for women to acknowledge that while they are seeking an office or political leadership in order to, in most cases, make advances on a particular issue, it is also necessary for them to understand and acknowledge that they are seeking power; that it is okay to seek power, and that to seek power to do good is the best. I find women are still sometimes hesitant to talk about this aspect of public leadership. So many women start their public careers by saying, “Well I really want to work on this issue.” Regularly, I found myself reminding my audiences that, in order for them to be effective on issues they care about, they would have to seek influence and power, wholeheartedly. Actually, this truth needs to be underscored for all of us!

Another key lesson that came up during my book tour is this: women who seek leadership positions really need sponsors (as well as tools like Every Day Is Election Day). To me, sponsors are people who open doors and bring you into the room. They say, for instance, “I understand you want to be in the state legislature; so, I’m going to invite you to be my guest at this important event — or speech or meeting — so that you can meet some of the people that can help make that happen for you.” Mentors are great, but sponsors are indispensable.

What do you see as the benefits that women get from running for any kind of office?

I feel strongly that when women put themselves out there and run for office, they are saying to their community: “This issue matters, and this office matters.” They are saying that it shouldn’t be just anybody who is the PTA president, or the school board president, or in the legislature; that it really matters who sits in those decision making chairs on a daily basis.

Yes, of course, there are also personal qualities that women will gain. For instance, they will learn to speak with confidence; no doubt, their self esteem will grow; but running for office is really about civic engagement. It is part of engaging successfully on behalf other people. That’s the big gain, the most important one gain.

Here is one story to illustrate this truth.  Earlier this month, I went to a county fair in a rural, agricultural area of Michigan. At the fair, I talked to a woman who was running for state representative. She had a classic women’s leadership story to tell me: she had been an accountant, and then a teacher, who was very involved in her community, but she just got fed-up with some things. Since she had retired as a teacher, she said to herself: “Okay, I’m going to run for the state legislature and work to make things better.” So, there she was at the fair. It was 90 degrees out; the humidity was 100%, but she was there shaking hands and talking to as many people as she could, telling them that she wanted to go to Lansing and fight for them. She embodied the notion that: “I understand that, if I am in public office, I can make a positive difference for others.  It’s not so much about me, it is about the world around me.”

In fact, since I visited with The Women’s Foundation last year, I encountered this same story –over and over: women who were clear that their search for political leadership and power wasn’t about them; it was about the potential to make a difference.

When you look at issues of sex and race discrimination, when you look at the systemic barriers to advancement, breaking those barriers down requires a group effort. That’s why The Women’s Foundation exists; that’s why donors give to you; and I think that’s why women who are effective politically are effective: they understand they are mobilizing a group of people; that they are agents of change.

Why is this work important to you?

I have been organizing women, helping and leading women’s causes my whole adult life. This work of mine has never ceased being really important to me because I just see so much power within women to do good. This isn’t to say that we’re all perfect, or that we don’t all have our faults, because we all do. But, it is to say that there is so much opportunity for women to build institutions, like The Foundation, to run for office, to be activists, to make this world better. So, over the course of time, I have just tried to figure-out ways to mobilize women to do that. And, if, sometimes, they don’t realize they have the power to make change, well, then, that motivates me, too.

Think about Women’s Equality Day; think about how hard and how long the suffragists fought to reach that day. That organizing went on for almost 100 years.  So, if we get tired now, well we’ll just take a look at them and keep on going. In this context, I want to say to you that I think we are now at the most important time for women political activists since suffrage. That’s because, for the first time in American history, women are being considered — and running — from the presidency on down. We are in a moment we haven’t experienced before. This is a wonderful (and important) time for all of us to mobilize to advance women’s political leadership.  Thanks to the Women’s Foundation for the work you’re doing to make this happen.

Women’s Political Participation and Representation in the Washington Region

This month, on August 26th, we will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, designated as such by Congress in 1971 to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.  As we approach the day to celebrate this milestone in women’s history, we see there is both much to celebrate, and much work to be done around women and civic and political engagement.

First, the good news: women are making it out the polls in record numbers. Today, women are actively voting, running for office and creatively using their individual and collective power to bring about social and community change. The Census Bureau reports that since 1996, the number of citizens who have reported voting has increased in every presidential election. As in the country as a whole, in our region women are the majority of voters, and both register and vote at a slightly higher number and proportion than men, particularly in the District of Columbia.

 Chart Voting by sex in Nov 2012

Source: The Women’s Foundation compilation of data from the Bureau of the Census, 2012

In the November 2012 election, slightly under three-quarters of DC women voted (71 percent) in comparison with 64 percent of men. This was more than ten percentage points higher than the national voting rates for women (59 percent) and  about ten percentage points higher for men (54 percent) in that election. Voting in Maryland and Virginia had lower rates than DC, closer to the national average; still, women’s civic participation was higher than men’s.

The same pattern holds for voter registration: Seventy-seven percent of DC women were registered to vote in 2012, in comparison with 72 percent of men, which was also higher than the national rates of 67 percent of women and 63 percent of men. In Virginia, 71 percent of women registered to vote compared to 66 percent in Maryland.

Now for the challenging news: While women may make up the majority of voters, there is a significant under-representation of women in political office. Today, women’s representation at the state and national levels falls short of the 51 percent needed to reflect their proportion in the population. For example, women only make up 18.5 percent of the US Congress: they hold just 99 of 535 full-voting Congressional seats, which is up from 90 in 2010.

The District of Columbia has one non-voting Congressional seat, which has been held by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton for twelve terms. In Maryland, women hold two of the 10 Congressional seats: Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Donna Edwards. Thirty percent of the state legislature is made up of women and Maryland ranks 9th among states for the proportion of women in the state legislature.

Virginia holds 13 Congressional seats, none of which are currently filled by women.

The proportion of women in Virginia’s  state legislature decreased from 19 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2014. Virginia ranks 40th among states for the proportion of women in the state legislature. The governors of both Maryland and Virginia are men, and neither state has ever elected a woman governor.

Equal political representation for women at the national, state and local levels is critical as it increases the likelihood that laws and policies will reflect the needs and interests of women and their families. Last year, we hosted a brown bag lunch with Rebecca Sive, author of Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House, to discuss this important topic. We encourage you to read highlights from the conversation and tweet your thoughts using #UseThe19th.

In the 43 years since Women’s Equality Day was designated, we have made impressive strides in the number of women who turn up at the polls to make their voices heard; however, women still are not sufficiently represented in political office – a place where, more than just having a voice, they have a platform and the power to make critical change for women, their families and the communities in which they live.  We may be celebrating Women’s Equality Day this month, but equality in political office still remains far too aspirational. What can you do to raise your voice and be heard?


Message From the Board Chair: Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat Named as The Women’s Foundation President and CEO

portrait-800We are pleased to announce that the Board unanimously appointed Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat as President and CEO of The Women’s Foundation, effective immediately. She succeeds Nicky Goren, who has made a positive and lasting impact on our organization.

Jennifer has been an invaluable asset to the Foundation over the last six years, and we are thrilled that she has agreed to guide us on our mission to drive change and provide economic security to women and girls in the DC region.

Jennifer brings institutional knowledge, reputation, and personal and professional experience that will not only allow us to sustain momentum, but thrive. Prior to joining The Women’s Foundation, Jennifer served as the Director of Public Policy at the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. Before that, she spent 10 years at Women’s Policy, Inc., departing as the Director of Policy Research and Publications.

She also is an authentic choice, informed by a personal story that gives her a unique perspective on the needs of economically vulnerable women and girls. Jennifer walked the same path as many of the women we serve, growing up in a small town where her parents were laid off on the same day. She experienced first-hand the challenges of achieving economic security, but gained inspiration and strength as she saw and leveraged the opportunities provided by her mother who supported the family through various jobs.

Carolyn-Berkowitz-Jennifer-Lockwood-Shabat-blogJennifer sees great potential for The Women’s Foundation to build on its impactful work by creating a platform to amplify the voices of women and girls. She sees opportunity to leverage the organization’s leadership, and an environment in which women’s issues are top-of-mind, to bring to life common threads of issues impacting women and girls here, across the country and even around the world. She believes that by raising our collective voice, we can ignite a ripple effect of support.

Thank you for your support of The Women’s Foundation. I look forward to a bright future as we continue to invest in women and girls in our community to ensure that they have the resources they need to thrive.

Click here to read the message we shared with the media today. And click here to learn more about Jennifer.

Leadership Issues for Women of Color

CAP-woc-panelI’ve known the statistic for a long time, but it never ceases to amaze me each time I see it in black and white: just 4.5 percent of members of Congress are women of color. Out of 535 people, there are 13 African American women, seven Latinas, and four Asian Pacific American women. That’s not a minority – it’s a minisculority (if such a word existed). The issue, of course, is that women of color make up 18.4 percent of the US population. It makes you wonder when the House of Representatives – and all of the other branches of government – will actually represent all of the American people.

The disparity in population and representation is evident outside of the world of politics, too. Latinas make up just five percent of Fortune 500 boards. According to Catalyst, two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies have no women of color on their boards (10 percent have no women at all!). And while the number of women of color who are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies fluctuates year-to-year, there are never more than a handful.

Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress brought together a diverse group of women to have a conversation about leadership, mentoring, executive presence and the changing face of female influence. At the heart of the discussion was a concern that in the media, academic and business worlds, the experiences of white women have become stand-ins for all women – a fact that further complicates the challenges posed by gender bias. When it comes to inclusion and diversity, the voices and experiences of women across racial and socioeconomic lines must be taken into consideration.

The conversation was engaging, wide-ranging and way too short! Here are my three favorite a-ha moments:

If you don’t see yourself in government, you won’t think you belong there. Diana Hwang, co-founder and executive director of the Asian-American Women’s Political Initiative, made this point after sharing the story of her father’s reaction to the news that she’d landed her first job as an aide to a state representative. “You’ll never be one of them,” he told her sadly.

There are currently just 43 Asian women currently serving in elective offices at state and national levels (this number includes Congress, state legislators, statewide elective executive offices, and mayors of the 100 largest cities). It’s no wonder Diana’s father was concerned she’d only have the opportunity to work for an elected official – not be one.

When it comes to leadership, we are still telling women to fit in. Ella Edmondson Bell, associate professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and founder and president of ASCENT, said that cookie cutter behaviors and expectations don’t work. Yes, women have to be aware of cultural norms and expectations (in her words, knowing when to put on the pearls and the pink St. John’s suit). But we should not and cannot be expected to act just like the white men who currently hold most leadership positions.

We will never succeed if we do not have the courage to try. Val Demings was the first woman to be appointed chief of police in Orlando. She described “growing up poor, black and female” and the courage it took to go to Florida State University, to join the police force and to become police chief. After retiring from the Orlando Police Department, she ran for Congress in 2012. But it was not an easy decision. She shared that women typically have to be asked seven times to run for office before they’ll begin to consider it – and she was no different. She didn’t win her congressional race, but remains undeterred. She’s currently a candidate for Orange County mayor. Demings says that the three keys to anyone’s success are: courage, preparation and opportunity. Click here to watch her speech.

I think that’s great advice that can be applied beyond the individual level. As voters, consumers, managers, the owners of companies, taxpayers, etc., we all have a stake in seeing more women of color in leadership positions and the power to make that happen – plus, diversity has been proven to be beneficial to companies, organizations and societies. We can create a truly representative community by ensuring that there are plenty of prepared women in the leadership pipelines, by giving them opportunities to move up ladders, and by having the courage to make long-term investments in people.

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 17, 2014

Q: Who is the first female chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia?

A: Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. Chief Lanier hails from Tuxedo, Maryland in Prince George’s County and is a strong leader and inspiration to many. Lanier left school when she became a mother at the age of 15. She went on to pursue her GED at the University of the District of Columbia and continued her studies there and at Prince George’s Community College. Lanier has both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in management from Johns Hopkins University and holds a Master of Arts in national security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Lanier became Chief of Police in 2007 and during her tenure has seen a 53 percent reduction in homicides, ending the year of 2012 with a total not seen since 1961.

Women’s History Month Q&A – March 5, 2014

Q: Who was the first woman nominated for president by a major political party?

A: Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman nominated for president by a major party. At the Republican Convention, she placed fifth and lost the nomination to Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Margaret Chase Smith entered politics when she succeeded her late husband in the House of Representatives in 1940. After four terms in the House, she won election to the United States Senate in 1948. In so doing, she became the first woman elected to both houses of Congress.

In 1964, Senator Smith ran in several Republican presidential primaries. She took her candidacy all the way to the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, where she became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency by either of the two major parties. In the final balloting, Smith refused to withdraw and so wound up coming in second to the Republican nominee, Senator Barry Goldwater.

During her career, Senator Smith served four terms in the Senate and thirty-two years in Congress.

Sharon Williams Luncheon Remarks

Sharon-SpeakingOn October 23, Sharon Williams spoke at The Women’s Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Luncheon. The following are her remarks. After speaking, Sharon received a Visionary Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and their families. Please click here to learn more about the Visionary Awards and click here to see a video featuring Sharon and her story.

Good afternoon everyone- It is kind of strange seeing myself up there on the big screen.  As I listen to myself talk – it really does remind me of how much my life has changed. You saw a little of my story in the video, and I’d like to share a bit more with you now.

Upwards of 10 years ago, my life was very different. I spent a lot time asking God, “Why me?”

I was in high school – 10th grade to be exact when I had my first child. I’m not sure if I was afraid – but I can tell you that I was more determined than ever to be and make a difference for my child. Part of that difference was getting married – which I did at 17.  By the time I was 21 years old, I had two children, my own successful daycare business, three vehicles and I purchased my first home – with a white picket fence. I decided that having a daycare was the best thing because I wanted to spend time with my children and everything that I did was for them.

That all sounds nice, but my personal situation was not good, but as I look back on it now I still feel like I made the right decisions especially with the cards that I had been dealt.

And then – life happened.   I got divorced. I closed my business – moved out of my home into an apartment– shared custody of my children and I felt cheated. I began to ask God, “Why me? I’ve done my best – I’ve tried so hard to be a better person and now look!”

I was getting frustrated with life itself and something within me stirred up like a fire and once again – I wanted to make this situation better for my children.

I began taking classes at Prince George’s Community College.   I learned about the Next Step Training and Education Program and I wanted to try it out.

This was one of the best decisions that I could have made.  The Next Step program not only assisted me with tuition but I was also given additional supportive services and tools to aid in my future success.  One of the most rewarding on the most rewarding gift that I took away from the program is a lifelong mentor in Cecelia Knox, the program’s director.

Once I was accepted into the nursing program I was ecstatic!  You would have thought that I hit the Powerball ten times over – and I don’t even play the lottery!

I want you to understand how huge it was for me to go back to school. College was never a goal for me. So you can imagine how shocked I was not only to be back in school… not only to be passing all of my classes… but getting a 4.0 GPA!

I must say to you all – and especially Cecelia – I am so grateful that the Next Step program was in place to assist me when life happened. What do I mean by “life happening?” What I mean is this: When circumstances place you in situations beyond your immediate control. No two situations are the same, and I know everyone in this room can relate to that.

Next Step put me back in control. You see life wasn’t just happening to me but it was I that decided what life would be.

For me, that meant becoming a registered nurse at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center. It meant an opportunity to provide my children with more stability and security.  It meant taking advantage of opportunities to travel the world – and I have.

I received a full scholarship to Notre Dame of MD University to complete my Bachelor’s Degree.  I traveled to Australia and South Africa – learning about their health care systems and volunteering with TB clinics and HIV orphanages.  I visited Nelson Mandela’s prison cell – I walked in his garden – I strolled in the limestone quarry – just like he did.

But what made a most lasting effect on me was my visit to a nursing home – because that’s where I met Mrs. Christian.  She was a proud elderly South African woman who grew up in the brutality of apartheid.

I sat at her feet as she told our group about seeing the horrors of families being ripped apart and how she stood on the front line with the activists in fight to end to apartheid. Although her comments were towards the group as a whole – she looked into my eyes as she spoke – and I found myself once again asking God, “Why me?”

“I have fought for you to be free,” she said. “And you are under obligation to take advantage of the education available to you and use it to better yourself, your family and your community!”

And she told me – me – that she was proud of me and in that moment my priorities in life changed and my thinking changed and I made a conscious effort to see greatness in others.

I began to believe within myself that if given the opportunity – people living in less than ideal conditions and having less than ideal situations could and would do great things – and  honestly my friends – that is the belief that NSTEP had in me.

As a Registered Nurse I have helped a lot of people old and young alike and I have found babies to be the most interesting species of them all.

Some of them come out kicking and screaming and ready to run for the world and others are born not so active.  They need extra attention – maybe some oxygen and a sternal rub in order to get them to breathe – to get their arms flailing and their legs kicking so they too can be ready to run for the world.

It’s that way for adults sometimes too –  Some are fortunate enough to have had a background and upbringing that allowed them to take off running – while Others need that sternal rub so to speak to help us breath again and give us the strength to stand up and take off for the world as it were –  And when we do – it’s a beautiful thing.

It’s been about two years now since my trip to South Africa and I have worked hard to help others. I know that I have encouraged and inspired others to go back to school.   I often have the privilege of returning to Prince George’s Community College to speaking with women in orientation for the Next Step program and I listen to their stories – I listen to their hopes and dreams without judgment – because I remember being in their seat.

Today, I work roughly 10 miles from where I grew up. Knowing my history – knowing where I come from and where I am now has caused me to ask at times:  Am I one in a million? A needle in a haystack – No.   There are many success stories emerging from the streets of S.E. Washington, DC just like mine.  How? Because we have been given an opportunity and found someone to believe in us more than we believed in ourselves and for me – that was Cecelia Knox and Ms. Myrtle Christian.

Today, my conversations with God are very different. I say a humbled thank you for my 22-year-old son who is my pride and joy – for my 20-year-old daughter who completed high school at 15 years old and is now is studying to become a child psychologist… and for my 11-year-old daughter who is smart and so talented and plays the violin exceptionally well!

Today, I say thank you to God for the courage to keep my head up despite adversity and for allowing me to become an example for those who have the potential to succeed although they may not even realize it – yet.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to be with you fine people today and have you hear my story.  I am grateful that The Women’s Foundation invests in places like Prince George’s Community College – a place that has assisted me in my present and future successes – and hopefully I have been able to show you that what appears to be impossible is possible.

Today, I place you all under obligation to take advantage of what is before you and join me in making our community better than it was yesterday.

Thank you.

Celebrating All of Our Naana's on International Women's Day

JB_GrandmotherI was born and raised in Ghana in a society where, traditionally, a woman’s role in the community was limited to motherhood. Only a few had the audacity to transcend social expectations and affect the lives of other women around them. My grandmother was one of them.

I saw my grandmother lead and inspire. I saw a great teacher who devoted her life to transforming the lives of young women in her community. As the leader of the women’s group at her local church, Naana, as everyone affectionately called her, became the mother many people wished they had. She counseled women of all ages with various life issues – some coming from low-income households, single-mothers, and teenage mothers. For them, she offered hope. As a young girl, I could hardly understand what she talked about, but I grew up with a constant reminder of the smile that wiped the tears off the women’s cheeks and carefully tucked it onto my memory.

My grandmother took care of her family and worked as a volunteer pastor. And though she had no formal training, most people considered her a teacher and a counselor. I became convinced that hers was the most important profession; no matter how informal the setting, she was still very effective. My grandmother’s counseling sessions did not end in her makeshift office at the church premises. Women in our neighborhood sat next to her for hours in my family’s living room. She prayed with those who needed prayer, she shared her Christian faith and offered hope. Some women needed to learn vocations like cooking, sewing and handmade crafts. My Naana taught them all of that and so much more.

As a young girl, nothing made a bigger impression on me than my grandmother’s ability to connect with other women from different ethnic and tribal backgrounds, social and academic statuses, and with religious differences. When I was old enough to understand the wisdom in her words, I found out how the best teaching moments are in sharing one’s life lessons and the wisdom gained from those experiences. Also, Naana not only shared lessons learned, through her connections she helped some of the women gain apprenticeships and work with local traders who found their skills very valuable, thereby helping them gain economic security. For them, this teacher didn’t only impart knowledge to them; Naana had given them a lifelong desire for hard work and dignity. Most importantly, she had given them hope.

Since joining Washington Area Women’s Foundation, I’ve learned that there are many Naanas right here in our community. They teach every day. They inspire in every moment. They challenge us all to commit ourselves to our vocations – any vocation – and give it our best effort. They give us the audacity to believe in our own futures, and to contribute to the community around us. They validate the Ghanaian proverb, “Obi nnim a, obi kyere,” which means: “If one does not know, another man teaches him.”

My grandmother’s work and impact were all the more impressive because she was redefining her role in our community and getting other women to think about theirs, too. My mother, for instance, opened her own business, a story that I shared last year on International Women’s Day. And as it turns out, Naana was ahead of her time. Now, when I go back to visit Ghana, I’m amazed by all of the progress. The women I grew up with are lawyers and engineers in addition to having families – or choosing not to. We are Naana’s legacy; the result of her investments in our community.

Mother Teresa once shared her thoughts about seemingly insignificant actions: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” My Naana understood her value even as a “drop”. The Women’s Foundation celebrates the value of women like my grandmother Naana. We celebrate the commitment that women all over the world make to positively impact someone else’s life in spite of their own challenges.

Julliet Boye is the development associate at The Women’s Foundation.