What Do You Look for in an Ideal Workplace?

Why-I-love-my-job-PhotoI’m sure everyone has their own perspective on what would constitute their ideal workplace, but for me, I have learned that I need to be wholly aligned with the vision and mission of the organization I work for; that I need to feel that the organization is contributing to “the greater good;” that I am happiest when I get along well with my colleagues and feel respected for my professional contribution; when I work in an environment that promotes a healthy work/life balance; and that I desire a workplace that values and supports professional development.

When I came to work at Washington Area Women’s Foundation three months ago, I had a pretty good feeling that those attributes wouldn’t be hard to find here. From my first interview it was easy to see that this is an office brimming with excitement; it doesn’t take long to realize that the people who work here do so because they’re seriously passionate about economically empowering the women and girls of our region. What I couldn’t have expected was how my list of ideal workplace attributes would be made to feel puny compared to the awesomeness of working at The Women’s Foundation. That may sound hyperbolic, but let me explain.

I have always been passionate about working with women, and coming from a business background, I see economic security as a huge component of a woman’s overall ability to thrive. The Women’s Foundation celebrated its 15th anniversary this year at our annual Leadership Luncheon, and I am so glad that I was able to be a part of it. Hearing about the incredible work of the foundation, listening to our speaker Sharon’s remarks on how the Foundation had impacted her and witnessing the incredible outpouring of support from our community – helping us blow past our $700,000 fundraising goal – reiterated to me how The Women’s Foundation is not just contributing to an abstract idea of “the greater good,” but is pushing for tangible and systematic change that will ultimately positively impact us all.

Valuing a workplace where I can get along with my coworkers and feel supported in my professional career, I was excited to see The Women’s Foundation’s commitment to this ideal when I witnessed a coworker express interest in additional responsibilities outside of her current job. The Foundation fostered that interest, committed to training her and ultimately celebrated her accomplishments by promoting her to a role that encompassed those new skills.

Seeing the progression of my coworker was so heartening, but I never could have imagined that the women I work with would not only guide and mentor me professionally, but they would also become champions of my personal successes. In my first three months with the Foundation, my (then) fiancé and I finalized the purchase of our first home and got married at the wedding of our dreams (yeah, it’s been a good year). I felt lucky that The Women’s Foundation was flexible in allowing me time off for all the little things that go into the home-buying process, along with pre-approving leave for my wedding and honeymoon. But I was blown away when I came back from closing on our condo to an office-wide celebration. All of my co-workers, who had known me less than a month at this point, said they wanted to celebrate this life milestone with me and promote our asset-building act of purchasing a home. I couldn’t believe it! That set the precedent, but somehow I was still unprepared for their incredible generosity this past week when I got married. My wonderful coworkers threw me a surprise wedding celebration, sneakily invited my husband, and showered us both with their love and well-wishes for our new life together. I am still reeling! I have never worked in an environment that so celebrated and promoted their employees in every aspect, and I feel incredibly blessed.

It might seem strange to wax so poetically about one’s place of employment – especially on said place of employment’s blog – but the reason I wanted to share this today is because this is the type of job The Women’s Foundation believes every woman should hold, and every single day we work to make that a reality. The Foundation’s clamor for paid sick leave, flexible schedules, better working conditions and jobs that pay a living wage; the push for pathways to career advancement through professional development; and the commitment of everyone at The Foundation to philanthropy, sharing kindness and celebrating personal successes –  this work we do at the Foundation is a natural outpouring because all of this is so engrained in our own organizational culture. I’m lucky to work here, but I hope that because I do, every woman in our region will have the ability to write a blog post exactly like this.

If this sounds like the type of place you’d like to work, check out our job openings page to find out how you can join our team! 

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.

Holly Fischer Storms Capitol Hill

This guest blog post was written by Goodwill of Greater Washington, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner. The Foundation invests in Goodwill’s job training and support services programs. On October 23rd, Foundation supporters will have another opportunity to support Goodwill by participating in a clothing drive. Bring business clothes and accessories to the 2013 Leadership Luncheon, and help the women and men who participate in Goodwill’s job training programs.

It seems like everywhere you turn these days you hear words like “furlough” and “sequestration.”  Recent budget cuts have cost many federal employees their livelihoods; and with Goodwill of Greater Washington having nine federal contract sites, it has been an issue of serious concern for us.

This past June, Goodwill of Greater Washington participated in Source America’s “Grassroots Advocacy Day.” This event gives agencies from across the country who employ and support individuals with disabilities the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital and advocate to Congress in support of employment for those they serve. This year’s advocacy day focused on attempts to ensure that individuals with disabilities who work in government facilities are not affected by sequestration. Goodwill of Greater Washington was fortunate to be represented by President and CEO Catherine Meloy, Vice President of Contracts Tony Garza, and Holly Fischer who is employed at our U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contract site. Holly is back to her regular work schedule today, but the recent government shutdown makes voices like hers more important than ever.

When Holly first arrived on Capitol Hill she was very nervous because she wasn’t used to public speaking. “In school I always wanted to be the one holding the flag in the assemblies,” she said. “I never wanted to have a speaking part.”

However, Source America provided several classes for the hand-selected group of advocates to help them become more comfortable with public speaking. With that training Holly felt prepared to take on the opportunity before her.

“A job is more than a way to make money; it is a way to a feeling of self-worth,” Holly told a Senator’s aide. “I know what it’s like to have a hard time finding a job and I know what it’s like to be laid off.” Holly continued by emphasizing the work ethic that she learned as a child. “My father taught me how to work hard and I know how to work hard,” she added. “I appreciate the opportunity to work for Goodwill through the Ability One Program.”

Holly hopes to visit Capitol Hill again one day. Those who saw her in action believe she is a powerful and eloquent speaker. But Holly only wants our elected officials to walk away with one message: that she would not be able to find a good job without the help of Goodwill. “It was well worth it,” Holly said with pride. “If it’s advocating for my job, I will advocate to keep my job. And I will advocate for those who are disabled.”

Holly is a woman of bold conviction who is not only willing to stand up for herself but also for those around her who share similar challenges in life.  Goodwill of Greater Washington is proud to have someone like Holly as an ambassador for our cause!

New Grantmaking for Girls: A Two Generation Strategy

I’m excited to announce a new initiative that will expand The Women’s Foundation’s grants and impact in our community. As we move toward taking on a lifespan approach to our work, we are adding funding for programs working with middle school aged girls to our current grantmaking portfolio. We’ve just released our first Request for Proposals (RFP) for this work.

As you’ll see from the RFP, our goal is to fund innovative programs that work with both young women and their mothers or female caregivers, to establish economic security across generations — this is going to be a ground-breaking initiative!

Adolescence is an important time to build foundational skills, encourage positive choices and reinforce girls’ health and well-being. In our region, however, there are numerous barriers to success for adolescent girls:

  • Fifty-one percent of children in the District and 29% of children in Prince George’s County live below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • The District’s drop out rate is nearly 40%, and 16% of Prince George’s students do not graduate high school in four years.
  • And DC and Prince George’s County have the highest number of births to teen mothers in the region (11.7% and 9.3%, respectively).

These statistics are also why our work will initially focus on Washington, DC and Prince George’s County — our research has shown that these are the areas of greatest need among women and girls in our region.

We’re using this new strategy as another stepping stone to achieving and maintaining economic security for women throughout their entire lives. We begin accepting proposals immediately, so please share the RFP with your network today. And I’ll be reporting back in the future about the outcomes of our work and the lessons we’re learning.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Success Story: National Adult Education & Family Literacy Week

As National Adult Education & Family Literacy Week draws to a close, the work to ensure the success of adult learners in our region continues. The post below, from our Grantee Partner Academy of Hope, reminds us what can be achieved when we all work diligently towards this goal.

Dorothy Reese: If You Believe, You Can Achieve It!

Born in 1938, Dorothy’s childhood was one of abandonment, daydreams and love. Although her mother had dropped out of school, “she had common sense and was smart,” and she encouraged Dorothy to stay in school. But at the age of 15, Dorothy became pregnant and dropped out of school herself.

Then, at 16 Dorothy met Ronald, with whom she has spent the rest of her life, and by 1979 they had nine children.

During the 1980s, Dorothy “always had energy, loved to work, and wanted to get [her] diploma.” But in the face of family health challenges and the death of her 24-year-old son, in 1994 Dorothy went into rehab for alcohol addiction.

Fortunately this led her to “restart” her life. She began a nursing assistant program, worked nights and took classes at Academy of Hope during the day. Though the start was bumpy, she got on track and persevered. She recalls, “I decided I would stay until I got it and that I wasn’t going to drop out.” She later worked days at the YMCA and attended evening classes, and in November 2011, at age 74, Dorothy graduated from Academy of Hope.

About her journey at Academy of Hope, she says smiling, “All the teachers and staff encouraged me – they never forgot me!”

Now, with support from a Small Enterprise Development program called Women Mean Business, Dorothy is starting up her own business making decorative pillows. “God is not done with me. My motto is:  If you believe it, you can achieve it.”

Written by Jan Leno, Academy of Hope volunteer writer.

VIDEO: Families are Transformed When We Stand With Women

We are so excited to announce the release of our new video from Stone Soup Films!  With your help, we are using strategic investments to create economic security for women and girls in the Washington region.

Great change is possible – when we make smart investments in our community.  Please share this inspiring new video with your networks!

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Why can the restaurant industry be so difficult for women? Spoiler alert: Top Chef Masters got it wrong

Top Chef MastersI haven’t really been following this season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, but when I was flipping through the channels this week and saw the DC area’s own Chef Bryan Voltaggio on the show, I decided to tune in. I was intrigued as the latest episode had the season’s remaining contestants paired up and challenged to create complimentary hot and cold dishes with a surprise catch of the day. Shortly into the episode I realized there was only one female contestant – James Beard Award winner Chef Jennifer Jasinski – left in the running and remarked how that’s sadly unsurprising given the male-dominated restaurant industry.

I probably could have left my disappointment there for the evening, if it hadn’t been for a short scene the producers decided to include of the chefs relaxing and enjoying dinner and drinks at a restaurant the night before the challenge. As the chefs chatted, the men remarked to Jennifer that being a chef was a really tough career choice for women because if they stop to have kids they could lose everything they’ve worked for.  Upon hearing that, I stopped. I hoped that the conversation would take a turn, as I really wasn’t looking to get all riled up on a week night, but alas, there it was: a sexist comment in the midst of my supposed-to-be-brainless evening entertainment.

This isn’t the first time Jennifer has been publicly asked the question about her choice not to have children, and she handled it like a pro, talking about how she didn’t want to do anything half-way and wanted to focus fully on her career, and how at the end of the day the staff members in her restaurants were her family.  Now, I don’t know if the conversation continued, if perhaps the male chefs also lamented that their lives were too busy to raise children, and that they, too, made difficult decisions about family and work life balance in the demanding industry, but I do know that if they did, the producers of the show chose not to highlight it on-air. In true pop-culture fashion, Bravo took the road of reinforcing gender stereotypes about the traditional primary caregiver role of women in the household. The producers clearly decided to focus attention on the only female contestant’s decision to not have children, despite the fact that Bryan Voltaggio, for instance, has spoken in interviews in the past about the challenges of being a dad and a chef.

The opening statement by the male chef was true, being a woman in the restaurant industry is tough for a number of reasons, and there are very high barriers to advancement for females in the industry. But insinuating that the path is more difficult for a woman because she would be forced to end her career if she were to have children is downright backwards, as is the decision of the show’s producers to reinforce this archaic idea.

The real reason being a woman in the restaurant industry is hard? Women who work in the industry face systematic discrimination, poverty wages, a lack of sick days, and five times more harassment than the general female workforce, according to a report released by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United).  ROC United has also found that women are paid 21.8 percent less than their male counterparts with the same qualifications. The wages are even lower for women of color, who are paid 28.5 percent less than their male counterparts. Nearly 37 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the restaurant industry – more than five times the rate for the general female workforce, and cases of sexual harassment are often ignored by managers in the industry.

These inequalities exist because the industry perpetuates them. Much like hazing for fraternities, enduring terrible working conditions is seen as a badge of honor in many cases. The latest example of Top Chef Masters continuing to subvert female chefs in the industry and reinforce damaging stereotypes is especially damning. Women are incredibly hard working and capable chefs, line cooks, restaurateurs, waiters, general managers, bartenders and more and should be respected as such.

Oh, and did I mention that the talented Chef Jennifer Jasinski won the seafood challenge that evening? Go get ‘em girl.

Want to continue the discussion of the issues facing women in the restaurant industry? Join us September 24, 2013 for a brown bag discussion with author of Behind the Kitchen Door and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Saru Jayaraman. The event information can be found on our Facebook page, here. Please RSVP to Farrell Barnes at fbarnes@wawf.org.

Marching Great Distances: My Family's Past and Future, and the March on Washington

resized Jess Kim MaiI never forget my dad’s birthday; it’s December 31st, and every New Year’s Eve since I can remember we’ve gathered for dinner to celebrate the past year, the hope of the new year, and the accomplishment of my dad for making it to one year older (or one year younger as my dad likes to pretend).   But there is one New Year’s Eve in particular that has stuck with me all of these years: I was very young and my grandparents were in town to celebrate with us. My grandfather was telling stories of my dad as a youngster, and he began laughing that they used to call my dad “Deduct” since he had been born right before the stroke of midnight, giving my grandparents the child tax deduction for the year, just in the nick of time. He also mentioned that my dad was the last baby born that year in Abilene, Texas, and that he’d received gifts and congratulations from the hospital staff.

I recall my dad looking uncomfortable as this story was being told, and I prodded him about it. He stopped and sheepishly said, “Well I wasn’t exactly the last baby born, but the last baby born was black, so they gave me all the presents.”  He averted eye contact and got up to retrieve another glass of water from the kitchen as someone else changed the subject and the mood returned to jovial celebration.

It was one small instance, many years ago, but it has been lodged in my memory all this time. We never really talked about it again, but it’s been on my mind constantly in the past couple of weeks as we’ve been gearing up for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. My dad was six years old when the March on Washington took place, and that small sentence about the night he was born has spoken so much to me about how broken America was in 1963 as Dr. King gave his famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. As I joined my co-workers, our supporters, friends, and family on the National Mall last Saturday to commemorate that great day 50 years ago, I thought about how things had changed. I’m getting married in two months to a Vietnamese-American man, and I was blessed to be joined by him and his mother on Saturday as we stood side by side to fight for equality. I thought about our future children, and how blessed I am that they won’t face the discrimination present in the hospital the day my dad was born, and how thankful I am that my fiancé and I are not ostracized for our mixed-race relationship. I thought about how beautiful it was to see the tapestry of different races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations in front of the Lincoln Memorial, joining together to fight for the inalienable rights of us all.

There is still work to be done. There is still reason to march. Yes, injustice still exists, inequality still exists, and true unity has not yet been attained. But today I find myself more thankful than enraged. I am thankful to those that marched before us, because though there is marching still to be done, we really have come a long way.

We March On: Diversity, Unity & the March on Washington

MarchOn Saturday morning, I joined a group of colleagues, our family members and friends to create a Washington Area Women’s Foundation contingent for the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. Despite the early hour (I am not a morning person), I was excited and enthusiastic about being able to participate in such an historic event. As we approached the National Mall, it was clear that the excitement and enthusiasm were shared by the many, many other activists who were also there. And as we convened around the reflecting pool to listen to the speakers lined up for the morning’s rally, and had the chance to look around at those with whom we were sharing space and purpose, I was struck by the diversity that surrounded me. Yet, the audience, issues and messages from the speakers created a bizarre contradiction. On many levels we were marching on this day for many of the same rights and issues that our foreparents marched for 50 years before us – equality, access to jobs, etc. Yet, it was apparent that this was not the same movement as it was then. The increased visibility and vocalization of issues affecting women, LGBTQ, Asian American, and Latina/o communities, etc. was a clear indicator that while we have not come as far as we would like, the past 50 years have been significant in creating the space and voice for people from so many different communities to come together to be recognized and heard.

But despite the camaraderie and energy that was with us all, there were two noticeable voids for me. The first was the absence of the power, passion and clear purpose that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought to the original march with his “I Have A Dream Speech.” I don’t think that in the 50 years since the original march, there has been any speech quite so profound as his, nor any speaker as moving. I own that perhaps it isn’t a fair expectation, because people like Dr. King don’t come along every day. But even to replay that speech and remind us all of that power, passion and purpose, would have elevated the day that much more to me.

The other thing that I struggled with was that even in the diversity of the communities represented on Saturday, I still felt a siloing of communities and identities. I felt we were missing something – that sense of underlying unity. That thing that transcended race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class…that thing that made us all brothers and sisters in a movement for humanity overall. That thing that reminded us that we could not divide the essence of our being into artificial buckets of race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. And that our communities and identities were not distinct and separate, but inextricably linked. I was missing that call to action that said without a collective vision, a collective movement, and a recognition that if any one of us gets left behind, it means all of us fall behind, we would be here 50 years from now fighting many of the same battles. Despite the absence 50 years ago of some of the diverse voices that were present on Saturday, I think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to capture that vision for the future that saw us all sitting around a community table with a shared sense of our value for who we were and what we brought. And a recognition that the problems that we are solving require solutions that reflect the intersections of our communities and identities.

I walked away from the march with mixed emotions for the reality of our country today – appreciation, sadness, frustration, drive, disappointment, and hope. What I wish I had gotten from the podium is that feeling that we were here together because, in the words of Dr. King: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” And so, we march on.

“I Still Have a Dream:” 50 Years Later, March on Washington Remains Relevant

MarchonWashingtonAs we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I’ve been re-reading and thinking a lot about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I’m simultaneously in awe of and distressed by the timelessness of the speech. It encompasses feelings and aspirations that far exceed the boundaries of race. But so many of the challenges outlined in the speech are applicable today. I don’t say that to minimize the impact that King or the March on Washington had – but I’m struck by the fact that if you replace the word “Negro” with words like “poor,” or “black,” or “Latino,” or “undocumented” in the text of the speech, it’s still so relevant.

While the words “I have a dream” are the best-known parts of the speech, for me one of the most powerful passages is about America’s obligation to guarantee every citizen life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. King said that the nation had “defaulted on this promissory note” when it came to citizens of color. “We refuse to believe,” he said, “that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

That has never been more true in America’s history than now. When we look at what people are doing in fields like technology, finance and entertainment, the opportunities seem endless. But for far too many people, those great vaults are sealed and secured – those opportunities remain out of reach. The generational cycles of poverty that so many people find themselves in are testament to just how closed our society can be to some people, and so is the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

Being mired in poverty is this generation’s chains. Economic security and independence are our freedom. King’s speech reaches back through time to reference the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation – all documents created at turning points in history when people in this country came together to break open chains and embrace freedom. Their efforts propelled this nation forward – we don’t look back on our history and regret becoming an independent nation, or ending slavery or giving everyone the right to vote.

The original 1963 march was officially called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The organizers of that historic event knew that jobs and freedom go hand in hand, but I think that in the 50 years since, we may have forgotten some of that. Without the right resources, networks and opportunities, people can’t get good jobs. And without good jobs that not only sustain families but provide them with a stability and savings for the future, too many people are missing out on freedom, strength, independence and equality.

That’s why Washington Area Women’s Foundation is participating in the 50th anniversary rally and march on Saturday. As we walk elbow-to-elbow with thousands of other people I will be thinking about King’s speech and his unwavering faith in humanity, belief in the American dream, and confidence that by working together, we can live in a country that lives up to its promise.

I invite you to join us. “We cannot walk alone.” Email mcraven@wawf.org for details.