I love speaking to and relating with youth. From adolescents still finding their way to teens heading to college to 20-somethings looking to spark career and entrepreneurial revolutions, I find myself very passionate about being a resource to them. I’m happy that I’ve had a platform via media to do so and am always looking for other ways to be of help.
However, I’ve come across a sad pattern of young women of color and their stories of low self esteem. In a world where women are often demoralized, abused and seen as second-class, beat-down mentalities have become super-prevalent after consistently being told “you can’t” or “you won’t.” I’ve even heard stories of girls being discouraged to succeed by their own family members and peers, who promote stifling environments where girls are limited to poverty and teen pregnancy and doomed to lives of perpetual unfulfillment.
I find this to be both disheartening and infuriating. I grew up with women who were strong and confident. My Granny, who did not attend college herself and raised 5 children, has always been the very popular matriarch of her family and her community. She would always tell me: “Keep your head up, shoulders back and face forward with confidence. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel less than what you are.” She, along with my mother and aunts, were very big on girl power and would often instill those values not only in my sister and I, but in the men of the family as well.
I had to carry that confidence when told “You think you’re all that because you make As,” by a female peer in high school or “You’ll never make it to New York. That’s a big market and black women already have it hard as it is in media,” by a news colleague. But not every girl has that Granny or that inner strength. So I always advise those who don’t, to find sources of inspiration from other venues. I refuse to let young women use negative elements as reasons for failure—my Granny wouldn’t accept such things.
Forbes recently released a list that gives young women of color 100 reasons to strive for excellence and look past the lies and nonsense they may face on a daily basis. These women are from all walks of life, live all around the world and are of diverse ethnicities. Here are a few takeaways to inspire you to join their ranks:
1. You can be great by just being you. From Beyonce to Latina actress Sofia Vergara to Lady GaGa, these ladies chose to rock with exactly who they are and look where it got them: on the Forbes list. Beyond that Beyonce earns $40 million a year being fierce; Lady Gaga has expanded her brand into social entrepreneurship despite naysayers who cried weird every time she did something out of the box; and Vergara has tapped into the multi-trillion-dollar Latina market, diversifying her brand and career while embracing her Colombian heritage. It’s okay to be different, creative, outrageous or outgoing. Don’t suppress it. Run with it.
2. Your current circumstances don’t dictate your future. Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, grew up in a poor neighborhood in Chicago and would not only go on to earn bachelors and doctorate degrees, but serve under President Barack Obama as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, working in Rome, Italy. Cousin was able to draw from her youth experience to enhance what she offers to her position and turn negative into positive.
3. If you see something in the world you want to change help enhance … well, change or help enhance it. Helene D. Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, a member of CARE International (which serves as a humanitarian aid organization fighting global poverty), spent 20 years at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), focusing on combating HIV/AIDS. She took her passion for making change and pursued a career path that would facilitate that. She also chose a medical focus that includes tremendous challenges in terms of information access, societal stigma and high death rates, but took it on anyway.
Hey, we know the statistics. We know the challenges. But I urge my young ladies of color to be empowered and inspired by women who threw all the negativity to the wind and took hold of their purpose, choosing power over oppression to make real boss moves in the world—and big money to boot.
Who inspires you to keep striving for excellence? Sound off and follow Janell on Twitter @JPHazelwood.