I have long believed that middle school girls not only need to feel seen and heard, but they also benefit from looking outside of themselves, focusing on the needs of others or on causes larger than themselves. Middle school is a time of being self-conscious and self-focused, with social media only heightening this aspect of adolescence.
We are privileged. By virtue of working at an independent school or by virtue of attending one, we enjoy the privilege of doing so. There is power to harness in that privilege and middle school girls want to wrestle that power and make change happen!
As we move into early spring, I am beginning to look back, ever so mindful of many “lasts” for me.
One of the most poignant for me was the ending of Girls in Government, Leadership, and Service (GGLS) with our final Women of Courage Panel in Honor of Rosa Parks this past February 4.
GGLS’ first iteration focused on the gender inequities in pay and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Five girls joined me during their lunch periods as we learned together, strategized, and then took advantage of opportunities that came our way to speak to communities outside of Julia Morgan.
Those five grew to 45 girls in a few short years. By then, not only did we focus on the history of women’s rights from the 1600’s to the present, but we also began looking to issues that affected women and girls disproportionately: the minimum wage, food insecurity, being without shelter, and on and on. More projects materialized. The girls received recognition for their work, being invited to speak at a few high schools, and nods by Equal Rights Advocates. We looked at politics and government, ran a voter registration campaign, lobbied in Sacramento, spoke to business leaders at an EEOC conference, and posted a petition on Change.org that Change.org noted as one of the top 20 out of 200,000 in 2015. We met Lily Ledbetter and Patricia Arquette. Gail Sheehy graced us by speaking at our United State of Girls Summit held at JMSG.
I started the Women of Courage Panel because I wanted girls to see and hear from women who were models for them: women who had made a difference, who broke ceilings, who are brave leaders. Over 8 years, the girls have interviewed extraordinary women: authors, activists, CEOs, journalists and more. Perhaps in another newsletter, I’ll list them all. I was drawn to Mrs. Parks, not only for her extraordinary courage, but also for her many decades of activism and for her belief in young people, as she called them. She worked with youth, teaching them to be activists, inspiring them to make change long before and after choosing not to give up her seat. As we prepared to host the panel, we were able to talk about the long road in the fight for racial justice, having candid conversations about the past and the present, seeing in so many ways, how so much is left to be done.
As I do look back, I remember the moment I received the invitation to attend the United State of Women hosted by the White House in 2016. What started out as honoring a few hundred women grew to 4,000 from around the U.S. As we waited to go through security, I stood in line for an hour with Velma Scantlebury, MD, who is the first Black woman transplant surgeon in the U.S. How remarkable to be in an hour-long conversation with her! I had the honor of listening to speakers who spoke passionately, inspiring us to continue the work we did: then Vice President Biden, Billie Jean King, Valerie Jarrett, Cecile Richards, Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez and more. Close to the end of the program, President Obama spoke eloquently, but the highlight for all of us was Oprah interviewing Michelle Obama! It was an incredible day and an incredible honor for working with the girls as we tried to bring attention to the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
As I do look back, the girls led the way through it all, giving up their lunch periods, or coming early at Cornerstone. They were there because they wanted to make a difference, they wanted their voices heard, and they knew if they stood up, others would as well. All I did was set the scene for them.
Periodically, from now through the end of the school year, I look forward to sharing more thoughts with you as I look back at my time at Julia Morgan.