When I was a child, my family would go for a drive every Sunday. Mom, Dad and us three girls would all pile in the ‘49 Chrysler and “go for a drive.” Most times there was no real destination; Dad would stop at an intersection and ask us, “left or right?” We’d shout out our choices and Dad would turn whichever way he wanted. The goal was to “see the world” we lived in. And, we never traveled the same route out and back.
In the summer of 1952, we took a family road trip – actually two. During Dad’s weeks off from work, we drove up and down the east coast of the US, visiting 26 states and two Canadian provinces. I sat glued to the window - all day, every day – I soaked in the world of 1952; tasted the grits of South Carolina, the just picked peaches of Georgia, and the freshly squeezed oranges of Florida. I was barely seven.
The mysteries of life unfolded. And, despite my young years, some images stayed with me well into adulthood – the segregated drinking fountains in the south, the hard scrabble coal mining towns of Virginia, the poverty encircling Washington D.C. Questions appeared then that I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to understand.
The middle of three girls, I was raised in a conservative, parochial, second generation immigrant family in New Jersey. Coming of age in the late ‘50s to the mid ‘60s, there were limited choices and little left to question. It was clearly the world of the TV show Mad Men – if a girl went to college it was to find a man, get married, have babies and stay at home. Girls were “not able” to do those hard subjects like math and science. Girls were raised to be dependent and unable to “do” on their own.
In my freshman year of college the first of two teachers who changed the course of my life, stopped me in my tracks by asking, “What makes you think that there is only one way of doing anything? What makes you think that your way is the ‘right’ way?” And finally “What will you do with your life? How will you make a difference?”
I was shaken to the core. These were empowering questions. There was so much more I needed to see in the world. There was so much more I needed to understand. There was so much more I could DO than what I was taught.
When I left home in the summer of 1968 to teach school overseas, it was a rebellious thing to do. At a time when girls lived with their parents until they left to get married, family and friends feared for my life – “a woman can’t take care of herself” they exclaimed.
Ah! But I had seen the world at the age of seven, and been empowered to make a difference in it at the age of 18. From that moment on, empowerment has been the driving force in everything I do. My mission throughout my entire professional career has been to empower others to accomplish their agendas. Because, if you believe you have the power to make a change -- in your life, your family, your schools, and your community --- that is exactly what you will do!