The Month of Girls: A Tribute
December 23, 2021
Dr. Maya Chilese is a friend of the Snow-Redfern Foundation and a consultant for some of the great new kids programs we have been developing, including our new young women’s leadership development experience. She is also an exceptional example of how strong, empowered, educated, supported, resilient women have the propensity to have a positive impact on the future generation of young women. Dr. Maya has graciously provided this lovely piece to help us celebrate the Month of GIRLS!
My office is filled with pictures of powerful women and I swear their vibration feeds my soul. My spirit reverberates with the energy from powerful women – like the sounds of Pat Benatar and Queen Latifah, the words of Maya Angelou and Margaret Thatcher, the brilliance of Rosalind Franklin and Frida Kahlo, the bravery of Harriet Tubman and Marsha Johnson. I stand in awe of the perseverance of women through centuries of oppression and celebrate the revolutionary act of being exactly who you are. To describe “girl power” is to humanize ALL women and to elevate the voices of every single one of us. It is to honor the divine feminine as well as to own our masculine energy. It is to do the intentional work of discovering your strengths and thrust that onto the world before it even dares to ask. Girl power is the demand that of all creation pay attention to us who give it life; for we are the nurturers, the protectors and the warriors of it all.
Empowering Girls and Women
Too many girls and women today do not understand that cultures have existed in history that upheld women as leaders, honored women as powerful agents, and elevated women as central to society’s survival. American culture hosts a million ways that girls and women are unknowingly taught to be quieter, to feel unworthy, to shrink ourselves, to be less. It is imperative that every girl and woman learn the truth about their power and harness it for good. History has shown that women are resilient, magnificent, brilliant, brave, and most specifically – of no lesser value. The rules around us are fake news and do not accurately reflect all that we are and can be! Girls and women must learn to be loud, take up space, demand visibility, take action, and ensure equality for all female-presenting humans.
A string of influential women have graced my path and shaped my career in unexpected ways. I find it’s not the ‘big break’ or ‘perfect job’ that launches us; but the quiet influence of people that pass like the seasons, as well as the hard parts that challenge us to change. My grandmother planted the helping seeds, teachers watered the sprouts, mentors tended the soil, friends hoisted the sagging branches, and somehow I withstood the storms with enough force to thrive. As a single mom, it often felt like endless days of multiple jobs, school, exhaustion, struggle… “and still, like air, I rise.” (Maya Angelou, 1978) There is so much power in the journey – and I wish for girls and young women to set their eyes on deconstructing what they think they know about the world and write their own path.
As I was helping a customer one day at a jewelry store that I once I managed, I handed him a business card. With surprise in his voice, he declared that he recognized my name from his law books. That was the day I learned that my father was the first to gain custody of his child during a divorce settlement in our state. It was the mid 70’s and I vividly remember being one of very few “divorced kids” at my school. My father is an incredible man with an easy smile and tenacious spirit, and my mother is a punk rock bad@ss who lived a life of revolution. She moved to the upper east coast, devastated not to be taking me with her. As the years passed, I experienced a very different lifestyle and culture between the two environments, which significantly shaped my worldview. And despite the trauma I had to heal, I was also bestowed invaluable life experiences that shaped who I am today. And let me tell you how cool it was to bring fashion and music ‘back from the big city’ before it arrived in the Midwest. Oh gosh the pre-internet 80’s were amazing.
It Makes Me, ME
I have come to firmly believe that we land exactly where we should at each juncture of our journey. Many times those steps were unpleasant or difficult, and definitely not what I chose. But when we are more curious than we hold ego, we see the opportunity in each experience. I’ve learned that every life moment is filled with data that helps better understand oneself, others and the human experience. I like to think that I inherited some of the tenaciousness of my father and the badassery of my mother, and hopefully the persistence of my ancestors. I hope to remain humble enough to learn, eager enough to try, flexible enough to adapt, forgiving enough to stumble, and brave enough to act.
The most important aspect of ‘girl power’ is redistributing power to girls and women, especially to those who’ve been particularly marginalized. I cannot express a desire for equality without also taking action to create equitable environments and eradicating systems of oppression. Having worked in the human services field for nearly 30 years, my contributions feel meager under my office full of powerful women. Yet it is in their aura that I keep growing, pressing, adapting, and creating strategies to help people.
Today, I gain deep satisfaction from helping organizations that help people, supporting nonprofits and government agencies to stretch into maximum impact. Some days I wonder how the heck I got here and feel woefully unprepared to help the world. But then I remember that I carry the generational strength of the women before me; that I hold a responsibility to become a good ancestor; and that I am indeed a bad@ss warrior ready to rumble.
Help us support more projects that empower girls at: https://bit.ly/3r1t92b