Wednesday Word Day

Wednesday Word Day

A little over a month ago, I applied for a magnificent fellowship called the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum for high school juniors and seniors who are committed to global change. Partnered with Ann Taylor and Loft, Vital Voices (a program begun in 1997 by Hillary Clinton which invests in empowering women worldwide) gives 50 girls the opportunity to attend a three day leadership program and attend the annual Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

A little over a day ago, I was told I was not awarded the fellowship. Crushed, I worked off my frustration and disappointment at the gym with two of my best friends. While this burned off the calories from my Five Guys dinner du j’our, it did not burn off the disappointment and doubt consuming my thoughts. As I pushed myself to my physical limits, I also pushed myself to my emotional limits. All I could think about was this time next year, I could be getting rejected from a full-ride scholarship to my dream university, UNC: Chapel Hill. If I couldn’t get this fellowship, how could I expect to be awarded with one of the most prestigious merit scholarships in America? Needless to say, both my worn out body and soul were sweating tears last night.

Then I looked over my blog. (Yup. That’s right. I read my blog for inspiration too. Hey, at least I know I’m empowering someone!) So as I began to look over my blog, I remembered a link a friend sent me, and before I knew it I was researching an inspirational and empowering non-profit. And my heart began to heal. I was reminded of how much this fellowship (whether I received it or not) had already given me. You see, this fellowship gave birth to this blog. In fact, this blog was originally meant to jumpstart the program under the same name I intended to be mentored on–and hopefully given grant money–at the leadership forum. Since beginning this blog back in late January, I have grown leaps and bounds and have truly begun to find myself. Since I was young I have always been a planner. I’ve known since 8th grade that I wanted to attend Chapel Hill, become a writer and (so I thought) a book editor. Now, however, I know for a fact that I want to lend my head, heart, and hands to the fierce cause of empowering women, children, and the world. This blog is a major contributing factor to my commitment to the cause(s).

I still plan on starting You Me We Empower in my community; it’ll just be a hell of a lot harder. But, hey, as my friend told me last night, “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

So although I was rejected, (and believe me that’s still a hard pill to swallow) I am resilient enough to get back up and fight even harder for my dreams. If ANNpower will not let me be a Fellow, then so be it. They cannot stop me. No one can stop me. Even in my darkest moments, I find light knowing that I can empower. I can give to the world, and the world can give back to me. 

Music Monday: “Defying Gravity” Idina Menzel & Kristin Chenoweth

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended a theater conference this weekend, and what do theater geeks do better than belting out their favorite feel-good anthems from Broadway (of course, let it be known that there are a select few of us who aren’t particularly superior in that category)? With that said, the Broadway musical, Wicked‘s, ultimate symphony of empowerment comes from “Defying Gravity,” this weeks Music Monday. A tribute to the underdogs, this Broadway favorite gives rise to all those who are afraid to let their true-selves bloom. There are plenty of villains in the world who want to “keep us down,” but don’t “accept the limits,” because as I am learning, they do not exist. The limit does not exist! (Mean Girls reference, anyone?) Mountains are growing as we speak, building up an army of obstacles to keep us from achieving our highest aspirations, but you have to at least try defying gravity because the mountains wouldn’t be there if we couldn’t fly over them.

Bringing Out the Optimist

Bringing Out the Optimist

This weekend I am attending the Palmetto Dramatic Association’s drama conference with a group of fellow actors. As they cavort downstairs in the pool, I am stuck up here at the desk, charting trigonometric graphs and balancing equations, and bemoaning my mountain high stack of bookwork. Taking a breath from the sea of equations and elements, I perused my Pinterest boards, searching blindly for some version of relief. Thus, this pin came to light, and with it came my inner optimist. We are in control of our attitude, our behavior, and our actions. No matter the chaos eating away at our sanity, if we just focus on the bright side and recall that life is what we make of it, every moment can be magical. Or at least positive. So next time you’re left out of the party like I am, read back over this quote and remember to keep your head up.

Wednesday Word Day

Wednesday Word Day

Today, I had a delightfully empowering conversation with a friend of mine. Oddly enough, for the past year or so, our emotional states have somewhat paralleled, making for some excellent therapeutic girl talk.

Our conversation today revolved around our mutual confusion of why we were so. . . happy. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way shape or form ungrateful for my happiness, merely perplexed. In a time when the majority of my outside influences are in utter chaos (the loss of my mom’s restaurant, my impending move out of my much beloved home, urgently finishing up the Yearbook, a massive mound of other extracurricular events, and the ever-confusing issue/blessing of a boy) when I look inside myself, I see peace. My steps are lighter, my grin is wider, my laughter is louder. It appears as if I am content.

After talking it through with my friend, I began to reason as to why my soul was at rest when a storm was raining down all around me. I, as a young woman, am truly beginning to find myself, and that ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate weapon against all the monsters in the world. Time and distance can rear their ugly heads all they want, but I will be ready to slay them with “the fire in my eyes, and the flash of my teeth, the swing in my waist, and the joy in my feet.”

As a self-proclaimed empowerment junky, I am filling my heart to the brim and overflowing it with the joy of raising awareness and sprinting after my dreams.

We are like jigsaw puzzles, and with every piece placed we are becoming whole, and with wholeness comes happiness. With happiness comes the knowledge that we are women phenomenally. 

Music Monday: “Marching On” OneRepublic

In honor of my (belated) Fierce (Fe)Male Friday post on Matt Damon and water.org, I have chosen “Marching On” as the first ever subject of Music Monday. The song was featured in one of water.org’s many inspirationally informative videos. Music is yet another one of my many passions. I believe music can move people, can create a movement of its own, actually. Watching the music video to this upbeat, empowering anthem is another reminder of the passion behind every beat strummed and every note hit. As lead singer and producer Ryan Tedder declares, “For this dance we’ll move with each other / There ain’t no other step than one foot / Right in front of the other.” This one goes out to all the women, men, children marching on in the name of clean water and sanitation.

Fierce (Fe)Male Friday: Matt Damon

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“To us, people in poverty are citizens and customers with rights and economic power, not just people in need of a handout. They want to determine their own future. Our role is to make this happen.” –Matt Damon on water.org

Organization/Issue: Water.org is a non-profit organization that addresses the overwhelming issue of water pollution in developing countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Kenya, Ghana, Honduras, and Uganda.

Brief Background: Actor, father, husband, and activist. Matt is the co-founder of water.org, a merger of Matt’s H20 Africa and Gary White’s WaterPartners International. He attended Harvard and was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2010, he received the American Cinematheque Award.

I swear I’m not insane (okay, that one’s debatable). But I am aware that Matt Damon is definitely not a female. However, I had a sort of epiphany a few days back. Oddly enough, I have the boys in my AP U.S. History class to thank for this post. . .

For the past couple weeks several of the boys have been cracking sexist “jokes,” (and I use the term very loosely) presumably just to get on my nerves. Since eighth grade I have been very outspoken and opinionated about my beliefs, so when I began voicing my opinions of women’s rights in class, I suppose the boys saw their target and began to shoot aimlessly. They even went so far as to repeatedly suggest we put a picture of President Obama ripping up the 19th amendment on the front of our class shirts.

I’ll give y’all a moment to take that in.

Not only does it make no sense whatsoever that President Barack Obama of all people would be ripping up the 19th amendment, (2013 State of the Union, anyone? VAWA?!) but it is also overwhelmingly offensive. Would they go up to an African-American and suggest that we rip up the 13th amendment, or even the 15th amendment, and take away his/her rights as not only a citizen but an independent human being? I sure hope not.

While I am fully aware that they are just sophomoric teenage boys trying to get a rise out of me for their own ignorant amusement, I can’t seem to get past the fact that if all men held these beliefs, we would have no rights. There would be no 19th amendment to rip up. I’m not saying I expect these white American male teenagers to be empathetic, but I am saying I expect them to be sympathetic.

Having said this, you’re probably even more confused as to why I chose a wealthy white man as this weeks Fierce (Fe)male Friday. But in your question lies the answer. This wealthy white man is empowering and aiding men, women, children, communities all over the world because he is wise enough to recognize a suffering society.

Women may hold up half the sky, but let us not forget that men hold up the other half. When I learned about water.org and Matt’s fierce efforts with the organization, I knew I had to blog about it. I could not choose to refuse to commend him simply because he is a male. Nowadays the word “feminist” has become somewhat derogatory. The fact is, true feminism is not about women being better than men but about women being equal to men.

So this week I am choosing to recognize Matt Damon. He is not a man cracking “jokes” at the expense of women, but rather a man who is empowering the world, including women. He is a man who understands that women play key roles in society and with empowerment can change the world. I hope one day the boys in my history class understand that they will earn more respect for their kindness and generosity than they ever will for their “humorous” sexist tendencies.

OK, now that we’ve gotten the explanation behind us, we can move on to the really important part: why Matt Damon is cooler than a cucumber.

The best place to start is always from the beginning, and for Matt Damon’s passion for clean water, the beginning was in Zambia in 2006. After witnessing first-hand the extreme poverty and severity of water pollution in both Zambia and South Africa, Matt knew he had to do something. He learned a few of the staggering statistics involving water pollution and its damaging effects and dove into his new organization, H2O Africa. In 2009, Matt furthered his efforts by merging H2O Africa with WaterPartners to create the incredibly innovative and ferociously effective program, water.org. Matt and his economically sage counterpart Gary White have since helped nearly one million people across the world gain access to clean water and proper sanitation sites. The biggest difference between water.org’s approach and all the other programs is the sustainability and long-lasting solutions of water.org. While drilling a well may be helpful, who is going to fix the well if it breaks? Certainly not the people in the community–they don’t have access to the necessary parts. So the well water becomes contaminated, just like all the other watering locations. Water.org, however, offers the long-term solutions needed to fight the global issue.

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If you took the time to read that info graphic (shown above) then congratulations, you have just begun to scrape the surface on why water pollution and the lack of sanitation is a global issue that must be addressed. As Matt has said, perhaps the worst part of the issue is that it is one hundred percent preventable. Yet, due to the lack of funds and resources available in developing countries, every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related issue. But don’t get too despondent. The good news is that just four years ago when water.org was first developed, a child died every 15 seconds. In your mind that may seem pretty minuscule, but when you think about it, it’s actually a significant change. You see, this “slight change” saves 1, 656 children every day! Read that last part over again, just to feel a bit more empowered. Now imagine that you could help raise the statistic even further because you can. Did you know that with just $25 a person can guarantee safe drinking water for the rest of their life? I think that’s rather impressive myself.

A woman in Bangladesh collects water from an arsenic contaminated hand pump.

A woman in Bangladesh collects water from an arsenic contaminated hand pump.

While researching Matt Damon and the cause, I also became aware of the ripple effect (pun intended) that clean water can have on women and children. Like in most developing countries (and lets be honest, even some first-world countries) it is the women and young girls who are breaking their backs to provide for their families. Every day women and girls travel mile after mile to reach their local water supply only to retrieve water that is most certainly contaminated, and all too often, deadly. Then after gathering the water they trek back to their villages, balancing the 40 pound jerrycans on their backs. Oh, and did I mention some women do this twice a day?

Adding to the grave issue of water pollution is the deadly lack of sanitation. “The sanitation crisis can be summed up in one word: ‘dignity.'” Fewer than one in three people have access to a toilet. . . more people own a cellphone than a toilet. Because of the lack of toilets in schools, many girls are too ashamed from their lack of privacy and end up dropping out of school when they reach puberty. And cue the women’s poverty cycle.

Fortunately, with the support of water.org and its partners, women are joining together to break free of the cycle. They organize their communities so a well can be supported and so they can take out small loans for household water connections and toilets (WaterCredit). Before I tell you the results of their efforts, I should warn you that you will most likely experience an overwhelming desire to jump off your couch, pack your bags, fly to a developing country (but not before you turn off the lights in your house. . .it’s environmentally friendly, people), and take part in the global change that is water.org.

Got your passports at the ready? Good. Now read on and embrace yourselves for the empowerment that is about to come your way.

  1. Increase in girls’ school attendance and level of education and literacy rates (yay!) due to the elimination of the need to miss school in order to secure water. 
  2. The reduction of child and maternal mortality because of access to safe water, sanitation facilities and improved hygiene during child birth.
  3. Women and girls do not have to trek to remote and dangerous locations to defecate and/or to fetch water which will reduce the risk of rape, sexual assault and increase safety (triple yay!).
  4. New opportunities for women’s employment and greater sovereignty and independence.
  5. And more

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So obviously I’m pretty fired up about water.org and the magnificent Matt Damon and not to mention the BA women and girls who are the powerhouses behind the changes in their communities. Like I said earlier, the beginning is the best place to, well, begin. Last Thursday my English teacher showed my class the recently launched video of Matt Damon declaring he is going on a strike for water.org. He, ladies and gentlemen, will not be “going to the bathroom” until “everyone has access to clean water and sanitation.” Now, my teacher’s reasoning behind showing us the video was not only to raise awareness for the cause, but also to show us an example of satire. I’d say he did a pretty good job at both, don’t you think? Never once had I even thought about the significance of the toilet. Sorry, Matt, I didn’t know World Toilet Day (November 19, FYI) existed either. But thanks to this witty and wry staged press conference, I am aware, and I hope you are too.

Matt, your compassion and commitment to aiding in the fight against water pollution and lack of sanitation has not gone unnoticed. (You made sure of that with your bold declarations).

Every day I stumble upon a new cause, a new issue, a new organization, a new activist. I for one am incredibly happy that I was serendipitously exposed to your particular cause. Whenever I come across an issue that touches me the way this one has, I feel a flame of empowerment kindle inside me. Some people are addicted to adrenaline rushes–adrenaline junkies. I, however, am an empowerment junky. I thrive on the unquenchable thirst to tackle an issue head-and-heart-on. To discover more ways to aid in the betterment of our world is my passion. I am a firm believer that just one person can make a difference, and it is because of humanitarians like yourself that a new generation of empowerment junkies is born.

So on behalf of empowerment junkies everywhere (because I refuse to believe I’m the only weirdo out there) thank you for being such a Fierce (Fe)Male.

You are truly holding up half the sky. . .And making sure women are able and allowed to hold up the other half.

Goodnight, Roz’s

I know, I know. I still haven’t posted this weeks Fierce Female Friday. I was fully planning on getting it up today. . . I even created a draft–title, photo and all!

But tonight something truly important happened in my life. After 16 years, my mom’s restaurant, Roz’s Rice Mill Cafe closed. It’s the end of an era, and as my sister coined it, bittersweet. (Though to be completely honest, it’s hard for me to get past the bitter, but I suppose that’s what this post is about.)

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My parents announced the final closing date a little over a month ago, and I thought I was handling it fairly well, considering. Then about three weeks ago, it finally hit me. In the middle of lunch, sitting on my yearbook advisor’s couch, staring at the Facebook post a fellow employee (and friend) shared on my wall, the finality of it all slapped me in the face. I felt the saline cascading down my face as I silently begged no one to find me, and if they did, for them to just ignore the girl staring at her phone, sobbing, with a bag of unopened pretzels beside her. Unfortunately, my wish was not their command. So I retreated to a classroom where I knew I would be safe to cry it out. I knew my friends wouldn’t say much. What can you say, really? “I’m sorry,” pretty much covers the spectrum. Still, it’s nice to have a place to break down, someone to listen, somewhere to escape.

From an early age, my very wise mother always told me it was important to have an “outlet.” So when I went searching for an outlet, because Lord knows my emotional mess of a heart needed one, I quickly discovered it was easier said than done. Some are too awkward, wanting to listen, but never knowing quite what to say. Some are too self-absorbed, wanting to talk about their own problems, instead of listening to yours. Some may not know what to say, but may care so much about you, they just listen and nod, knowing they don’t have the wisdom to share, so they offer their ears instead. Then if you’re really really lucky, you’ll find the one who listens well, cares deeply, and is wise beyond belief. I’m a really really lucky one because when Finality slapped me in the face, I had the latter to turn to. When I first told him about the restaurant selling, he told me I was “perfectly capable to handle these things.” Whenever I feel a wave of sadness begin to flood my soul, I read back over that text and remind myself that I can handle these things. And that is exactly what this post is about. Whatever life throws at us, we can handle it. We are strong. We are loved. We are empowered.

Since that one breakdown a few weeks past, I’d been too focused on school and other activities to even begin to think about C-Day (closing day). In fact, it was a relatively normal morning, lacking any nostalgia or tears. Even driving to the restaurant tonight with my dad and sister, I was perfectly fine. A little cold and frustrated, but, hey, when the thermometer hits 40 degrees, what do you expect from a beach girl?

Then I walked in the doorway, took a look around, and got slapped again. Man, that Finality sure can hit.

As I sat in silence, reliving precious moments, I couldn’t help but be envious of how well my sister seemed to be handling things. While I was in my headspace, tasting the bitter, none of the sweet, she was cracking jokes, verbalizing her nostalgia. She’d clearly ordered the bittersweet, hold the bitter. Wish someone had taught me that nifty trick.

With every glance, it was as if a new floodgate was broken free, unleashing memory upon memory.

I remember nearly four years ago on my first day of work, I was pouring water in a ladies’ glass (it was table 83, in case you were wondering). Nervous as all get out, I suppose I let the glass get a little too full, and before I knew it, the entire water pitcher was dumped in her lap. Yup. The entire pitcher. Please, hold the applause. Fortunately, she was a nice, forgiving woman. (Although had it been coffee I doubt she would have been as forgiving.)

Then there was the time a former waitress spilled an enormous amount of Tomato Basil soup on the floor, causing us to slip and slide across the entire restaurant. Not to worry though, another waitress quickly transformed the slippery wood into a dance floor, performing her best Saturday Night Fever renditions for the rest of the hour. Never a dull moment at Roz’s.

Oh, and let us not forget the night a fellow busser and I were trapped in Dessert Hell, and accidentally over melted the Caramel Fudge Pecan Pie, only to discover we had uncovered the best kept secret since the Manhattan Project. Since that wondrous occasion, we’ve been “accidentally” over melting countless numbers of Caramel Fudge Pecan Pies. (Sorry, mom, guess we owe you a few pies. . .)

That restaurant was my second home. I grew up with it, grew up with those people. They’ve seen me grow, seen me cry, seen me at my wits end, seen me laugh until I ran out of breath, seen me spill a drink or two. . .dozen. To be completely honest, the saddest part of it all is knowing I’ll never pour a pitcher of water on a customer again, never dance across a soup-stained floor, never indulge in a secretly over melted Caramel Fudge Pecan Pie.

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But here is where I begin to taste the sweetness. My mother, my fiercely brave, incredibly independent, enviously strong mother is moving on with her life. She is ready to be happy again, ready to turn over a new leaf. And how can I deny her that when she has offered me so much? I am so proud of her. With each new day, I see her strength, grace, and beauty even clearer than the one before. So for her to be happy is all I could ever ask for.

Even sweeter is the knowledge that I am going to learn from this experience, enter into a new era, if you will. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn the light on.”

If you’re reading this and are losing something or someone and asking yourself how you’re possibly supposed to go on, remember that you can handle this. As my friend likes to tell me, keep your head up. No matter what anyone may tell you, your strength comes from within–a place only you can control. Even when the darkness sucks you in, I ask you to turn a little light on, because you deserve to be happy. I understand the need to wallow in the sadness for a moment, but only a moment. Cry it out, but realize better days are to come. They say what goes up must come down, but it can’t stay down forever. Reach inside yourself and remember the happiness you once felt. Be prepared to feel that happiness one day soon, because no matter how low you go, you will always rise up. We are all warriors. No matter our age, sex, or race. We were born to fight this fight, learn these lessons, but most importantly, to enjoy this life.