Given the chance, 600 million adolescent girls in developing countries can unleash the world's greatest untapped solution to poverty. This is the Girl Effect. If we can release girls living in poverty, they will do the rest. On this day honoring the power of enabling young women around the globe, I reflected on my own "Girl Effect" and where I'd backed away from truly owning my power to create change.
From the moment of my conception, I was swimming in the amniotic fluid of revolutionary change. Barely a year old when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I still cry every time I hear his powerful words. That same year, 1963, Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” which my mother discussed in hushed tones over coffee with her friends holding my newborn sister on her lap.
When I was 3, my parents marched on Washington to protest the Vietnam War and, although my two younger sisters and I stayed with our grandparents, we felt ourselves swept up in the enthusiasm of the belief that our voices mattered. At the age of 7 I could barely contain myself as I stayed up late one night watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on our tiny black and white TV.
In that moment it seemed to me that the human race was capable of miracles. Anything and everything was possible.
As I got older, I was convinced my generation was forging a new world order of peace, justice and equality. In elementary school, my parent’s had us bussed to the South side of Syracuse in Upstate New York to support integration. Although at times I awkwardly stood out as a white girl in a sea of black children, I felt it was my responsibility to be strong and fulfill my parent’s dream. My certainty that we were doing the right thing was never greater than when we gathered for assembly. Our budding little multi-racial community would sit in a circle on the polished gymnasium floor holding hands singing “We Shall Overcome” at the top of our lungs, beaming at each other with wide smiles, as if the power of our voices could heal generations of prejudice, injustice and pain.
Soon all our heroes and role models were slain. My uncle returned from Vietnam a shadow of his former self. The South Side became a dangerous hotbed of rioting and unrest, and my parents decided to move us back to neighborhood schools, fear damping down the fires of change.
The teenage years crept in. My parents got divorced. After college I moved to New York to try to make a living on Wall Street with all the other '80s graduates. But something nagged at me.
For a while I volunteered at homeless shelters, taught writing to young kids from Central America, traveled to third world countries, gave my support to the Ugandan Literacy Project to swap books for education for young women. Then 9/11 happened and, shell-shocked, I burrowed further into my nest. I recently supported a project in Haiti to build a school for young children, but it's different. I'm an observer. I'm no longer on the front lines.
In the pursuit of my career, a happy marriage, paying the bills, surviving each economic downturn and market correction, I realized I'm hiding out -- playing it safe. I've taken distance from the battle. The young revolutionary in me got scared -- don't stick your head out too far or it'll get blown off.
But I can feel a new revolution emerging. One that comes from a place of love, not fear. One that wants us to find solutions together, not battling each other. I am hoping, not only for the young women of the world who so desperately need the education we take for granted, but for all of us, that together we can find a solution to some of the world's most pressing problems.
As Rumi says, "Outside of ideas of right-doing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there."
What is calling to you? Where are you playing it safe? How long are you going to wait?
This post is part of a collaborative effort of hundreds of bloggers coming together to write about The Girl Effect, how young women can change the world. Your support, your voice and your action – that's what it's going to take to wake up the world and make a real difference. You can be part of that change. In fact without you it won't happen. Join the conversation and let the world know what the Girl Effect is capable of. Talk it up. Spread the word. Blog about it or read others who are blogging about it - find out more here