Women Who Have Influenced Us

In honor of Women’s History Month, our team shared who have inspired us, impacted our way of thinking, and influenced how we approach our work.  Read on to about some wonderful women!

Suganya: Coming from a culture that has many examples of matriarchal communities I feel I have so many role-models to look up to and to emulate. The very first person who comes to mind is my great-great grandmother Madam Govindamal (she passed away at the age of 104 when I was 11 years of age). She was ahead of her time in being independent, direct, and fearless. She was called ‘Datin’ an honorific usually granted by royalty but given to her by her community. Another influence is Dr. Maxine Hayes, Washington State former “Top Doctor” and State Health Officer and my employer and mentor who believed and advocated for cultural competence when the term was just newly minted. When she offered my name up to another state health department to lead multicultural health she believed I needed to ‘leave the nest’ even though I was unsure of my path.

London: My friend and our oldest son’s former childcare provider, Sandra Rosario Walker. She walks through this earth with the perfect balance of kindness and self-worth. She approaches all relationships with the utmost integrity, and gives freely without expectation of something in return. She helps raise the youngest of children to be bold and loving human beings. The lives of all people she touches are better because of her.

Sandra: When I think of women that I admire and have influenced my life, it’s not a historical figure or a famous woman that comes to mind first. I think to my childhood and my elementary school teachers. These women—Mrs. Gardner, Mrs. Harlow, Mrs. Rhodes, Mrs. Graff, and Mrs. Arias—all had an enormous impact on me. As a very shy and introverted student, they were kind and nurturing. Their encouragement made me feel that I was smart and capable and they created an exciting learning environment. This love of learning and curiosity has stayed with me and served me well throughout my life.

Naomi: I think of my mother and my Aunt Judy – roles models since the day I was born. Two small-town pioneers, with very different paths, who both broke glass ceilings before they were even built. They set the bar high, as women, in law and science, and most of all, showing me the absolute value of justice, honesty, and being “in service” of others. My Mom could do complex math or science, fix a sink or tinker with and figure out pretty much anything — concrete or cerebral. She was and still is always there as a sounding board, especially when I became a mother myself. I learned from both of them that no matter how busy (or important) you are, you can always lift up those around you, value their input, and make them feel important. I can still hear my Aunt Judy say, “what do you think about (insert something about children in the juvenile justice system or about immigrant children or about something one of the courts or a nonprofit she was on the board of was deciding), Mo?” My Aunt Judy’s legacy lives on in better lives and interpretations of laws – I am hopeful that many girls and women will continue to be as inspired by her story and her life as my daughter and I have been (Judge Judith S. Kaye).

Sarah: When asked about a woman who has influenced me, my first thought is always Jane Goodall. She was a childhood hero of mine since I before knew what childhood heroes were, and taught me about giving kindness to those who need it, whatever the species, and how important protecting our planet is. My second thought is always my cousins – Erica, Lindsay, Morgan, Lauren and Rachel. From being born four months premature to battling mental health issues and eating disorders to literally dying, giving birth, and coming back to life, the women in my family are the most incredible people I’ve ever met. Not only because they went through these traumas, and more, and survived, but because in the aftermath, their first thoughts were not themselves, but to raise awareness and help others who may also experience it.

Shannon: There have been so many that it is difficult to narrow it down to one or two. It would have to be one or two hundred to just begin. The two for today would be Granny Auntie Angeline Charlie and “ Willie” Loretta Williamson. Neither are still on this earth walk. You will not find their names in history books. Angeline Charlie was the mother of thirteen and Great Aunt to the offspring of her eight siblings. She taught me that one can have everything they need to survive by living in harmony with their environment. She could make a sling out of scarf and showed me how an umbrella can save your life by providing shelter, a way to gather water, a net for fish or a container for berries and medicines. She showed me how pine pitch can seal a wound or a radiator leak. She showed me a hankie always comes in handy to provide both bandage and dry a tear. “Willie” taught me the meaning of following your passion and being a good steward of space and the importance of every single person on the planet. Through her early years as a coal miner daughter, to her early years in the service, to her year at Kodak in a male-dominated industry, to her later years as a store owner in northern Minnesota, she was a light on the earth. Her unwavering commitment to service and healing demonstrated that one could lead from wherever they were at, regardless of circumstance and find gratitude in the moment. Though neither are still on this earth walk, they both carry me, and are carried by me, within my life and the stories shared.

Elizabeth: My mother went to medical school, she claims, because she couldn’t type. I think she went because she knew she was smart and could be a really great doctor. Because women were not admitted into surgical specialties, she chose developmental pediatrics because it was a new field and it challenged her. While in her residency, my father went to Vietnam and she took care of my sister and me for a whole year balancing her work and mothering us. My mom is one of the smartest people I know. She has lived a life of service, caring for children and youth with disabilities and challenges her entire career. I think my favorite thing about her is that she doesn’t see obstacles. She will find a way around, through or over anything that stands in her way of living the life she chooses.
Tennille: I am blessed to have been influenced by many strong women in my life. However, my grandmother Louise Pilgrim was the most influential. She raised me and instilled in me hard work and southern etiquette. She raised me to believe that I can be anything and everything I want to be. She moved from Alabama to New York City to become a nurse. Shortly after the move, she found herself in the middle of a divorce and a single mother. This did not stop her. While working as a nurse, she was recruited to work for Avon Products. That nurse from Alabama became a Regional District sales manager for one of the largest districts in New York City. My grandmother gave the cleaning lady the same respect she gave her company’s CEO. All the kids in the neighborhood called her mom. She was the type to feed everyone without ever asking for anything in return. She was the matriarch and nucleus of my family.

Alina: I think of my Grandma T. She was absolutely loving, full of joy and had the amazing ability to spread it to others effortlessly. She taught me to sew and showed me the importance of art and the beauty creativity brings to this world. She was an incredibly nurturing soul to her bones and positively impacted so many peoples’ lives. If I’m thinking about a “famous” woman – Rosalind Franklin. She was a trailblazer in the field of science in an age where women were even less common and respected. She played a transformative part in so much of the science we know today, with very little recognition until after her passing. To me, they both reiterate the importance of who we are and the selfless work we do, and how both can positively impact and influence generations to come.

Jennifer: My grandmother is who I draw my sense of personal strength from. Every day she amazes me with her adventures in life and always being very optimistic even through the tough times. She is a woman who always led by example.

Who are you celebrating during Women’s History Month? Share with us at questions@changematrix.org.