March 20, 2011

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The Strength of a Woman: Celebrating Women’s History Month

Men depend on her support. Babies covet her touch. Friends need her ear. Employers seek out her intelligence. And the world relies on her love. She walks with grace, talks with intention, bends to obstacles, rises above defeat, and stands with confidence. There is nothing quite like a woman—a strong woman.

Leave it to a woman to get back up after taking a hard fall, risk stability to fuel her dreams, and trudge ahead when physical and mental energy is exhausted. Womanhood is a gift, and it’s worthy to be celebrated.

Take a look at these incredible women who personify resilience, courage and inspiration.

Resilience (an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change) – Many of us associate Marion Jones with track and field royalty. In fact, she was hailed as “the fastest woman on the planet” for over a decade. The first woman to ever win five metals in one Olympic Games, Marion Jones was one of the most idolized women in sports. In 2007, though, the dynasty she created over the years began to crumble with her admission of taking performance-enhancing drugs. Struck with guilt, embarrassment, and a six month prison sentence, Jones didn’t quite know how she would make it through. But an unexpected source of strength came from other women during her time in prison. In Jones’s book, One the Right Track, she compared female inmates she’d met to “plants that bend toward the light, no matter how dim the room. It was from them that I learned how to thrive in the darkness of uncertainty and crisis.” At some point in her interactions with these women, Jones decided she wouldn’t allow her mind, heart and spirit to be imprisoned despite the condition of her body. She developed a stronger faith during that period and leaned on God for protection, understanding and restoration. After Jones’s release, she was equipped with a renewed connection to God, a deeper appreciation for her family and herself, and a fresh start. Now, she uses her experiences to encourage youth to avoid big mistakes by Taking a Break. She is also a new member of the Tulsa Shock WNBA team. Though we may not find Marion Jones on a running track, she’s undoubtedly on the right track. That’s resilience.

Courage (mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty) – Amy Hilliard seemed like she had a pretty good thing going with a leadership post in the marketing department at L’Oreal. This job gave her the ability to travel the world and grow with the company and its products. Hilliard also had a thing for pound cakes. It was her favorite dessert that she often took to neighborhood bake sales and dinner parties. Guests always found her pound cakes to be the biggest hit. For years, people encouraged her to take her cakes to market, but she struggled with the idea of leaving the security of her successful marketing job. The struggle ended in 2000 when Hilliard resigned from L’Oreal and took the entrepreneurial plunge. Comfort Cake was incorporated in early 2001. She worked hard at her business and established United Airlines as a potential client through a previous business connection. According to an interview Hilliard did with Pursue the Passion blog, she and her team pitched to United Airlines in mid 2001 and shortly afterward won a contract for 500,000 desserts. Despite the substantial contract on deck, banks were reluctant to grant her a loan, so she sold her home to come up with the capital. Finally, Hilliard was in business with her first contract, and everything was moving in the right direction. Then 9/11 happened, involving a United plane. Hilliard thought the contract would be canceled, returning her to square one with no home and no job. But United didn’t pull out. The company reasoned that slices of pound cake wrapped in boxes with the word “comfort” on them could help quiet the anxiety passengers had about flying. After this experience, Hilliard realized that nothing is impossible. Courage personified.

Inspiration (an animating action or influence) – For many, thoughts about Tasha Smith can lead to images of a feisty and frustrated wife who suspects her husband of cheating. This was the role Tasha Smith played in Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?” But she wasn’t always a glammed-out, highly successful Hollywood star. In fact, she detailed a dark period of her life during an Essence interview in 2007. Smith said, “I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day; weed every week; and sniffed cocaine at least three times a week.” These habits played out in her young adulthood from age 19-25; her turning point came when she thought she was about to die, and she credits God for pulling her out of the dark hole. Smith made the decision to eliminate all of her vices without the assistance of a facility or program. She said in the interview, “I had to cut everything because it was all connected—the weed was connected to the cocaine, the cocaine was connected to the cigarettes—so I had to go cold turkey.” Today, in addition to being a sought-after actress, Tasha Smith is also a motivation speaker. She seeks to use the experiences from her past to empower youth everywhere. In the Essence interview, she recalled delivering a speech at a California high school where a student approached her and challenged her ability to understand what the student was going through. Tasha’s response was, “I’m telling you that when God has a plan for your life it doesn’t matter what your current circumstances look like because they change like the weather and a new season will come when you’re going to put on a new coat.” True inspiration.

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