Words of Wisdom from the 2018 Academy of Women Achievers
On June 5th, YW Boston hosted the 2018 Academy of Women Achievers “Unstoppable Women Changing Boston” Luncheon. We were thrilled to induct Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, Kip Hollister, Wanda McClain, and Jeannette M. Mills into the Academy. Additionally, Nai Collymore-Henry was awarded the first Sylvia Ferrell-Jones Award, named for YW Boston’s former President and CEO Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, and presented to Nai by Anita Hill. The luncheon was hosted at the Boston Park Plaza, and over 400 guests enjoyed the opportunity to hear the honorees speak about their pathways to success and the obstacles they overcame along the way.
The luncheon was hosted by Latoyia Edwards, Emmy Award-winning anchor on NBC Boston and NECN. She was joined by two 2018 InIt graduates, Ilyan Lin and Pascale Desir, who spoke about their InIt Community Action Projects and introduced the honorees.
We are also happy to have welcomed Mayor Marty Walsh, who expressed the importance of YW Boston’s programs. He spoke about Sylvia’s impact on Boston, and her determination to make sure “everyone’s journey into adulthood was one to be of empowerment, especially for girls and for people of color”. He recalled a time shortly after becoming mayor, when he sat down with Sylvia and explained to her “what we were going to do with the city, and she was explaining back to us about what we were going to do in the city.” He called on the audience to act in Sylvia’s spirit, to promote equity across Boston at our jobs, homes, and places of worship. We appreciate the Mayor’s call to support YW Boston’s efforts to promote women and people of color in Boston.
Throughout the luncheon, our five awardees spoke about their life paths, and the obstacles that couldn’t stop them. While they come from various backgrounds and job sectors, each of them spoke to the audience to share what they’ve learned as unstoppable women. Find encouragement and words of wisdom from our awardees:
1. Vanessa Calderón-Rosado: “Let’s face it…we live in a complex world. We make sense of that complex world by making categories that often can turn into biases and that could lead into -isms. It is upon us to recognize them and to fight them.”
Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, Ph.D., CEO of IBA-Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, charged the audience to fight injustice in our world by first reminding us of the strong leaders we have to look up to. She recalled, in 2016, when she saw Hillary Clinton, Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, Sonia Sotomayor, and Michelle Obama all speak. She described these women with words such as: determined, passionate, strong, courageous, genuine, wise, charismatic. As she noted, “the words I used to describe these women could be interchangeable. All of them are unyielding symbols of strength, courage, and wisdom and a source of leadership and inspiration. In one word, they are unstoppable.” Vanessa reminded us how important it is to recognize the strength in the women around us – that by championing others, we too become strong. Each of the women she named has worked to make our country a better place for all. They’ve directly pointed at the -isms that threaten to drive us apart, and have fought to make sure compassion wins.
2. Nai Collymore-Henry: “It is not enough to use buzz words. There is no passive stance when it comes to injustice. You need to put in the work and be reflective in the process.”
In her speech, Nai, Vice President of Partnerships at the Alliance for Business Leadership, spoke of national accomplishments (such as the heightened awareness of #MeToo) and sorrows (such as teenagers fearing going to school and being shot). It can be tempting to let these movements go by without our input, but Nai called on the audience to be vulnerable and put in the work to fight for justice. She remarked that “People think it is a millennial trend to be dissatisfied, but I’d like to argue that demanding more is not a bad thing.” She demanded more from our government, workplaces, friends and family, and all those in power, and encourages us to do the same. We cannot spare the time or energy to be passive, and stated, “we will exit organizations that do not have cultures that reflect our values.” By working together, and finding strength in numbers, we must demand more from our personal and professional communities.
3. Jeannette Mills: “What I want every woman in the room to reflect on is what your superpowers are. We all have them, we are all unstoppable women.”
When Jeannette, Senior Vice President of Safety, Health and Environmental at National Grid, took the stage, she spoke about the change that has come in the past thirty years, when she first entered the field of engineering. She reflected back on how achieving an engineering degree is difficult enough for anyone, but compared to her peers, she was often fighting others’ prejudices. When she thought of the obstacles that threatened to stop her, she found that it “wasn’t because of what I said or didn’t say, but because of my race or gender.” However, she found strength in what she calls her superpowers, which helped her to where she is today — her family, her education, and her openness to new opportunities. She recognized the unstoppable nature every woman in the room has, and asked them to “embrace the characteristics that you have that can be the difference between victory and defeat.”
4. Kip Hollister: “Think about who we are going to put on our shoulders, and think about how we can all create a paradigm shift to build a better, beloved community.”
During her speech, Kip, Founder & CEO of Hollister Staffing & Hollister Institute, spoke of Sylvia Ferrell-Jones’ impact on the City of Boston and on her personally. She remarked on Sylvia’s vulnerability and dedication to lifelong learning, which has inspired Kip as a business owner. Kip found, when an employee came to speak to her about not feeling welcome at work, that she had more learning to do about creating an inclusive space. As she gained a deeper understanding of equity and compassion from Sylvia, she also desired to pass these values on to the next generation. As she stated, “We have all benefited from the trailblazers like Sylvia,” and charged us to ask ourselves: who is standing on our shoulders? By bettering ourselves and taking steps to better our communities, we are serving as role models to those who will continue the work of equity for years to come.
5. Wanda McClain: “I want to encourage each of you to be fire-starters, by committing to do what you can to help someone succeed and fulfill their life’s potential.”
In her speech, Wanda, Vice President of Community Health and Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, focused on the small-seeming but significant moments that encourage young leaders. Looking back at her path, Wanda spoke of being a girl from the Bronx who experienced racism, but “fortunately I had many more instances of welcoming, open arms and open doors that provided me the opportunities I have today.” Wanda’s love for her home encouraged her to go back to school to make a difference in underserved communities. The night before AWA, she attended the graduation for Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s jobs programs, which helps high schoolers get into and graduate from college. That graduation reminded her that “Seeing that fire lit in the next generation, that is what unstoppable means to me.” She encouraged everyone at the luncheon to find what they can do to be fire-starters and help younger generations achieve their goals: “If there truly isn’t a pipeline in your industry or field, build one. Boston is filled with young people who are eager to participate in the fullness of the life of this city. All we need to do is reach them. If we all do that, we will all be unstoppable.”