International Women's Day: Celebrating Progress

It’s March 8, 2017. I am a female. I am free. I voted in last year’s election (for the first time since I recently became an American). I’m a designer, certified yogi, artist, wanderlust traveler and I’m the founder and owner of a company deeply rooted in social entrepreneurialism. I’ve had the accomplishment of being second in my class in high school and first in my class in graduate school. I’ve studied and worked abroad in countries with cultures both similar and vastly different to our own; this taught me how grateful I am for the privileges I have as a working and empowered woman in America. Not all females around the world have the luxury and ability to say what they want, date who they want, and do what they want with their life and career. All of these experiences have layered my own thought process and perspective and have molded the person I am today. Although these statements display merely a glimpse of who I am, the luxury to be able to acknowledge the reality of these statements is key in my ability to thrive, as a female, in today’s world. My core existence and way of life is structured around a framework that has been constructed by women and men from humanity’s evolution who sought to provide equality for all.

German poster for International Women's Day, March 8, 1914. Image source:  Wikipedia

German poster for International Women's Day, March 8, 1914. Image source: Wikipedia

Forty years ago, today, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace. February 28, 1909, sixty-eight years before then, was recognized as the earliest Women’s Day observance. It’s remarkable to think how most of the twentieth century was spent advocating for equal rights between gender and race that today have directly impacted and allowed my ability, like all other women and people of color, to succeed in life and their chosen career.

We live in a tense and turbulent world. Before you continue reading, I want to point out that I’d rather take charge of what I can change as opposed to focusing on what politics and policies choose to change. So rather than talk politics, I want to celebrate the compassion, care and determination carried forth through generations around the world who sought to create a better world than the one they were raised.

I am the daughter of Italian immigrants who migrated to Montreal, Canada after World War II. My parents did not grow up wealthy, and rather were far from it. They worked hard to provide a better life for myself and my siblings so that we may become successful in our own lives and careers. My mother raised us with a progressive yet conservative mindset. She wanted my sister and I to understand we are capable of anything we put our mind to and we are in charge of our own fate. We should celebrate our birthright as females and discover our untapped potential. You see, my mother grew up in a strict Italian household and in a different time, when women weren’t treated equally in the work place and at home. She wanted my sister and I to have these luxuries that she wasn’t able to have growing up. I attribute my forward yet determined independent thinking to the steadfastness in which my mother raised us. I’ve never known anything other than being equal to all others. My gender has never prohibited my ability to succeed; I couldn’t imagine how I would handle life a century ago when there were restrictions on what I could and could not do. In the same breath, I also couldn’t imagine how I would handle living life abroad today in some cultures where women are still not treated as equals. I can only imagine my fate if I thought and acted the way I do in countries where this is not acceptable. I am deeply grateful and humble for the opportunities that have shifted and shaped my life.

I spent the early part of my life growing up in Montreal, Canada, one of the world’s most internationally based cities. My siblings and I were fortunate to travel to various parts of the world at a young age and attend schools with a heavily multicultural student population. I grew up with students of all ethnic backgrounds and have never known different. Rather than point out our differences, we celebrated our similarities. I am grateful to acknowledge the fact that most of my best friends throughout my life are empowered females of different ethnicities and faiths. My first best friend from Montessori school is Muslim. She graduated from Harvard and is now a doctor. Another best friend from middle school is from a Hispanic background and is an amazing mother to her beloved daughter. One of my closest friends since college is Sikh. She teaches at the college level in Washington DC, inspiring the next generation of influencers. I love and cherish all of them for the amazing friendships we have created throughout the years. My female friendships such as these would not be possible had it not been for the progression of human equality in our societal evolution and our ability to grow and learn together as aspiring and talented individuals.  

Pop Up Produce presents on sustainability and hunger in our community to students at The British International School.

Pop Up Produce presents on sustainability and hunger in our community to students at The British International School.

Pop Up Produce is one aspect in which I've created an opportunity to join in the lineage of those before me who sought to create a better world than the one in which we were raised. Sharing Pop Up Produce's story with others is an outlet to encourage others to do the same. Three weeks ago I had the chance to give a presentation to The British International School to help inspire student projects focusing on sustainability and ending hunger in our community. Yesterday, I visited The British International School for the student’s second presentation. This week the school launched their Global Challenge Week with a large assembly. With an affiliation to the UN, the school discussed the UN goals pointed out the two goals the school is focusing on: ending world hunger and healthy lifestyles. All children across the school are split into four groups: vegetable and herb growing, water conservation, homeless shelters, and healthy snack backpacks. With the momentum of this week, giving a second presentation to the students was very fitting. This time I focused more on the process of how Pop Up Produce is implemented; how it’s heavily supported by volunteers and strategic partners and how working together, we are able to achieve so much more towards a common goal.

After I concluded my presentation, hand after hand from the group of students shot up in the air. Every student had a story to tell. As each story presented itself what struck the teacher and I most was the breadth of varying cultures present in this classroom of about fifteen students. Yet, all had a similar narrative: the novelty and joy of sharing experiences in their family’s gardens both here in Charlotte and abroad in other countries where their families originated.

One student reminisced about her grandfather’s house in Switzerland, his expansive garden larger than the classroom, and how his sheep graze on his property’s grass to keep his lawn trim and tidy. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Another student recalled eating the delicious strawberries from his family’s home in Germany and all the jams that were preserved from the abundance of fruit. Another student relished in the memory of picking wild berries in fields in England. One student remembered the large tomatoes growing on her family’s property in Japan. And then another student exclaimed how excited he was about their garden project and how once his mom gets word about the garden, even if it’s 11 p.m., he knows she’ll be at the school ready and willing to help out. I have a feeling his mom will beg to differ, but either way I absolutely loved the energy and excited tone in his voice and classroom.

The student groups took turns standing in front of the class and updating everyone on their plan and progress. I found it a wonderful way to collaborate with one another. Each group was able to listen to the others and share in the knowledge of their findings. Instead of working as isolated groups, the overall project is going to benefit substantially by having each group work together with the others. Collaboration and teamwork really are key to any successful plan implementation!

Images of student projects in the planning phase of their garden implementation.

Images of student projects in the planning phase of their garden implementation.

These students are a microcosm of our future; a classroom full of multi-cultures growing, learning and working together. Compassion, care and determination is undeniably evident in these students’ passion towards these humanitarian projects. Standing up there listening to this group of students, this moment brought me back to my own youth where my Italian heritage was one of many cultural backgrounds in my classroom. My own life would not have taken shape the way it has had it not been for similar and shared experiences. I'm grateful to be able to share in the process and be part of the progress that is providing equality for all.

I think it’s so important to see the correlation between opportunity and equality. Genetically we aren’t rather all that different. Yes, our skin color may be different. Yes, our reproductive organs aren’t all the same. Yes, we won’t all agree on politics or how to fix the world. And that’s okay. But yet, we all have the same genetic makeup. We all share the same pulse. We all are energetic beings shifting and shaping this planet, sharing in our experiences together, and hopefully trying to make the world a better place. We are all connected. This can only be done by putting aside our differences and celebrating our similarities.

So on this International Women’s Day, I want to say thank you to our world and humanity for evolving and shifting into a state of higher consciousness. Our world is not perfect, nor am I advocating that we are anywhere close to a state of perfection. But we’re getting there, slowly. And this needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. Our world relies on our ability to work together. Providing equality for all is are the core of this connection and we must keep working towards this goal. We need to celebrate our similarities, rather than focus on our differences so together, we can create a better world for our future, too.