I have always admired women and the strength we possess. From the earliest of ages, I have been fortunate to personally know strong women who represented true character, intelligence, love and strength.
The first woman who I viewed as truly strong was my mother. That woman could do everything and make anything possible. She truly made a way out of no way multiple times throughout my life. And she always seemed to make everything look so easy. I never heard her complain — not once. And she always did things with such class and grace. When I was growing up, she would often say to me, “You can have all the money in the world, but you can’t buy class.”
It wasn’t until I was probably in high school, and certainly in college and throughout my adult life, that her words would truly resonate with me as I saw time and time again people acting in a less-than-classy or undignified manner.
My mother has had the largest impact on my life, and she is always my initial point of reference when I reflect on how I became the woman I am. However, since her death several years ago, I’ve been extremely blessed to know and have great relationships with some wonderful, strong, accomplished women. Women like Carolene Mays-Medley who, aside from my mother, has impacted my life more than any other woman.
And then there’s Yvonne Perkins of Citizens Energy Group.
Yvonne passed away last week. She was a phenomenal woman who encompassed the strength of a gladiator. She had what I liked to call “old school strength.” You just knew not to try her or push her too far simply by the look she gave you. She was very special to me. I appreciated her life experiences and the things that helped to shape her life. I also respected her professional acumen, like the fact that she spent 43 years at one employer, yet continued to propel and make significant contributions throughout her four-decade career. She was also a tireless volunteer who was knowledgeable, fair, thorough and consistent in her civic endeavors. She didn’t operate on emotion, nor did she do anything that compromised her integrity. I learned a lot from Yvonne — both personally and professionally. I will miss the matter-of-fact way she would educate me, the strategic way she thought things through and how things she shared with me were true, heartfelt and accurate!
Much of what we discussed was in private conversations that I will hold close to my heart. Those were the times I grasped who she was as a person. Those were the times I really appreciated and admired her, because I knew she didn’t have to share with me, but she made a conscious decision to include me in her life in a unique way. I am thankful for her decision, and I am certainly wiser as a result.
This past week has been incredibly tough for me. First, it was the heaviness of the presidential election results. I was literally depressed by the outcome. And only a couple days after we learned who the next president of the United States would be, Yvonne passed away. It was a devastating blow.
Needless to say, this past week has been one of considerable reflection. Much of my reflection was centered on the strength of women. I thought of Hillary Clinton — a woman who is perhaps more qualified to be president than most of the men who have actually served in that capacity. I reflected on how tenacious she had to be to be defeated by Barack Obama in 2008, yet try again, only to be defeated by such an unqualified, disparaging character who attempted to simplify her life’s work with insults, lies and distractions. I thought how Clinton’s defeat was less about qualifications and logic, but more about sexism.
I also thought a lot about strong women like Carolene, who suffered an aneurysm a couple months ago, yet is now miraculously recovering in such an expeditious manner that even doctors are scratching their heads wondering how her outcome could be so positive.
And I thought a lot about Yvonne — someone who lived through some volatile times in this country’s history, yet she beat so many odds and accomplished so much success.
I reflected on how much women have had to sacrifice over the course of this country’s history. How we had to fight for our right to make our own decisions, to buy our own homes, to vote and even our right to choose what to do with our bodies. I reflected on how women still don’t get paid the same as men. How we have to work twice as hard just to prove that we are deserving of the most basic opportunities extended to our male counterparts. And I reflected on how simply because of our gender, we are considered less than.
Such reflections can be daunting.
However, as the days wore on and I came to terms with the election results and Yvonne’s death, I began to get energized. I became more empowered to work toward equality for all people. I also became even more grateful for people like my mother and Yvonne, whom I’ve loved and lost, because at least I was blessed with their presence in my life, as some people don’t have such stellar examples of positive role models.
I am motivated by the strength of women. We aren’t where we want to be, but we sure are further than where we have been. I’m confident that soon, we will be where we need to be … our rightful and most deserving place in society.