The Young Scholars Program at Norristown High School has their sights set on something much bigger than bake sales or car washes.
The grassroots mentor program provides students with academic and personal support, leadership opportunities, partnerships with business and government institutions, and college and career preparation. In its fourth year, the Young Scholars was co-created by English teach Jill Myers and two NAHS alums and employees Mike Evans and Rodchine Lusane who Myers credits for helping establish community ties.
With such admirable goals, I was honored when they asked me to be a presenter and panelist at the first Women’s Empowerment Summit.
There was just one question.
“Can I bring my mother?”
“Sure!” Myers said. “Mine will be there, too.”
My mother was less than enthusiastic. Not because she didn’t want to attend but she didn’t immediately understand why I was inviting her.
“I wouldn’t be an empowered woman if it wasn’t for you…” I started before Dad chimed in from the other room with a hearty, “that’s right!”
Mom, like almost every woman I encounter, tends to deflect praise. I speak to women at networking events and for interviews for stories and they shrug off accomplishments. Many are uncomfortable even talking about their achievements and act like building a company or reaching the apex of their field is akin to taking the trash to the curb.
In the weeks leading up the Summit I felt unqualified to offer advice.
I needed to climb a mountain before I was able to speak at the Summit.
It started with a look in the mirror.
In late March I went to the King of Prussia Mall after work to relax and maybe get a few things for my spring/summer wardrobe. A salesperson tried to sell me a winter coat and…a bathing suit. The juxtaposition was not lost on me. When women shop, we often end up in the dreaded fitting room. Nothing offers more coverage than a winter coat and few things are more revealing than a bathing suit.
I tried on a few of both and a familiar chorus played in my head. The negative self-talk. But there was something louder than that. At each fitting room that night, I overhead women making comments about their bodies. “I disgust myself.” “My stomach is gross.” “I need to hide my arms.” “Life was so much better when I was a size six.” “I’m not going to try that on because I’ll just hate myself.” “I put on so much weight this winter I need to find something to make me feel sexy.” “I can’t wear shorts this summer.” “My arms so saggy.” “Look how big my hips are. I’m going to cry.” “I have thunder thighs.”
I didn’t hear a woman say one positive word about themselves.
Women need to treat themselves better. If it starts with taking back how we see ourselves and taking back the fitting room, let’s start there.
My trip to the mall might not have been relaxing but it got me closer to being ready for the Summit. Maybe I would never reach the peak in terms of acceptance with myself and quieting the doubts, but I would always work on it.
The Women’s Empowerment Summit was part career fair with about fifteen women representing fields from law, enviromental field services, human resources interior design, nonprofits and others. Students circulated to learn more about the various professions and the Young Scholars compiled a list of questions for the panel. The afternoon concluded with a balloon launch, which was meant to symbolize the breaking of the l glass ceiling.
“It was an event that showcased the power, determination, and triumphs of women, but also the hard work and ingenuity of Norristown students,” said Myers.
Since the event, Myers said the feedback from all involved has been positive and the Women’s Summit was the most successful event the Young Scholars ever hosted.
“I credit the students for their creativity and drive in making the event so meaningful. And I also credit the women who donated their time to act as role models showing the students that they can accomplish their goals and dreams, too, no matter what obstacles arise,” said Myers
Returning to my alma mater also stirred up memories. The impact of my mother who always stressed the importance of education, the guidance of newspaper advisor and teacher John Doyle, and many other the lessons I learned, and still carry with me.
Not only did I get a dose of nostalgia, Norristown High School still makes me think. I’m still processing Keynote Speaker and History teacher Krista Bolinsky
words: “When we think of leaders we need to think of our mothers, our grandmothers, our friends, and people who have done things for us that maybe we have never thanked. Maybe we should start thanking them. If this whole event is about empowerment, empowerment starts at home.
It does start at home. And wherever there are mirrors.
To watch the Young Scholars Women’s Empowerment Summit – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZB3pMWzZJE&feature=youtu.be
The Young Scholars need your help – Due to federal budget cuts, their transportation funding has been terminated. Off campus trips are essential for students to be exposed to environments that allow them to dream bug. Their current campaign is attempting to raise funds for a trip to Princeton University and their Summer Institute. If you have questions or wish to be involved with the Young Scholars Mentor Program, contact Jill Myers firstname.lastname@example.org.