Established in 1975 in the basement of a local church, Girls Inc. began its mission of empowering young girls. Every year, Girls Inc. hosts a Lunch for the Girls to raise money to continue their mission. In past years, powerful women have keynoted the luncheon, including Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai and Chelsea Clinton. On Nov. 11, Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color to become an astronaut, encouraged the young women in the audience to pursue their ambitions, no matter how far it took them.
Jemison began by reflecting on the importance of time. “Each second is extremely precious because we can do with those seconds as we please, but we can never get those seconds back,” Jemison said. Reflecting on her childhood in Chicago, Jemison highlighted that dreams have versatility. As a young African American girl, Jemison was told by the world around her that she would never achieve her dreams. Still, Jemison pursued her passions. “I wanted to dance,” Jemison said, “but, I was so grounded in space… and dinosaurs.” She went on to tell a story about how the destruction of dreams can happen as early as kindergarten. “I wrote this book where I told a story about my teacher,” Jemison said, referring to her 2001 memoir “Find Where the Wind Goes”, “she asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I raised my hand and said a scientist. She responded, ‘Oh, you mean a nurse?’”
As society continued to dissuade her from her true ambitions, Jemison prevailed and later attended Stanford University and Cornell Medical School. Jemison expressed her worries for young girls facing similar circumstances. “Children have remarkable resilience until we as adults tell them how they are supposed to act.”
From 1983-1985, Jemsion worked as the Peace Corps medical officer in Sierra Leone and Liberia. With several people working under her, Jemison described how difficult it was to be the leading doctor of these camps. Calling on the young women in the room, Jemison said, “Understand your purpose when you are somewhere. Not just at your job, but your purpose internally,” Jemison said. “You always have to keep in mind what you want to accomplish and what is the greater good.”
Finally, on Sept. 12, 1992, Jemison boarded the Endeavor as a mission specialist. On this day, she became the first woman of color to enter space and made her childhood dreams come true. She broke down barriers for women in male dominated spaces.
Several women in the audience deeply resonated with Jemison’s words. Dr. Nicole Evans, a regular at the Lunch for Girls, brought her teenage daughter for the first time. “Attending these luncheons has been a tradition for my family,” Dr. Nicole Evans said. “This was my first year taking my 13-year-old daughter. I wish I would’ve taken her sooner.”
For years, Evans has attended these luncheons and has seen the demographics of the audience change. “For the first time I’m seeing more and more young girls and I think it’s so important to talk to them at this age where they can remember this experience,” Evans said. “Young girls are so impressionable. This is the age where their curiosity is the greatest. Like the teacher that told Dr. Jemison to be a nurse, the decisions young girls make will influence their future.”
Others were inspired by her words to not waste a second in pursuing their dreams. “My mom is on the board for Girls Inc.,” Jayla Kuhn ’21 said. “I loved hearing about space. I was not familiar with Jemison prior, but she kept me entertained. She taught me to be present in every moment.”
Breaking down barriers for women of color, Jemison hopes young women will be given the opportunity to do the same. “I would not be here without the people who have allowed me to do better and that’s what Girls Inc. is doing every day,” Jemison said.
Letter from the editor: Huge thank to Jordan Moser for support with this piece.