In the summer of 2014, my children and I went through a particularly challenging season. During that time, we received food, friendship, counseling and care from our community. Since then, it has been in my heart to give back to others even in small ways, as I am able. When the local YWCA approached me asking if I could donate a piece of my art for their upcoming “She Talks” event, I agreed and was especially excited to have a small share in an evening where women from different walks of life, would come together to share and listen to stories of tenacity and grit. Stories that connect, uplift and draw us closer together.
I present to you the 7 inspiring women who spoke that evening and a bit of their stories that will touch your heart.
Bullied, shy, and a minority, Janelle struggled to find her voice. Slowly she spoke up, and upon finding the strength to speak her truth, she became a diversity, equity and inclusion advocate for others. She understands the roadblocks that youth, women and minorities face and for this reason she has been part in creating movements for promoting women in non-traditional fields, improving youth mental health and increasing youth civic engagement. To see more of Janelle’s work in action, check out the app she created here! https://www.facebook.com/helphandsapp/
As an Anishinabekwe First Nations community organizer, producer, activist, songwriter and JUNO award-winning artist, ShoShona uses her music and voice to speak of human rights, encourage love and champion for positive change. What touched me most deeply about her talk was how she recognized the role that her mother had in helping her stay strong, even through adversity. She fondly recalled the story of her mother's feelings when she was born. Rather than buying the notion that her child was born in sin, she saw her newborn daughter as perfect, and the closest she would come to creation. By telling her daughter that she was sacred and could become anyone she decided to be, ShoShona was given a foundation to cling to when society tried to quiet her voice or crush her spirit. As a mom, my take away from this talk was to always remind my children of their value.
To hear some of ShoShona’s music and see what else she is up to, follow this link to her band’s website page.
Imagine going to bed one evening the same way you always do, just to wake up and find yourself in the hospital with no memory of why or how you got there? This is what happened to Karen. And in an instant her life had changed. She had had a seizure and it was discovered that she had a condition that wouldn’t allow her to continue in her career in the same position that she had previously enjoyed. Going through this experience forced her and her husband to look at their finances differently. What ended up happening was that she launched a business based on what she had been forced to learn about - money.
I love stories where people are able to take an adverse situation, survive through it and then use the adversity to learn lessons and then thrive because of these lessons. Rather than giving in to despair, Karen rectified her situation and has gone on to help others to make friends with their money. Take Karen’s Quiz to find out “What Kind of Friend Are You With Money?”.
Leah den Bok
The youngest of the speakers, 19 year old Leah captivated the audience with soul stopping photographs of the homeless. A subject that touches Leah personally, as she recounts that her own mother was found homeless in the streets of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India at the tender of age of three. She was taken to the orphanage where Saint Teresa (Mother Teresa) cared for her until she was adopted by a Canadian family at five years old. Drawn to photographs of the homeless she had seen online, Leah and her father - with encouragement from her mentor National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore - began a journey to humanize the homeless with photography. She now has two books, and a third on the way depicting photographs of the homeless and their accompanying stories. All proceeds from the books go towards helping the homeless. Definitely take a look for yourself at her work. You will be moved.
Here is the link where you can be reminded of our shared humanity, through Leah’s photographs of our homeless neighbors. http://www.leahdenbok.com/ and her instagram page https://www.instagram.com/humanizing_the_homeless/
Activist, artist and storyteller Saraine, told us that she never once wanted to go to school – ever. This wasn’t the usual not wanting to go to school because it was boring, or tedious. Sadly, Sarain was bullied throughout her childhood for being different, for being Indigenous. Today she co-hosts a documentary #FutureHistory that discusses being Indigineous in a Western culture. She is also featured in Sephora’s latest campaign, embracing diversity.
Follow Saraine’s exciting and heartwarming life on Instagram !
When I see someone come through adversity, and channel the experiences into helping others, I can't help but be drawn to them. This type of person can encourage others to redirect their own stories into ones of recovery, resilience and power. With vulnerability, compassion, strength and humor, Kathleen May addressed the room of women telling her story and encouraging all to take life’s challenges and transform them into opportunities for growth. Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. You can find out more about this award winning woman and author Here.
Inspirational singer/songwriter Amy Sky graced us all with her stirring lyrics and vocal talent. This Juno award winning artist has worked with Diana Ross, Heart, Olivia Newton John and many others. She spoke about the meaning of being a woman, our role in helping others and then powerfully sang her rendition of the poem "Phenomenal Woman", written by Maya Angelou. Read more about this incredible woman and her music at www.amysky.com.
My takeaway from this uplifting evening was that my belief in the importance of sharing our stories was reinforced. As we create spaces in our world for all voices to be heard, we allow for more understanding of one another. When we can understand each other, we begin to see our similarities. As we start to see how similar we truly are, we also create safe environments for appreciating the beauty of our diversity. So whether it's in our immediate family, our local communities, or in our online social media platforms, let's listen to and share our stories.