In the Zone

Be a joyful woman warrior!

The urge and passion among women to work together collaboratively is fueled by love – the tenacious love that comes from a passionate commitment to our families and our community.

The antidote to today’s focus on “what’s in it for me” is for people to reach out to work together, getting away from screens and getting involved in community projects. We need to lead with love and with our humanity.

That’s why my message is one of radical hope. A hope that comes from the strength of our unshakeable love. A love that outlasts injustice. A love that does not quit until what is wrong is right.

Twenty-six years ago when I became a mom, I found new appreciation for the work my mom did raising us by herself.

That appreciation also makes me want to help our parents and caregivers at the Harlem Children’s Zone. More than half of children in Harlem are born to single women. And, of course, these women are acutely affected by the wage disparity in this country that pays women about 20% less than men.

Too many people live too close to the line between success and failure. They are one missed paycheck or one bad illness away from catastrophe.

My question to you today is what can you do? And how would you take the steps necessary to fulfill the purpose that has been set out for you. In the fine tradition of this Jesuit institution, I would be less than authentic if I did not tell you that much of my life is centered around the Biblical text: “Whatsoever you do for the least of my sisters, that you do for me.”

You can think of HCZ as a faith-based organization, but not in the traditional, religious sense. Our work is based in faith in our kids’ potential and faith in our families’ strengths.

We work with children from birth all the way through college. We make sure they are doing well academically, but we also focus on developing their character, their health and their sense of giving back. And we love them. That connection to a caring adult is sometimes not just icing on the cake, but the whole cake for a child. I am sure that sounds familiar – it is what any of us would do for our own brood.

We teach children biology, but we also safeguard their physical and emotional well-being. We teach them algebra, but also the formulas for becoming resilient. We teach them world history, but also how to be comfortable in a diverse world. For those who would be the first in their family to go to college, we expose them to the world of colleges and universities.

I am beyond proud to say that more than 900 of our children are in college today and that we have graduated almost 800 students from college since 2005. That said, I am even more proud that we are showing the country what children living in poverty can accomplish when given the proper resources – and love – over the long term.

Those of us who are parents know all this intuitively. We want what is best for our child, not just what’s adequate. What we need as a country is to want that for all children, and that grows out of the mindset of understanding that all the children are our children. And that all of us are in this together. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Unfortunately one of the hallmarks of the recent rise in finger-pointing and scapegoating is that it is leading Americans to focus on our differences more than our commonalities.

The work of HCZ is not just to make sure children escape the gravitational pull of poverty, but to rebuild an entire community. As you discover where your passion is, I hope you can look through this wide lens as well.

I believe philanthropy and giving back is an important component of building a full life. All of us need to walk in our purpose and find the light inside ourselves. That might be promoting literacy – even being a tutor yourself – organizing a book drive, participating in a breast cancer walk, taking seniors to voting places, funding medical research, advocating for immigrants – or supporting a great institution of higher learning that is close to your heart.

The important thing for each of you is to be open to the possibilities around you. Let your natural curiosity and feelings lead you to your passion.

We live in extraordinary times so what is required today is the extraordinary. I know I am asking a lot given your incredibly busy lives, but we need to have the courage to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what else does the world need me to do today?

Being generous with your money is a great way to help those in need of services, but you can also give your time or give your voice to a cause that you are passionate about.

So look inside yourself and then do some research and see what organizations speak to you and are having a real impact.

Then donate, volunteer, advocate, organize, spread hope.

Finally, remember to be joyful warriors. That joy is a vital ingredient – it is the spark that can light your way and draw others to join you. As you rise up, find other joyful warriors so we can join together. We need to look out for each other, and protect this beautiful world that God has given us to care for.

Follow Anne Williams-Isom on Twitter: @MsAnneHCZ