Sammy, 27, United States

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Q: What is your story of strength? Or something you’ve overcome that defines your strength?

One thing I have the honor to do currently is guide the next generation of youth to find their voice and not be afraid to express it. Through my organization I get to work with girls and young women everyday who are between 4 and 18 years old. I particularly interact with 10 to 12 years olds, which is such a transitional age because they are not “too cool” yet and they still are super vulnerable and want to tell you everything. They’re at a crossroads, though. This is New York City and these girls go to school in Harlem or the Bronx and are faced with things I can’t imagine being faced with. So I teach them dance. The way we start every class is we sit in a circle, and every girl is given the microphone and they can talk about their week and about how they feel. Sometimes it’s like these girls haven’t been asked how their day was going the entire day, and they have so much to say. I’ve been doing this for about two years now and there’s really this sense of solidarity now. Something we are really working on now is conflict resolution. It’s sad but in a lot of the schools these girls go to, if there is conflict the norm and the culture of the school is to pick a physical fight. We’ve been working on talking about other ways to deal with conflict and it’s definitely a slow process. The girls are listening, though which makes me feel like it’s my own story of strength, and it’s a beautiful one. I can help these girls find their own voice at this critical preteen age when they’re still figuring out who they are. They are finding that voice by being able to express themselves through movement. They come to class and let go of any struggles or stress they may have and dance it out. We dance for happiness, we dance through controversy – it’s such a release in the room. I feel like if I’m teaching these girls that they can channel any sort of feelings they have through art, that’s really powerful. These girls are our future. If there can be such a positivity and hopefulness among them, I feel like it will resonate beyond.

Q: Can you tell me about a woman in your life who portrays strength?

As cliché as it sounds, the person I can’t get out of my head is my mom. My mom is such a beautiful person inside and out. She is such a nurturer and a caretaker. Her dad passed away when she was a sophomore in college and she left college to go home and be the emotional support for her mom. That’s just one of the many stories like that. When her mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was in elementary school, we were living in Texas, and she left my brothers and me with my dad and she went to Florida to go live with my Nanny to be there for her. Not only is she a natural caretaker but she’s really brilliant in the sciences and her dream has always been to be a doctor. So she does the research and she makes sure all the different treatments are put into place, she’s not just there to help with the care.

I, too, have had to be a caretaker at times in my life and it really gets to me. I like to do it, but it’s taxing. She does it with such strength. It doesn’t tax her the way it taxes most people. Last year my cousin passed away at a young age, so my aunt and uncle were grieving and going through a hard time. She went to Santa Fe and lived with them for a month and it’s just something she naturally does. She doesn’t go to fix things, she goes to just be there and she is such a pillar of strength. It’s just a beautiful thing to see happen so many times. I can imagine how much emotion comes with it and how strong you have to be. So she exemplifies such strength in that way and in so many other ways. Her determination, too. She left college her sophomore year but she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree a couple years ago as a mom of three grown children. She’s actually still in school pursuing her education to be a nurse. She is so amazing about using her time not only for personal goals but for the greater good. It’s really inspiring.

Q: Can you share a disappointment or failure in your life?

Now, being in my late twenties and being an adult trying to navigate adult life, I find myself often disappointed with my expectations of time and time management. Maybe living in New York is part of it but I feel this constant struggle that I’m not doing a good job balancing everything. A career, a healthy lifestyle, relationships, spiritual life – I’m often disappointed in how I manage my time and also the expectations I have for myself. It’s disappointing because I know so many women who do this, too. Why do we have so many unrealistic expectations? I’m disappointed that I have that for myself and then I feel a certain way when I don’t meet them. I’m starting to realize that I need to change expectations and sit down and map out how to balance things the way I want to. It’s a process, but it’s one that I’m working on and aware of. I’m a confident and strong woman, but it’s easy to be disappointed in yourself. Yes, these are personal expectations, but they come from somewhere. Society puts this on us and it kind of feeds into the idea that if we want it all, we are expected to be superwoman.

Q: How can women support each other better?

We can just continue to be the best cheerleading squad out there for all the women in our lives. We can continue to raise up colleagues, friends, family members – sing their praises! When they’re going through a rut, remind them of their strengths and everything they bring to the table. Just be cheerleaders. We all need them. For women to be that for other women and for young girls is really a great thing. One of my favorite quotes is “a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” and it’s so true in this sense. We need to remember there’s not a limited number of seats at this table of successful women. Just continue to lift women up and encourage them.

Transparency is also important. I think we need to be as vulnerable we can be, especially with our close circle of women.  We need complete transparency because it will help us lift each other up and that is where growth comes from. 

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