For Women's History Month, hear from 10 local women promoting hope and breaking barriers

·13 min read

March is Women's History Month, and the National Women’s History Alliance has announced 2022’s theme is, “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” March 8 is International Women's Day, and the United Nations Women's organization theme is, "Gender equality for a sustainable tomorrow."

In celebration of Women's History Month and in recognition of International Women's Day, here are thoughts and reflections from 10 local women who are promoting hope and breaking barriers every day.

1. Empowering women makes us all stronger

Melina Brann
Melina Brann

Empowering women means equipping them with the tools they need to have power and control over their own lives. Empowered women have independence, equal opportunities and the ability to make strategic choices in all areas of their lives.

Healing is one of the most powerful roads to empowerment. The societal pressure and expectations that women cope with regularly can increase the chances of mental health issues. But when we can work on changing our culture, healing ourselves and championing other women and girls, we can change our community for the better.

We celebrate Women’s History Month to remind us of and celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments and contributions of women to our culture and society. When we lift up voices that often go unheard, celebrate milestones achieved and create hope for our futures, we all benefit.

With a shared belief that an investment in the future of women and girls will result in progress for all, we can step into action. Change does not happen in a silo; it requires a team effort from many people, strong institutions and support from every part of society. Together, we are stronger and will foster a ripple effect that will have a lasting impact for generations to come.

Melina Brann is executive director of the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing.

2. Celebrate the strength of women

Kate Snyder
Kate Snyder

We've all seen the pandemic headlines that, "Moms are not ok," but I think there are a lot more women than moms who are no longer ok. As women grapple with the mental load of navigating this increasingly overwhelming world, surrounded by the trauma of violence and divisiveness, we also face isolation, ever-present threats to our bodily autonomy, wage gaps, rising mental health crises and more. Women who are trans, LGBQ+, and women of color face amplified struggles, discrimination, sexism and fear. So many of us are not ok.

Celebrating women in history and boasting, "Look how far we've come!" feels more like a punch in the gut these days than a hopeful boost for me. Look how far we've come? Look how far we have to go.

So rather than celebrating all that we women have "overcome" during this Women's History Month, I hope we can draw inspiration from the tenacity of the women who came before us, and those who stand together today. Our ability to survive against all odds. Our ability to persevere. Our ability to be diminished, demeaned and devalued, and to still see the value in ourselves. Our ability to be decidedly not ok, and to keep going anyway.

Women throughout history have been warriors and wives, teachers and technicians, leaders and lovers, explorers and expecting, gritty and gentle. Here's to celebrating all that we've been, all that we are, and all that we will be — this month and every month.

Kate Snyder is principal strategist and founder of Piper & Gold Public Relations in Lansing.

3. Women are the heart and backbone of our communities

Najeema Iman
Najeema Iman

Irene begat Marie, Marie begat Markeba, Markeba begat Najeema. I, Najeema, bore Elise and Eliana. This is my lineage, my heritage, my legacy, my hope, my healing, my history, her history. I celebrate my ancestors before me, I embrace those women who walk with me and I nurture the women I carried. Daily, as I curate community events, I reach deep down and feel Big Mama Irene, mother of 16, and Marie, one of seven women to integrate Blue Cross Blue Shield.

My history, my legacy is my hope that I will be able to impact the world. At the heart of everything I do is community, the backbone of any community are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, divine feminine who breathe life to new ideas and support those around them. We are multifaceted wonder women who innovate no matter the obstacles that we face. What we wear, what we share, how we live is resistance. We are game changers.

On my dresser sits a cowrie shell from my late grandmother, the first curls cut from my daughters, the golden butterfly my mother gifted college-bound me — these are my treasures. These are the hopes that fuel me. These are reflections of my history, our history, everyday women whose legacy I carry. I — an artivist, educator, market curator, community engager, people connector, entrepreneur, influencer, mother, daughter, sister, friend, she, her, hers, human — leap into the great unknown, because I am becoming history.

Najeema Iman is the owner/project coordinator at YouShine Events & Consulting LLC in Lansing.

RELATED LINK: 16 books to read during Women’s History Month, available from CADL

4. Women in manufacturing change the narrative

Cindy Kangas
Cindy Kangas

In honor of Women’s History Month, it’s important to celebrate contributions of female leaders and innovators, past and present, who have made a positive impact on manufacturing. These empowered, STEM-focused women continue to drive our industry forward. From entry level production to engineers and CEOs, they have always been hardworking, creative thinkers slowly growing in number while changing the narrative.

Countless female pioneers contributed to the safety and innovation of manufacturing. Margaret Knight, known as “Lady Edison” received her first patent in 1871 after seeing someone get injured in a textile mill and creating a safety device for looms.

Women in factories evolved during WWI and WWII: As males joined the military, production of wartime products became a necessity and women entered the workforce to run drill presses, weld, operate cranes, use screw machines and handle metalworking equipment. They performed manual labor to produce the products, but were also involved in the design, testing and distribution.

I encourage young ladies to learn about pioneers like Madame C.J. Walker, Ella May Wiggins and Rosie the Riveter. They should feel empowered by current leaders like Stephanie Kwolek, Mary Barra and Veronica Braker. Local leaders Kelly Preston and Julie Mann are two of my personal heroes.

Counselors, teachers and parents: Please encourage young ladies to consider careers in our diverse industry. I am inspired daily by all I see happening and know the future will be bright with a talent pipeline of young ladies to help make it happen.

Cindy Kangas is executive director of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council.

5. Women as healers and caregivers

Lori Simon
Lori Simon

Within these past two years, we were reminded of the importance of healers and caregivers who are helping to promote and sustain hope for the future. And, during this time, I was extremely proud to work with women health care providers and leaders who went above and beyond to provide healing and hope across the health system and for the communities we serve.  The extraordinary work performed by these women exemplifies their commitment to Sparrow’s Vision: “To be recognized as a leader in quality and patient experience.”

The pandemic forced many women out of the workforce, so a key focus for organizations should be developing strategies to hire, support and retain women. Organizations must develop initiatives and create a culture of inclusion that allows women to have equal access to opportunities and resources so they can continue to contribute fully to the organization’s success.

During this month and throughout the year, we should commit ourselves to highlighting  women's achievements as well as discussing ongoing and emerging women's empowerment and gender equality issues. More importantly, I hope that all women continue to support each other and that everyone makes a conscientious effort to celebrate the achievements of women from all cultural backgrounds.

Lori Simon is director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Sparrow Health System.

6. Women's voices make a difference

Ruelaine Stokes
Ruelaine Stokes

In the 1800s, women rarely spoke in public. Most people thought them incapable of speaking loudly enough to be heard in a public gathering. Moreover, they thought it an act of religious heresy. But our foremothers showed us how to do it.

In the 1820s, Fanny Wright lectured before audiences of women and men on social reform issues of the day: racial equality, birth control, women’s rights. By 1837, Sarah and Angelina Grimke were speaking at anti-slavery meetings and attracting huge crowds. The two sisters were so successful that a group of ministers publicly denounced them. In 1851, Sojourner Truth, a former slave, delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech demanding equal rights for all at a Women’s Rights Convention. She gave speeches on the need for equality for at least the next 20 years.

We have inherited the ideals and achievements of these courageous women. Now women are running for office, even for the highest office in the land, and though they, like our foremothers, are often unjustly condemned for being “unwomanly,” women are making a difference in public policy by insisting that the needs of women and children be recognized and respected.

Women are speaking up and demanding the opportunity to develop our talents, to exercise our leadership ability, to help create a culture in which all people are valued and can thrive. Our voices are strong and beautiful, and what we say matters.

Ruelaine Stokes is a poet and president of the Lansing Poetry Club.

7. Courageous women can be found in the Bible

Kit Carlson
Kit Carlson

As we begin Women’s History Month, I like to reflect on forgotten or overlooked women in my faith tradition, which is Christianity. Because so many of the world’s religions were begun, organized and controlled by men, it is uncommon to find women taking center stage in many of the great narratives of our varied traditions. You find these at the margins of Scripture and buried in the historical tradition.

And yet, over thousands of years, some stories of faithful women have been preserved. At our church, All Saints Episcopal Church, we have spent the month of February learning about some of the “Bad-Ass Women of the Bible.” We have heard the stories of Deborah and Jael, who conquered the general Sisera. We learned about Michal, the first wife of King David, who had to struggle for her own survival. We learned about Tamar, daughter in law of Judah, and her wily scheme to earn her place in her husband’s family. And we learned more about Mary, the mother of Jesus, who boldly said yes to God, despite the risk of scandal and even death.

Somehow, these women’s stories were preserved over thousands and thousands of years. Somehow, their voices managed to be heard, and their deeds to be recorded. It deepens my own faith when I can hear these voices and learn of these deeds. My hope for Women’s History Month is that all of us, regardless of the faith or no-faith that we might practice, will learn from some long-preserved stories of courageous women.

The Rev. Dr. Kit Carlson is a rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing.

8. Women need to remember to take care of themselves

State Representative Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing.
State Representative Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing.

Each March we take time to uplift women’s contributions throughout history and showcase women doing incredible things for our community every day. Unfortunately, we too often overlook how much women give of themselves in their efforts to leave the world better than they found it.

On a daily basis I hear women recount how life just gets so busy that they struggle to follow through on crucial, routine self-care; it’s easy for a doctor appointment to fall by the wayside in the hustle to pick up a sick child from school and still meet an important work deadline.

I have always found that women are impactful leaders because of the care and attention they afford each complex problem they encounter. Women play a critical role in the success of our economy, our government and our neighborhoods, but often forget to take care of our own mental and physical health.

We need to normalize radical self-care — that means prioritizing your own needs and well-being before your reserves are too low to handle. We also need to make a conscious effort as employers, policy makers and community leaders to respect and honor women who do make that commitment to self-care and mental health. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself and you will find a reserve of energy and passion you never thought possible.

State Rep. Sarah Anthony represents Michigan's 68th House District which includes the city of Lansing and Lansing Township.

9. Women trailblazers are often not recognized

Julie Brixie
Julie Brixie

This month, we must recognize the enduring achievements of women who fought to make our world a better place. But history is mostly unwritten — we fail to honor these trailblazers if we do not pick up the torch and continue striving for a more just and equal society. Thankfully, Michigan women never stop making history.

Take Katie Fahey and Nancy Wang, founders of Voters not Politicians. Fahey launched this history-making movement nearly by accident when she posted on Facebook in November of 2016 inquiring if anyone wanted to help her end gerrymandering.

Under Fahey and Wang’s leadership, this idea, born out of frustration with electoral maps that were drawn deliberately to favor one party, snowballed into a massive grassroots effort that would infect so many of us with political fervor and fresh hope that we the people could fix our broken electoral system and demand better representation in government.

After a grueling ballot campaign that sent over 14,000 volunteers out to collect signatures across our state, and the long, challenging process of drawing up maps that best represent Michigan communities while achieving partisan fairness, the new maps were finalized at last.

This upcoming election, Michigan residents will finally be voting in districts that actually represent the people who live inside them, giving disenfranchised groups more say in our state races than ever before. The historic effort of Fahey, Wang and everyone involved with Voters not Politicians is proof that Michigan women can, should and will continue making our world a better place.

State Rep. Julie Brixie represents Michigan's 69th House District which includes parts of East Lansing, Lansing, Locke Township, Meridian Township and Williamstown Township.

10. We stand on the shoulders of women who came before us

State Rep. Angela Witwer
State Rep. Angela Witwer

Continuous learning from our past and opening our minds to different ideas and outcomes has given me lifelong learning, growth, and opportunity. I am surrounded by a very matriarchal family. My Grandma Hansen who raised eight children and ran our family farm with grace and love. My very tough Grandma Shepard who was the postmaster and business owner in our tiny village. Both of my grandmothers were able to vote, for the first time, when women’s voting rights were ratified in 1919 by other driven women and men.

My own mom raised four daughters during the women’s rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s all while losing my father. Every time I speak to young students — male and female — I tell them I was the shyest kid in school. I was afraid of my shadow.

I am fortunate to have stood on the shoulders of many women who paved the way to heal pay disparity and break gender bias giving me the hope and strength to break glass ceilings — open a very successful small business with yet one more strong woman and mentor other young people.

When I look at the growing opportunities for women and the doors that continue to open, I am encouraged to know that my granddaughters live in a world where they will be judged on their individual skills — not the fact that they are women. They will have the same qualities my grandmothers handed to me — strength, skills and love for others. We are united to raise our girls to be strong leaders.

State Rep. Angela Witwer represents Michigan's 71st District which includes which includes much of Eaton County and parts of Lansing.

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This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: These Greater Lansing women are strong, passionate and inspiring