Earlier this week I had lunch with Chief Deputy Shelley Kennedy-Smith, the first African- American woman in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to reach that rank. We talked about the girls and young women in our lives – granddaughters in her case, nieces in mine – and how important it is that they are raised to completely believe in their natural talents, skills, and intelligence.
I mentioned during our conversation that I was raised to believe there were no limitations to what I could achieve. My parents didn’t treat me differently because I was female. They didn’t lower their expectations because I was a girl. In fact, in looking back on my childhood, I believe the bar was set even higher. I was expected to be a well-rounded individual and taught to excel in academics as well as to cook and sew, give back through community service, and learn a skill.
In a way I felt entitled to live whatever life I could dream of for myself. I was empowered.
During this month’s celebration of women’s history we are featuring empowered women and introducing VOICE readers to women who, like Chief Deputy Shelley Kennedy-Smith, have excelled in non-traditional careers. Last week Moreno Valley Police Department’s Corporal Sheree Anthony expressed how she overcame objections from her family to begin the career of her dreams in law enforcement. This week we present the story of Jennifer McDowell, the first female Battalion Chief in the Riverside Fire Department. And in the coming weeks we will publish information on empowerment programs for girls and young women, events and activities with a mission to inspire and educate girls, encouraging them to develop into strong, smart, and compassionate women.
The Girl Scouts’ “Classroom to Career” program exposes girls to a variety of career paths and allows them to gain hands-on experience in jobs they may not know about or haven’t considered because they are non-traditional female occupations. And then there is the Empowering Young Women’s Conference at Riverside Community College on March 21st. Now in its 13th year, the free event for young women 12-21 years old features informational workshops about health, nutrition, domestic violence, personal safety, college and careers. The program ends with a panel discussion featuring dynamic and accomplished women, including Battalion Chief McDowell. A similar event will be held at San Bernardino Valley College on the same day.
I realize that not all girls are raised in a home like mine, or encouraged by their grandmothers like Shelley Kennedy-Smith, or surrounded by strong female role models like Battalion Chief McDowell or Corporal Sheree Anthony, that’s why programs like the Girl Scouts’ “Classroom to Career” and the Empowering Young Women’s Conference are so important. They empower girls to become empowered women. And empowered women make the world a better place for everyone.