2016 YWCA Career Women of Achievement
When I was parking my car to attend the 2016 YWCA Career Women of Achievement Luncheon last week, I had figured that it would be an uplifting two hours. It was that and more.
We heard the stories of local woman with such different career paths, whose positivity and determination have forged personal and professional successes not only for themselves but also for the greater good of their team, their organization and their community.
Claudia M. Abercrumbie, President & CEO, The Abercrumbie Group
Karen Bowman, Principal and Sector Leader, Deloitte Consulting
Laura Mitchell, Deputy Superintendent, Cincinnati Public Schools
Christi H. Cornette, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Cincinnati Bell
Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, MD, Coroner, Hamilton County
Sandy Berlin Walker, President/CEO, YMCA of Greater Cincinnati
Moira Weir, Director, Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services
Susan B. Zaunbrecher, Partner, Corporate Department Chair, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP
And, while they shared their own paths with us, they also shared messages to encourage us to do more, grow more. I especially like Susan Zaunbrecher’s advice, “Approach all you do with a ‘Joie de Vivre,’ the ‘joy of life’ which we are responsible for finding for ourselves.”
The Journey of Truth
The highlight for me was hearing the keynote from Zainab Salbi, who, at the age of 23, founded Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organization serving women survivors of wars.
Zainab stood before us and shared her powerful journey. An Iraqi-American humanitarian, she spoke of growing up in an environment filled with abuse, corruption and punishment under Saddam Hussein; and of her initial fear in telling her story. She told us about the women who became her mission, who, like herself endured unimaginable circumstances and whose willingness to talk about their lives so that their experiences could have impact, lifted her up and gave her courage to pursue the truth.
Zainab told us about a 52 year old woman who was wearing the only dress she owned because rebels came to her home and raped her, and her sons were forced to hold her legs open. The woman had never shared what had happened before but felt compelled to tell Zainab, to tell the world and maybe, just maybe, prevent such atrocities from happening to others.
“It was the most humbling moment,” Zainab said, with a raw tenderness in her voice. “I cried for five hours. I was not able to share my story. She had more integrity than I did.
“I realized I must tell my journey and it started with my book and confronting my fear of judgment of what people would say. I was so petrified that if I tell everyone that I was raped, that I knew Saddam, that I was in an arranged marriage, that I was the abused wife. I was so ashamed of all of those things. The self image of being a feminist was not truly there in the beginning. The journey of truth begins on a cliff. You have a choice and that choice can be every single day and everything you do. Do I live my truth? Or do I stay in the safety of where I am?”
The room was silent. Zainab’s words etched in our minds, making us think of our own lives and our own circumstances. She pointed out to us that courage is just that, COURAGE, whether you are standing up to the Nazi’s, Suddam Hussein, someone in your personal circle, or in a board room.
“When you jump over the cliff, it can be leaving a spouse or a career; there is the falling in between in the abyss because you don’t know if you will survive. You go through this where you doubt yourself. You ask, ‘What will happen to me?,” she said. For herself, she said, “It was not one person. It was many people; each was like a log that I was holding onto as I was sinking. The kindness of a word. Someone saying ‘I believe in you’. And little by little you find your peace. The journey of truth, the taste of freedom is so delicious that it makes it worth it to go down that journey over and over again.”
Zainab concluded her talk with another powerful message. She reminded us that we each need to show up. We need to find our own integrity and truth within ourselves. And we need to bridge misunderstandings and fears of differences with learning, out of a respect for one another.
“When we fear a woman with a head scarf, for me symbolically it is she is just as afraid of you as you are of her. Both of you are wearing head scarves. You think, ‘Why is she so different?’ Everyone is afraid of another. But when we connect with our own human emotions and our desire for peace and justice and integrity within ourselves, it becomes a different relationship with each other.”
As the ballrooms emptied that afternoon, 2200 people departed. We left going in different directions…with a little more courage to jump over that cliff.