While my family is originally from Arkansas, we moved around quite a bit when my sister and I were young. We spent portions of our childhood in Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Washington as well as obscure places such as Paramaribo, Suriname (Dutch Guiana) and Kingston, Jamaica. Seeing what we often call “third world” or developing nations firsthand – as a child – was an enlightening experience, and you can bet it has affected my world view in a big way. As I grew up, I had opportunities to backpack through Europe, visit parts of Africa and Mexico and to travel throughout the U.S. to major cities and small towns. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of experiencing the world, but I love calling Arkansas home.
Earlier this year through my involvement with the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film Girl Rising. It left me speechless. I sat in a tiny theater in Bella Vista next to a new friend who is originally from Kenya, and we were so affected by the film we could scarcely move. Her story is not mine to tell, but she had just shared with me days earlier that in her homeland, women were not allowed to own land, and so her grandfather ensured that the girls in his family would obtain an education. He would meet her on her visits home from university, and there was no conversation until she reported on her academic achievements. I was so struck by this courage and commitment from a man in a country that has not typically placed significant value in women, and it was underscored days later when we watched the film together.
I couldn’t get Girl Rising out of my mind. I went straight home and dove into the website and the powerful work of the organization, signed up for all the newsletters and inhaled the significance of the effort. Girls around the world were dreaming of the opportunity to obtain an education and lift themselves out of the squalor that surrounded them, and I had virtually wasted my own school years by coasting through, barely applying myself. Another screening of the film was scheduled for few days later in Rogers, and I immediately bombarded everyone I could think of with an invitation to attend. I saw it again, this time with my nine year old daughter and my sister in tow.
As screenings continued around the nation, I couldn’t shake the idea that I should do something more to spread the word. Months later, my cohorts with the Women’s Foundation and I were brainstorming speakers for the annual Power of the Purse luncheon in Northwest Arkansas, which seeks to engage women in philanthropy and to elevate women and girls. A thought hit me like a ton of bricks, and I lost no time cold calling the executive producer of Girl Rising directly. Holly Gordon leads this groundswell initiative, is a former ABC News correspondent with the likes of Tom Brokaw and was listed in 2012 by one of my favorite publications, Fast Company, to its League of Extraordinary Women. Fortunately, Holly is also exceptionally gracious and, in her mission to change the world through education, is as prone as I am to chasing wild ideas. We hit it off immediately.
I’m delighted that Holly will be visiting Arkansas for the first time this month, and I’ve had an absolute blast working with her and planning a series of events around her visit in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas and a number of ambitious and hard-working ladies who work with the world’s largest retailer, headquartered right here in Northwest Arkansas. Two more screenings will be part of the festivities during October in celebration of the United Nations International Day of the Girl (October 11) and leading up to the Power of the Purse luncheon showcasing the work of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas (October 21). I hope you’ll join me.
All photo credits (except top): Girl Rising.