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Influential women speak about courage to empower young women

A panel of female professionals spoke to the students at Julia Morgan School for Girls. (Ari Nussbaum)
A panel of female professionals spoke to the students at Julia Morgan School for Girls. (Ari Nussbaum)

Four women sat on a panel with microphones in front of them as the audience listened to voices echoing throughout the roomIt was not the four women who spoke, but three middle schoolers.

The Women of Courage Night in Honor of Rosa Parks was held in the Mills College Student Union on Thursday, Feb. 4. This second annual event was hosted by the Girls in Government, Leadership and Service (GGLS), a group at the Julia Morgan School for Girls (JMSG), located on the Mills campus. The group of  middle school students meets regularly to discuss gender equality, visit local government offices and participate in activism around the Bay Area.

JMSG students opened the event by introducing the four panelists: former White House intern Chanel Aleta Johnson, President of Jennifer Dulski, Journalist Dana King and  Mills Alum Renel Brooks-Moon (’81). The students also provided an overview of Rosa Parks’ life and activism before transitioning into a Q&A with the panelists about the meaning of courage and their experiences with it.

King noted that most people are unaware of how they exhibit courage.

“You don’t know when you’re doing something courageous when you’re doing it,” King said.

The GGLS group asked each panelist to share stories of when they had been courageous or witnessed a courageous act. Johnson, now an Apple recruiter, spoke about her time interning in the West Wing of the White House.

“Interning at the White House and working with President Obama — that is witnessing courage every second, every minute,” Johnson said.

Dulski spoke about her decision to take a demotion in order to pursue a different career that she was more passionate about, as well as her fight to coxswain the men’s rowing team while in college. Dulski also shared anecdotes about ground-breaking petitions started by children or teens that helped create change.

“To me, courage is doing what you believe in, even if you think it might not succeed, and it comes at a cost — and that cost could look like anything,” Dulski said.

King, a five-time Emmy-winning broadcast journalist, discussed her decision to stop dying her gray hair despite her boss’s wishes — a big taboo for women in the broadcast journalism field. She also spoke about the courage of her white mother and black father to marry and have children during the 1950s despite the racial climate of that time; King praised her mother for raising “two little brown babies” after her father’s death.

“My mom taught me that if you have [a] problem, you take it to the person who can answer, who can make a difference, who can make a decision — which is why I’m a reporter today,” King said. “I learned a long time ago to ask questions of the people who can answer them. My mom taught me an awful lot, but she taught me courage through love.”

Brooks-Moon spoke about when her father, Nathaniel Brooks, became the first African-American high school administrator in San Francisco, and they became the first Black family to integrate into the peninsula. Accepted by neither her Caucasian nor Black peers, Brooks-Moon was bullied as a child until she found a way to use sense of humor to gain friends.

“I also learned that I had the power within me to stand up to the bullies,” Brooks-Moon said.

Courage was the main topic at the JMSG Girls in Government club's panel. (Ari Nussbaum)
Courage was the main topic at the JMSG Girls in Government club’s panel. (Ari Nussbaum)

Brooks-Moon would later become the first African-American female announcer in sports history. Today, she is the announcer for the San Francisco Giants.

At the conclusion of the panel, the GGLS students asked each panelist for advice.

“You don’t have to see it to believe in whatever your vision is,” Johnson said. “Believe in your own strength and power.”

Dulski told the students that failure is nothing to be ashamed of.

“You know you’re gonna fail, so rather than hide it and be ashamed of it, why not celebrate our failures?” Dulski said. “The truth is that we all help each other by admitting that we all fail at one time and so if we can be somewhat public about it, then the amazing thing is that other people will help us.”

King shared advice from her personal experience.

“We’re telling you to be strong,” she said, “and I can tell you that because I’ve been weak before. I’ve let myself down, and I’ve let others down. I can tell you to not be afraid and to go out into the world boldly, and I can tell you that because I’ve been afraid. I can tell you to be kind to people because I’ve been mean[ …. ]I can tell you to believe in yourself because I’ve not believed in myself at times. I can tell you not to be arrogant, but to be humble because there are times I’ve been arrogant. We are humans. We will make mistakes, humans make mistakes. And you know what? You’re supposed to make mistakes.”

Brooks-Moon reminded the JMSG students that they have just as much courage in themselves as the women sitting on the panel.

“We’re courageous at every age, aren’t we, ladies?” she said.

The women of Courage panel (above) spoke about their experiences and the meaning of courage. (Ari Nussbaum)
The women of Courage panel (above) spoke about their experiences and the meaning of courage. (Ari Nussbaum)