A new U.S. quarter featuring legendary poet, writer and activist Maya Angelou went into circulation on Monday (Jan. 10), making her the first Black woman to be featured on the coin.
In a statement, the U.S. Mint announced the new coin, which is the first of five designs in its American Women Quarters Program. Other quarters in the series, which celebrates important women in American history, will continue to be rolled out later this year and through 2025.
“Each time we redesign our currency, we have the chance to say something about our country — what we value and how we’ve progressed as a society,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a release. “I’m very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou.
The quarter still features Former President George Washington’s profile on the “heads” side, while the “tails” side pictures Angelou in front of a bird and rising sun — a nod to her 1969 debut memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and a symbol “of the way she lived.”
The push for the American Women Quarters Program began in 2017 with support from California Rep. Barbara Lee, whose Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act passed last year.
“As a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, poet laureate, college professor, Broadway actress, dancer and the first female African American cable car conductor in San Francisco, Maya Angelou’s brilliance and artistry inspired generations of Americans,” Lee said in a statement on Monday. “If you find yourself holding a Maya Angelou quarter, may you be reminded of her words, ‘Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.’”
In a tweet, she added, “The phenomenal women who shaped American history have gone unrecognized for too long — especially women of color. Proud to have led this bill to honor their legacies.”
Besides the civil rights icon, the U.S. Mint’s quarters program will also distribute coins featuring Sally Ride, an astronaut and the first American woman to travel to space; Anna May Wong, considered to be the first Chinese-American Hollywood movie star; Wilma Mankiller, activist and the Cherokee Nation’s first female principal chief; and Adelina Otero-Warren, a woman’s suffragist and the first Latina to run for Congress.
Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour is doubling as a philanthropic tour. Her charity foundation, BeyGood, announced on April 20 that it is donating $2 million to entrepreneurs and students while the most-Grammy-winning artist tours the country for her latest album “Renaissance.”
Half of the donation will go to entrepreneurs. The day before Beyoncé’s scheduled concert in a city, BeyGOOD will host luncheons for entrepreneurs who have the chance to win a grant from the 100 allocated for each networking event. BeyGOOD plans to support a thousand small businesses with a total donation of $1 million.
The foundation said it is prioritizing organizations that support or serve marginalized and under-resourced communities. Applications to apply for a spot are now open.
The other half of the funds will establish the Renaissance Scholarship Fund. BeyGood will give $1 million to colleges and universities in 10 cities across the country with each institution receiving $100,000. The institution will then select student recipients.
“We are keenly aware of the barriers to access, opportunity, and resources that disproportionately impact BIPOC communities,” McGregor said. “Our work is rooted in the belief that education, pathways for employment and support of entrepreneurship are vehicles that help drive sustainable outcomes.”
Beyoncé founded BeyGood in 2013 during her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. Since then, the charitable initiative has donated to educational efforts, disaster relief, food, water and housing security, mental health resources and career development in the US and abroad.
“I am hugely proud of the work we have done over a decade at BeyGOOD, here in the US and around the world,” Beyoncé said in a statemetn. “From scholarships to the water crisis in Burundi, to helping families during Hurricane Harvey in my hometown, Houston, it has been beyond fulfilling to be of service.
“Now, as a foundation, we will continue the work of engaging partners through innovative programs to impact even more people,” she continued.
Theresa Oei is a cheerleader for the New England Patriots. She’s also a Ph.D. candidate in chemical biology at Harvard University.
Kayla Rossel cheers for the San Francisco 49ers. After getting a Psy.D. in clinical psychology, she works as a psychologist specializing in eating disorders.
Tynesha McClain earned her B.S. in molecular physics and biochemistry from Yale University. She’s a food technologist who’s cheered for the Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore Blast and Chesapeake Bayhawks.
Cheerleaders who are STEAM professionals?
It bucks stereotypes, but guess what? It’s the norm.
There are Science Cheerleaders on every NFL and NBA team that employs cheerleaders.
These multi-skilled women are the heart and soul of Science Cheerleaders, Inc., a national nonprofit organization of current and former professional and collegiate cheerleaders pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.
“Almost every time a girl realizes that I am an engineer and former pro-cheerleader, I can see the light bulb going off in their minds. I know the moment they all of a sudden believe in themselves that maybe one day, they can be a scientist or engineer and also a cheerleader, and it’s one of the most rewarding feelings,” said Dr. Wendy Brown, Ph.D., director of outreach for Science Cheerleaders.
Brown teams with company founder Darlene Cavalier, who co-authored The Field Guide to Citizen Science, and Samantha Marsillo, director of operations, as top-tier leaders.
High Kicking the Stereotype
The concept: Science Cheerleaders playfully challenges stereotypes about cheerleaders and women in STEAM. The organization aims to connect with the nation’s four million youth cheerleaders through a shared interest in cheerleading while changing perceptions about who scientists are, what they do and who can pursue careers in STEAM.
Leveraging the popularity of sports and cheerleading, Science Cheerleaders reaches not only girls but also their families and sports fans. Some teams, such as the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Commanders, feature dozens of cheerleaders pursuing STEAM careers.
Science Cheerleaders facilitates in-person and online events, where cheerleaders perform STEAM-themed choreographed routines, lead hands-on science activities, hold meet and greets, autograph trading cards featuring their STEAM and cheer stats and host cheer workshops. Events range from small, rural locations to nationwide events, such as performing at halftime during a Philadelphia 76ers game and at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.
Brown was one of the lead researchers for Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Connecting Citizen and University Researchers on the ISS). Her team enlisted the help of 4,000 cheerleaders and sports fans to swab shoes and cell phones for microbes at games and other Science Cheerleader events. This was part of a research and citizen science project to learn if and how microbes grow differently in microgravity than on Earth, which is important to understand for long-duration human spaceflight.
Those microbes were analyzed by UC Davis, and 48 samples were launched on a Space X rocket to the International Space Station. In a delightful surprise, a Pop Warner cheerleading team discovered a previously unknown species of microbe while working on the project.
Science Cheerleaders, which also works with Girl Scouts across the country, created a special cheer for Scouts:
“We organized a massive Cheer for Science at the USA Science & Engineering Festival, where representatives from the U.S. Geological Service were present to take seismic readings during the cheer, while hundreds of classrooms across the country performed the cheer and used sensors to measure seismic activity,” said Cavalier. “While that was designed for fun, all of those classrooms became part of a long-term study with USGS to monitor tremors for years to come.”
Both science and cheerleading are becoming more inclusive and diverse, not only onboarding women but ethnic minorities. But the progress is slow.
Women make up 27 percent of STEAM workers in the country, up from eight percent in 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Forty-eight percent of workers in the life sciences are women, but only about 15 percent are engineers.
African-Americans comprise nine percent of workers in STEAM; Hispanics are at eight percent, according to the STEM Education Guide.
Said Science Cheerleader McClain: “Diversity has grown leaps and bounds in cheerleading and STEAM. It’s refreshing to see so much representation in these areas. I’m envious of the youth today, as I wish I had that type of exposure when I was growing up.”
Science Cheerleader Rossel concurs. “As an African-American woman, it makes me happy to see that more cheerleading teams are celebrating young Black women’s natural and cultural hairstyles,” she said. “It’s very important for young girls to see diversity and to be able to identify with cheerleaders who have similar hair textures and styles. In terms of diversity in STEAM, some STEAM fields are more diverse than others.”
‘I Knew I Could Do Both!’
So, what’s next for the nonprofit?
“COVID put a pause on all in-person activities, but we look forward to re-activating programs in 2023, including performances at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.; performances at Girl Day at University of Texas, Austin; performances and meet-and-greets at the Pop Warner Cheer & Dance National Championships in Florida and at the Super Bowl in Arizona,” said Brown. “In addition, we are in the process of coordinating appearances scheduled to take place at many science festivals across the country. We’ve applied to be part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will be such an honor for us.”
For many Science Cheerleaders, the best part of the job is seeing the reaction of young people.
“Surprisingly, girls sometimes react with something akin to, ‘I knew I could do both!’ I absolutely love serving as an example that affirms girls’ interests in science and cheerleading,” Brown said.
Marsillo added, “So many girls give up one passion for the other, and we’re here to show them that they don’t ever have to make that sacrifice.”
A lot has changed for women in the world since the first International Women’s Day in 1911. From voting rights and gaining political leadership roles to simply igniting change for the better, March 8th has been used to celebrate the bravery, creativity, tribulations and successes of women around the world. For 2023, International Women’s Day is shining a spotlight on equity with their theme, #EmbraceEquity. While there has been tremendous progress in the rights of women, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure an equitable world for all people, regardless of gender identity. This International Women’s Day, we are taking a look at some ways that we can honor and celebrate women, as well as advocate for a more equitable world.
Support the Organizations that Support Women
There are numerous organizations, activists’ networks and charity groups that exist to support women on a global scale. Whether it’s making a donation, volunteering or simply educating yourselves on global issues, consider supporting one of the following groups this International Women’s Day:
The Association for Women’s Rights in Development: An international support organization dedicated to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights. The organization also specializes in educational rights, policy change and developing professionals.
UN Women: A subgroup of the United Nations, UN Women is dedicated to advocating for the rights of women and girls on an array of issues, from gender equality and women empowerment to ending violent acts against women.
The Women’s Refugee Commission: A non-governmental organization dedicated to improving and protecting the lives of women and children in areas of conflict or crisis.
Womankind Worldwide: A global women’s rights organization that partners with women’s movements in Africa and Asia to support them in their efforts to change discriminatory laws and policies, challenge gender norms and stereotypes, and provide transformative programs and services to women and girls.
Partners in Health: A non-profit organization that partners with local governments to provide healthcare to some of the world’s poorest countries. While they work to support people of all races, genders and identities, they have specialty programs that are working to reduce the growing maternal mortality rates in countries such as Sierra Leone.
Educate Yourself on Women Activists from Around the World
When we think about women activists, it’s easy to limit ourselves to only recognizing the accomplishment of women in the United States, when in reality there have been women all over the world who have changed how we live our everyday life. Take the time to visit your local library, listen to podcasts or even take a deep dive on the internet to learn about the different women and issues from around the world who are igniting change for people everywhere.
If you’re not sure where to start, try the following resources:
I am Malala: The autobiographical story of Malala Yousafzai, one of the biggest advocates for women and girls’ education in Pakistan and the world.
Call Your Girlfriend: A podcast hosted by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman that discusses women and feminism through the eyes of pop culture, politics and interviews with women activists.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise: A documentary about Maya Angelou, an author and activist that wrote poetry, essays, books and plays that speak about identity, race, gender and equality.
Codename:Butterflies: A documentary about the Mirabel sisters of the Dominican Republic, three activists who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and his regime of violence.
Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War: An autobiographical story about Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist who helped end the Second Liberian Civil War.
Include Everyone in the Conversation
The best way to ignite change, raise awareness and build compassion amongst others is to create meaningful conversation. March 8th may be International Women’s Day, but that doesn’t mean the conversation on important women and women’s rights should be exclusive to one gender. Get together with your family members and friends of diverse genders and backgrounds and talk about the important women in your life, how your experiences may differ and the ways in which you can support and understand one another. This not only allows your group to reflect on the positive change that has already happened, but can spark conversations that educate and inspire new ideas for the future.
Support Women-Owned Businesses
Supporting small businesses is one of the best ways that you can stimulate the economy while supporting your community. There are thousands of women-owned businesses in just about every industry you can think of, so why not utilize one of them to celebrate International Women’s Day? This March, try replacing one of your normal purchases with a purchase from a women-owned business. Whether you’re looking to grab lunch with a friend, find a new bathing suit for the summer or plan your next event, there is a woman-owned business that can fulfill just about any need you may have.
Sources: International Women’s Day, Wikipedia, Workflow MAX
October 11-13, 2022, marked the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity’s (AAAED) 48th annual national conference. This year’s virtual conference theme was “Building an Infrastructure for Sustainable and Equitable Change” and participants were able to reflect on this call to action through workshops, keynote addresses, plenary sessions, express talks and networking events.
The conference commenced with an introduction by Shirly Wilcher (Executive Director for AAAED), Jerry Knighton, Jr. (AAAED Conference Chair) and Dr. Annette Butler, (AAAED President). The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director, Jenny Yang, provided the first plenary session, where she discussed the latest corporate scheduling announcement list, recent directives regarding pay and the agency’s role in building infrastructure for equitable and sustainable change.
Other plenary sessions featured the Office of Civil Rights Assistant Secretary Catherine E. Lhamon, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Vice Chair Jocelyn Samuels and the Office of Disability Employment Policy Assistant Secretary Taryn M. Williams. They spoke of their agency’s recent accomplishments, provided timely updates and shared reflections on the conference theme.
The keynote speakers supplemented these updates with innovative ideas for promoting change. In “Technology-driven DEI Programs: How Technology is Increasing the Impact,” Dr. Christopher Metzler (LEAD Fund President; SVP, DEI and ESG, The National Urban League) explored how companies can use virtual reality to provide impactful training. The following day, Millicent St. Claire (LIGMO Institute) introduced healthy approaches for addressing stressful encounters and eliminating their negative impact on productivity, relationships and business outcomes in “Maintaining Resiliency While Walking the Line.”
Celebrating Title IX’s anniversary, the conference featured sessions on remediating prejudice in investigations and the future applications of Title IX. Building inclusive practices for individuals with disabilities was another common theme, with presentations on service animals, support for mental health in college communities and dispelling fears and stigmas about talented workers with disabilities. Through additional workshops and express talks, attendees learned best practices in areas such as artificial intelligence and hiring, electronic postings, online applications and data discrepancy checks for affirmative action plans.
The final day featured a panel discussion regarding the impending Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. The panel was moderated by Dr. Jamal Watson (Editor, Diverse Issues in Higher Education) and featured Carol Ashley (Attorney at Law, Jackson Lewis P.C.), David Hinojosa (Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Director, Education Opportunities
Project), and Theodore Shaw (Center for Civil Rights, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).
The conference closed with the presentation of awards:
Cesar Estrada Chavez Award: Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center
Roosevelt Thomas Champion of Diversity Award: L2 Defense, Inc.
As the longest-standing national civil rights organization comprised of professionals working in affirmative action, equal opportunity and diversity programs, AAAED is excitedly looking forward towards next year’s event and our 50th anniversary conference in 2024! For more information about how to join and upcoming events, please visit AAAED.org
Global icon Jennifer Lopez and Grameen America, the nation’s fastest-growing microfinance organization, announce they are partnering to advance financial empowerment for Latina businesswomen historically excluded from the financial mainstream.
Grameen America provides access to business capital, credit- and asset-building, financial education and peer support to enable women living below the federal poverty level to boost their income and create jobs in their communities. The new partnership seeks to advance both Lopez’s latest philanthropic project, Limitless Labs, which aims to support Latina-owned small businesses, as well as Grameen America’s goal to empower 600,000 Latina entrepreneurs across 50 U.S. cities with $14 billion in life-changing business capital and 6 million hours of financial education and training by 2030.
Lopez joins as Grameen America’s National Ambassador to advocate for and mentor the organization’s network of over 150,000 small businesses run by women in predominantly Latinx communities across the United States. Limitless Labs, the home for all of Lopez’s philanthropic and values-driven work, aims to uplift, educate and provide essential resources to underserved communities like the one in The Bronx where Lopez grew up. Additional areas of focus include youth empowerment, civic engagement and empowering women with the confidence to live limitlessly.
Grameen America envisions an inclusive society in which all entrepreneurs, regardless of gender, race or income, have access to fair and affordable financial services to support upward economic mobility. The organization provides ongoing financial education to members and reports microloan repayments to credit bureaus to enable participants to build their financial identities. Since its founding in 2008, Grameen America has served over 150,000 women in 23 U.S. cities, distributed $2.6 billion in loans and helped create and maintain 157,000 jobs. The organization’s repayment rate is over 99 percent, and its members have achieved an average credit score of 644 through participation in the program.
To kick off her role as National Ambassador, Lopez will motivate, promote and inspire Latina businesswomen, helping them understand the pathway to financial independence and literacy through joining the Grameen America microloan program. Lopez will mentor the organization’s existing Latina business owners, educating them on the importance of credit and asset-building and developing a savings program to promote financial resilience. The partnership will also enhance Grameen America’s financial education and training platform, prioritizing digital and multimedia resources to promote financial literacy.
“Being Latino in this country has always been a matter of pride for me. I am humbled and beyond grateful to partner with Grameen America,” said Jennifer Lopez. “We’re building pathways to employment and leadership opportunities. There’s so much strength in this community and we’re harnessing that. This partnership will create equality, inclusivity and opportunity for Latina women in business. This will change the fabric of America!”
“Jennifer Lopez is a trailblazer, having given visibility and advocacy to ensure Latina women are educated, financially empowered and healthy,” said Andrea Jung, president and CEO of Grameen America. “Grameen America is the only organization with the national scale, reach and proven model required to deploy $14 billion in loan capital to emerging businesswomen in Latinx communities. Together we will shape entrepreneurship as a viable pathway to success for Latina women who have historically lacked access to the formal financial markets and are often marginalized from economic opportunity.”
Despite gaps in opportunity, Latina entrepreneurs represent the fastest-growing, yet untapped, segment of U.S. small business owners. In the past 10 years, the number of Latino-owned small businesses has grown 44 percent compared to just four percent for non-Latinos, according to a recent report by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative. The same report notes Latino-owned businesses are significantly less likely than white-owned businesses to receive loans from national banks, despite demonstrating strong lending criteria. For women, financial exclusion is disproportionately higher as only four percent of all small business loans from mainstream financial institutions go to women, according to a report by the National Women’s Business Council.
“Asking for a loan from a bank is not as easy as people think, and even more challenging for businesswomen in my community,” said Maria Lugo, Grameen America member and owner of Who’s Papi? Tires by Papi, an auto-repair and tire shop located in Woodside, Queens. Lugo joined Grameen America in 2011 to revitalize her family’s struggling business. Today, Lugo’s thriving business has expanded in its size, services and staff to meet growing demand. Most importantly, Lugo’s savings allowed her to send her three children to college. “The road to business success is not always easy to navigate, but with hard work and access to financial services, education and mentorship, it’s possible to achieve your vision,” said Lugo. “Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher.”
At age 9, Nalleli Cobo was experiencing asthma, body spasms, heart palpitations and nosebleeds so severe she needed to sleep in a chair to prevent herself from choking on her own blood.
Across the street from her family’s apartment in University Park in South Central Los Angeles was an oil extraction site owned by Allenco Energy that was spewing fumes into the air and the community around her.
After speaking with neighbors facing similar symptoms, she and her family began to mobilize with their community, suspecting that was making them sick. They created the People Not Pozos (People Not Oil Wells) campaign. At 9 years old, Cobo was designated the campaign’s spokesperson, marking the start of her activism and organizing career.
In March 2020, Cobo, the co-founder of the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, helped lead the group to permanently shut down the Allenco Energy oil drilling site that she and others in the community said caused serious health issues for them. She also helped convince the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to unanimously vote to ban new oil exploration and phase out existing sites in Los Angeles.
After pressure from the community and scrutiny from elected officials, Allenco Energy agreed to suspend operations in 2013. The site was permanently shut down in 2020, and the company was charged in connection with state and local environmental health and safety regulations. There are ongoing issues around cleaning and plugging up the oil wells.
Cobo co-founded the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition in 2015 to bolster efforts against oil sites and work toward phasing them out across the city.
That year, the youth group sued the city of Los Angeles, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and environmental racism. The suit was settled after the city implemented new drilling application requirements.
Cobo, now 21, was recognized Wednesday for the environmental justice work that has spanned more than half her life. She received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded annually to individuals from six regions: Europe, Asia, Africa, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.
“I did not want to answer the phone because it was an unknown number,” Cobo, who was getting bubble tea when she received the call about the prize, told NBC News in a Zoom interview Wednesday. “I didn’t even know I was nominated. I started crying.”
During the 1920s, Los Angeles was one of the world’s largest urban oil-exporting regions. More than 20,000 active, idle, or abandoned oil wells still reside in the county, and about one-third of residents live less than a mile from an active oil site.
Studies have shown that living near oil and gas wells increases exposure to air pollution, with nearby communities facing environmental and health risks including preterm birth, asthma and heart disease.
When sworn in this summer, Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s high court.
“This is one of the great moments of American history,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote. “Today we are taking a giant, bold and important step on the well-trodden path to fulfilling our country’s founding promise.
This is a great moment for Judge Jackson but it is an even greater moment for America as we rise to a more perfect union.”
President Biden called the vote a “historic moment” for the nation. “We’ve taken another step toward making our highest court reflect the diversity of America,” Biden posted on Twitter.
All 50 Senate Democrats, including the two independents who caucus with them, voted for Jackson’s confirmation. They were joined by three Republicans: Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Click here to read the complete article posted on NPR.
Selena Gomez is taking her passion for mental health advocacy to new heights.
On Monday, the singer, actress and entrepreneur celebrated the launch of her multimedia company Wondermind alongside her two co-founders, her mom Mandy Teefey and fellow mental health activist Daniella Pierson. The new platform aims to be a free resource to help users navigate their own mental wellness. The 29-year-old, who has spoken candidly about living with bipolar disorder, says she wants to use her own experiences as a conduit to help others, particularly as it pertains to the toxicity of social media.
“I haven’t been on the internet in four and a half years,” Gomez said in an interview with Good Morning America. “It has changed my life completely. I am happier. I am more present, I connect more with people. It makes me feel normal.”
Last year, she told InStyle she “created a system” where she doesn’t know the passwords to her social media accounts — a step she said was necessary in order to focus on herself.
The Only Murders in the Building star explained that “growing up in the spotlight has definitely taught me so much.”
“I can’t believe that I am where I am mentally just because of how I took the necessary steps in order to kind of remove myself from that because it’s just not normal,” she said.
Gomez, who has spoken candidly about living with bipolar disorder after publicly revealing her diagnosis in April 2020, says her mental health journey has been “freeing.”
“I started to have a relationship with myself,” Gomez said. “I think that’s the best part. I’ve probably been the happiest I’ve ever been.”
With Wondermind, Gomez says she wants “people to be understood and seen and heard. It’s OK to not be OK.”
“If I’m known for anything I hope it’s simply just for the way I care about people,” she added. “Those days where I don’t want to get out of bed, if I had something like Wondermind, even if it took me a minute to get into it, it’s just there. And there’s something that’s really comforting about that.”
Now, as the star is getting closer to turning 30, she hopes to take all the lessons she learned in her 20s and apply them to a better future.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to step into this chapter. Alone, independently, strong, confidently,” she said. “That’s all I really want, you know?”
This isn’t the first time Gomez has spoken openly about her mental health.
In an interview with Elle magazine last year, she touched on the public scrutiny she faced over the years — including a very public breakup with Justin Bieber, undergoing a kidney transplant due to her lupus diagnosis and seeking mental health treatment.
“I don’t even know what they really believed I was doing — drugs, alcohol, running around, partying,” she explained of the negative press she endured. “The narrative was so nasty.”
Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! Life.
She is the host, judge and executive producer of Top Chef. She produces Taste the Nation, where she takes viewers around America to enlighten them with immigrant culture and cuisine. And she’s a bestselling author, known for her first children’s book, Tomatoes for Neela.
But Padma, 51, doesn’t only have a large influence in the food space — she also promotes health and wellness all over the world.
At age 13, Padma began experiencing symptoms of endometriosis but wasn’t diagnosed until age 36. Her experiences led her to co-found The Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA) with advanced gynecological surgeon Dr. Tamer Seckin.
“I didn’t want another generation of women and girls to suffer in silence like I and millions upon millions of people did,” Padma told Professional WOMAN’s Magazine (PWM). “I lost a week of my life every month for 23 years because of this disease. Many doctors didn’t even know how to diagnose it or treat it properly.”
Since its creation in 2009, the foundation has made it a mission to fund research and raise awareness about the disease, and it has helped launch the first Center of Gynepathology Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“I am so immensely proud of all we have accomplished in awareness of the disease, international research and educational programs,” she said. “I have also seen real change in the way the media covers this disease in just one decade. That’s very exciting to me.”
As if Padma couldn’t be any more of a role model, she is also an Artist Ambassador for immigrants’ rights and women’s rights for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“All the experience and knowledge I gained through starting the EFA with my co-founder has helped me to be a better ambassador for both the ACLU and the UNDP with confidence. Everything I learned at the EFA, I use in my work with these two organizations.”
The activist is also passionate about mental health and advocates for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. At age seven, her life changed forever when she was sexually molested, and then raped at age 16. Padma kept her rape a secret for 30 years, until she wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times titled, “I Was Raped at 16 and I Kept Silent.”
“I wrote an Op-Ed for @nytimes about something terrible that happened to me in my youth, something that happens to young women every day. We all have an opportunity to change the narrative and believe survivors,” Padma wrote on her Twitter page.
Through her piece, Padma wanted to let other survivors know they’re not alone. Her bravery to speak about her trauma serves as an inspiration to survivors of sexual abuse to tell their story and raise awareness.
“Identifying the problem and speaking up about it in a safe space, wherever that is, is the first step to diminishing its power over you,” she said. “Our world is not built for people who want to speak up and do the right thing. There are many systems in place that have not supported our collective well-being or safeguarded a woman’s safety. It can feel lonely and exhausting to speak about any kind of trauma with very little benefit. But in order to free oneself of the yoke of trauma on one’s future, one has to identify the trauma outright and say what happened or what is happening to you out loud. And do not underestimate the help of support groups, even online ones.”
This open-hearted influencer also advises to talk to someone right away, and not just anyone, but someone who is capable of receiving the information you’re about to give them and can help you or help you find help.
“None of us do it alone,” she said. “And to me, the first step is to try and say out loud what is troubling you to someone else. If you can’t find that person right away, then write down everything you can remember think of surrounding what’s troubling you. If the trauma is recent, these details will also be helpful to law enforcement.”
Not surprisingly, Padma’s efforts don’t stop here. She has a laundry list of accolades, including 32 Emmy award nominations, the 2018 Karma award from Variety, the 2016 NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the 2021 Advocate of the Year Award by the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA).
In fact, the pioneer also stresses the importance of diversity and inclusion and defends marginalized communities, especially in light of recent injustices against Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Her influence led to another honor — the AI Award from Gold House, a nonprofit that aims to increase AAPI visibility.
Padma strongly believes in food as a vehicle for diversity, and emphasizes that we should be exposed to different foods and ethnicities, advocating that American grocery stores and supermarkets should integrate “ethnic” or “exotic” foods into their “mainstream” aisles.
“I feel integrating things like udon, ramen, tortillas or gochujang and tahini would actually do a lot to normalize these foods and make shoppers who are unfamiliar with them more likely to try them, thereby expanding what more Americans eat. We are a country of many influences. Our stores should look like it.”
The food guru, who is also an ambassador for Impossible Foods, recently became an investor with DAH!, an Indian-inspired yogurt food company.
“Only invest in something you know very well. I felt a great affinity with the DAH! Yogurt brand because I grew up in a house where we made our own yogurt every day,” she said. “Indian cuisine has a millennia-old connection to homemade yogurt that many Westerners may not yet grasp. And, just as the 1980s saw a wave of French yogurt sweep the U.S. consumer with Yoplait, and the 2000s saw the advent of Greek yogurt, I believe the 2020s will be about Indian slow-cultured lassi and yogurt. I look forward to helping bring about this wave in the U.S. because I genuinely think the American eater will benefit from it.”
So, what shaped Padma to be the strong-willed, diversity-seeking, inspirational food enthusiast we love today? To understand Padma, it helps to know her past.
Padma was born in India, and after her mother and father divorced, she came to America with her mother at age four. She grew up in the United States, graduating from Clark University with a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts and American Literature. Padma wasn’t always in the food space — she started her career as a model and actress, working in Europe and the United States. What launched Padma’s modeling career was her seven-inch scar on her right arm — a result of a serious car accident from when she was a teenager.
“I hated it. But then I was, you know, shot by a very great photographer named Helmut Newton. And he liked the scar. I think that your flaws and your scars really make you who you are,” she told CBS News. Padma was dubbed India’s first supermodel.
She kicked off her food career by hosting Padma’s Passport and Planet Food. She’s also a best-selling author, known for book Easy Exotic, cookbook Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet, memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate, The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs, and of course, her recent Tomatoes for Neela, which is inspired by her own family memories.
“Through food, my grandmother and my mother taught me so much about life and culture and being a person in the world. And so, I’m hoping that, through this book, I can encourage families to actively cook together, to value the recipes that they’ve been making for their family get-togethers and also to remember all of the different people who bring us our food and to be mindful of our environment,” Padma told The North State Journal.
Padma continues to make memories with her 11-year-old daughter, Krishna, by cooking together in their New York home. This heartwarming mother and daughter bonding time — which consisted of filming “quarantine” cooking videos on TikTok and Instagram — inspired Padma to write Tomatoes for Neela.
“It’s a tale about a mother and daughter who enjoy cooking together, and the story is meant to help children learn about eating seasonal foods, learning to cook and the joy of creating meals together as a family,” Padma told USA Today.
“I think children eat healthier and become more mindful of the planet when they learn about the origins of food,” she says. “One of my earliest memories is making dosas (a traditional South Indian dish of crepes made from fermented rice and lentils) with my mom,” she continued.
Which brings us to Padma’s Emmy-nominated Taste the Nation, an appetizing adventure that sheds light on indigenous cuisine and people and how they’ve shaped American food.
Padma Lakshmi has spiced up our screens, aimed to make a difference one step at a time and raised awareness for different cultural causes. But she’s not done — there’s so much left on this powerhouse’s plate.
If you’re hungry for more Taste the Nation, you won’t be waiting long, as the show has been renewed for a second season.
“Creating this show has been the joy of my life,” Padma said. “But in the time since it’s come out, there already have been a bunch of shows trying to mimic our format and thesis, so I need to make sure our take is always fresh and deeper. That’s the big project until fall when I go to film another season of Top Chef, our 20th!” she said as she wrapped up her interview with PWM.
International Women’s Day, which is now celebrated on March 8 around the globe, has for more than a century been a day to highlight the plight of women, especially mothers, in the workplace and fight for reforms. Over the years, women have used this day to help win concessions on issues such as a five-day, 40-hour workweek, child labor laws, safety codes and a minimum wage. But more recently in America, the day has become divorced from its labor history roots and morphed into an occasion to generically celebrate women and girls in our lives on social media, while the full promise of the women’s labor movement has not been fulfilled, notably around paid family leave, affordable child care and equitable pay. The demands made over a century ago remind us of the need for women to reclaim this history and power by walking out, literally and figuratively, on this International Women’s Day.
American Socialists declared the first National Woman’s Day (it would be renamed in the plural decades later), with a focus on workers’ rights and suffrage. The event took place in New York City in 1909 on the last Sunday of February — a day when working women could attend. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a noted feminist, socialist and author, gave a speech calling for women’s influence and freedom beyond their households: “It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood but home should mean the whole country and not be confined to three or four rooms of a city or a state.”
The protest laid the groundwork for the largest strike by women workers that fall. At 9 a.m. on a cold morning in November 1909, thousands of garment workers walked out of their shops in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx and marched to their union headquarters at 151 Clinton Street. Their demands included a 52-hour workweek, higher pay and an end to workplace abuses, such as unsafe working conditions and what we later came to understand as sexual harassment. Women continued to strike, many with their children by their side, until their individual shops negotiated with workers.
This “Uprising of the 20,000,” as the event became known, was mostly settled in days or weeks, with varying degrees of success. Labor leader Rose Schneiderman wrote that she pleaded with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory workers to strike, to no avail. A little over a year later, on March 25, 1911, unsafe conditions at the Triangle factory led to a massive fire and the death of 146 workers. But the Uprising of the 20,000 no doubt prevented other tragedies like this from happening and showed women as a powerful and steadfast force to be reckoned with when they protested in large numbers.
In 1910, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed codifying International Woman’s Day at an International Socialist Congress in Copenhagen, with delegates from 17 countries unanimously agreeing. The next year, more than a million women took part in this holiday, flooding the streets across Europe and demanding political and worker rights.
Over the next decade, International Women’s Day became a day for protests against the burgeoning imperialist war in Europe, and in 1917, Russian women demanded “peace, land, and bread.” Such protests helped to spark the Russian Revolution and earned women the right to vote and run for office that same year.
Throughout the 20th century, March 8 continued to inspire protests for women’s working and political rights around the globe. Under threat of arrest, torture, rape and death, women in Nazi-occupied Italy in 1944 and 1945 walked out of factories and homes en masse, demanding better wages, maternity leave, child care and an end to German requisitioning of Italian-made goods. Even Nazi fascists capitulated to the power of these women, offering shorter hours, hot soup and heating fuel so that the women would continue to work.
Women workers were also instrumental in the Allied war effort, and their organizational initiatives played a role in winning the war. Italian labor leaders such as Bianca Guidetti helped organize female factory workers to continue to support anti-fascist soldiers and fight for women’s rights over the last brutal year of World War II. In many northern Italian cities, these efforts culminated in women taking up arms and securing factories during the final bloody battles against Germany as the Allied forces advanced.
These organized demonstrations then gave women political power in the new Italian government. Following the war, they secured political representation, labor unions, child-care assistance and more equitable pay. On March 8, Italian women carried the yellow mimosa — an early spring bloom — to represent “solidarity with women throughout the world.” This flower became a reminder during the war of their obligation to fight for a better future, scholar Jomarie Alano wrote. Even today, many countries celebrate women and mothers on this day with flowers, but also annual protests for equal rights and better pay.
Click here to read the full article on the Washington Post.