Shaun Robinson: My Journey to WMM

Author: Shaun Robinson (Member, Women Moving Millions)

As a little girl growing up on the west side of Detroit, Michigan, I remember my grandmother and I walking around the block to the bus stop and taking a 30-minute ride to a tall building on, what seemed like, the other side of the world.

I remember sitting on the floor of the hallway, sun shining through the windows, playing with whatever toy I brought with me that day, while Grandma sat in a chair against the wall with a red tube poking into her arm – the other end attached to a plastic bag hung on a tall, skinny pole. She would sit there, with other grown-up people I had never seen, also with red tubes coming out of their arms – all of them squeezing these blue rubber balls. Grandma and the strangers would smile and make small talk with each other. As the minutes ticked by, the bags would go from see-through to filling up with a red liquid. I would play quietly (even though this was not my idea of a fun summer vacation day), not daring to be unruly or else Grandma would shoot me a look that I knew would mean unpleasantries when we got home.

A lady dressed in all white – from her folded white hat on her head all the way down to her white stockings and shoes – would come out and adjust the bags and tell Grandma and the other nice strangers, “You’re doing great” and then disappear back through the door. In the brief seconds that the lady was tending to Grandma, I could see, attached to her all-whiteness, was a sticker that said, “Red Cross”.

Grandma was a philanthropist.

Not the kind with a lot of money in the bank – she cleaned houses for well-to-do people and her husband, my step-grandfather, drove a truck for the post office. But, no dictionary defines philanthropist as a “wealthy person”. Instead, it reads, “one who has an altruistic concern for human welfare manifested by one’s generosity to needy persons”. There was a call by the Red Cross for people to help and Grandma answered that call with her life’s blood.

My mom and dad always told me that, “If God gives you a platform, use it to give back.” Philanthropy wasn’t an option, it was a requirement. Our family’s unspoken motto was, “Even if I have only a little, you can have a little bit of my little.”

My college years were spent at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia – an all women’s HBCU (Historically Black College and University) founded in 1881. The first class of Spelman consisted of 10 women and one girl – some of whom had been born into slavery. It was at Spelman that I learned about the strength and pride of my ancestors and the women who came before me. It was where I learned about the value of sisterhood and, when you invest in a girl, she can change the world. It was there that I saw, firsthand, how young women of color, many from underserved and disadvantaged backgrounds could go on to be lawyers, doctors, actresses, businesswomen, COO’s of Fortune 500 companies, and talk show hosts.

My career led me to Hollywood as host of the entertainment show, ‘Access Hollywood’. It was 1999 – before social media – before Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. At the time, it was one of the only national entertainment shows around and the go-to place for news on your favorite celebrities. Not long after that, I began getting letters from girls asking about the stars – “Is so-and-so as beautiful as she looks on the magazine covers? “What about so-and-so? Is she as skinny and perfect as she looks in the movies?”.

I knew I had a duty. So, I wrote a book to teens girls called, “Exactly As I Am: Celebrated Women Share Candid Advice with Today’s Girls on What it Takes to Believe in Yourself”.

I interviewed girls around the country to find out what they felt were the images and messages that destroyed their self-esteem. I interviewed celebrity women about what they would tell girls if they could speak directly to them. And, the message was clear: True beauty comes from within. No amount of money, fame, or looks can bring you real happiness. The quote that Oprah gave me for “Exactly As I Am” was this…“You are valuable because you were born.”

One of the chapters in my book is called, “Giving Back”. I already was serving on the National Board of ‘Girls, Inc.’ whose motto is, “Teaching girls to be Strong, Smart, and Bold.” I currently serve on the Advisory Council of the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up organization which gives girls the resources and platform to start a movement of social change.

When I left Access Hollywood after 16 years, I started my passion project – the S.H.A.U.N. Foundation for Girls. We are a 501(c)(3) that supports small, grassroots non-profits that empower underserved and underrepresented girls in 5 key areas: (S)TEM, (H)EALTH, (A)RTS, (U)NITY and (N)EIGHBORHOODS.

There are so many small nonprofits that are impacting girls in meaningful ways. We find them, vet them, and if their work is in alignment with our principles, then we use our platform to help them with their mission. We focus on IMPACT over numbers. If you change the life of ONE girl, that ONE girl can change the world.

At the intersection of Philanthropy and Women, you will find Women Moving Millions. Although I am still a “newbie”, I feel energized when I am around the women in this organization who are using their platform to help others. Just as Grandma sat in that chair to do her part, I think we all have a responsibility to use whatever resources we have been blessed with to reach back and help others who need us.

America’s Leading Ladies

Author: Natalie Lynn Rekstad (Member, Women Moving Millions)

It is such a pleasure (and shock) that I share that I have been curated into the book “America’s Leading Ladies who positively impact the world….. ” which profiles fifty American women doing extraordinary things in the world.  I am in the company of Oprah Winfrey, Melinda Gates, and others who fiercely advocate for women and girls and a more just and gender balanced world.  The hard cover is in production, but in the interim the e-book can be found here.  Read on for my submission to do with advice to potential gender equality advocates about embracing their role in this moment and this movement.  

America’s Leading Ladies

My core belief is that the future hinges upon a more just and gender balanced world. As the beneficiary of the first and second wave of feminism, my mission is to help mobilize significant resources to bring about equality, on my watch and in my lifetime. It is a deep honor to be on this journey with so many awakened women and men who join me in this vision, all of us with unique roles to play.

Including you, Dear Reader.

Why does it matter? In the US alone, women continue to be more economically disadvantaged, experience much more violence, earn less, and are dramatically underrepresented in positions of leadership across all sectors.

But there’s good news. As context, we’re living in the most important time in the history of humanity. Never have we had so many viable solutions to suffering, poverty, and discrimination. Never have we had so many passionate people equipped to take direct action toward a thriving planet in which everyone can live with dignity.

We are living in the sweet spot of a world and time where women are more fiercely coming into their voice, thereby becoming more fully expressed and more fully empowered. In the US, women now have the economic chops to get equality over the finish line on a global scale.

Everyone is invited into this conversation and this movement, particularly men who are holding up the other “Half the Sky.”* In fact, I’ve noticed many fathers of daughters are some of the fiercest warriors for gender equity. These men encourage their daughters to take their full space in the world as the strong, spirited, dedicated leaders that they are capable of becoming.

It matters for our sons, too, who deserve to be raised in a culture that is free of the myth of superiority.  In fact, it is their birthright to live fully expressed lives alongside our young women. To do so, they need to feel safe to be truly seen, heard, and valued as a whole, as well as to be encouraged toward great depths of thought and feeling. These are the men of tomorrow who will help bring about deep and lasting change.

We all benefit. Where there’s more gender equality, there’s more peace:  Gender equality is a more reliable predictor of peace than a country’s GDP or level of democracy. Advancing gender equality will add billions to the US economy. Gender diversity in leadership roles also boosts business performance. And close to home for all of us:  Gender equality makes children’s lives better. Teens in countries with higher levels of gender equality experience higher levels of satisfaction than teens in countries with lower levels of gender equality.

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