“I am a college woman living in the worst state for women: Mississippi (as determined by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research), and I am passionate about empowering our women and girls!”
So began the e-mail that made my day, March 29 to be exact. It was from Lily Womble, whom I’d never met but immediately knew was a force to be reckoned with. In a very good way.
There is no way I could tell you this whole story in one post. So this is part one of a two-part series. Here I’ll introduce you to this very out-loud and proudly feminist young woman whose declared intention (intention! exactly the quality I found women often lack when I wrote No Excuses) is nothing less than to change the world.
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And she’s doing it by amplifying the voices of young women in the U.S. and globally. Yes, even in Mississippi.
I was drawn into her vision by the power of her enthusiasm. So I asked Lily the question I ask women almost every time I do an interview or make a speech:
When did you know you had the power to take leadership? What did that feel like, look like?
I was raised in Alabama by parents who encouraged me to be bold and adventurous. They believe in the power of girls and women and passed that along to me. In high school I wrote a research paper on sex trafficking in the US and met many activists working towards change on this issue in my city.
I realized that most of the people around me had no idea that sex trafficking was affecting the girls in our city and our world; I felt convicted that I had to act and that I needed other youth to act with me. That is the moment I knew I had the power to take leadership.
I created a youth anti-human trafficking coalition that worked to educate our peers and parents on the issue of sex trafficking; we also lobbied for HB432, that, after the unanimous vote through the house and the senate, made history for being the first anti-human trafficking piece of legislation in Alabama.
I spoke about trafficking at local schools and churches, gathering volunteers and trying to empower audiences to act. One of the biggest returns on the project, besides raising money and awareness for local anti-trafficking efforts, was seeing my peers realize their passions through mine. I felt empowered and powerful. I discovered that I had a voice that mattered, and that knowledge has followed me as my passion has become the empowerment of girls in the south and in the world.
Curious about how she managed to stay true to her mission and vision in Mississippi, as Lily acknowledged, one of the worst states for women on almost every measure, I asked how she had the vision and spunk to do what she’s doing in that culture. Her reply? Get ready for a burst of wisdom:
When I came to Mississippi for college, I was in many ways disappointed in my geographical choice. “Why didn’t I go to New York or Chicago where they ‘have things more figured out for women?’”
When I started working as an intern with the Women’s Fund of Mississippi, I expressed this worry with my boss, who was quick to tell me: “If you want to empower girls, to help women, there is no better place to be than Mississippi.”
That moment changed my outlook on working for women in this state. I am in a place of horrible conditions for women, where most everything is lead by men, but that means that possibilities for women’s leadership and empowerment are endless.
There are many strong, courageous women leaders in this state, and although it can be tiring to do this work, it is necessary to Mississippi’s growth and future well being to work towards making an equal state for women.
In my blog, I feature girls in the south who are living “out loud” and who are changing the world.
Talk about using Power Tool #3—Use what you’ve got; what you need is there if you can see it and have the wisdom to use it—Lily has it on steroids!
So are you as jazzed as I was to meet this young woman? If so, stay tuned for part two, coming soon. Learn about Lily’s experience in Istanbul and whether she thinks young women today relate to power and leadership differently from their mothers and grandmothers.
GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”
As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.