Blog Archives

Ayanna Pressley: Boston’s Voice for Women’s Issues

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, Big Sister would like to conclude the month’s celebration by highlighting a contemporary woman of influence and purpose who is making her mark on the Boston landscape. City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley immediately comes to mind, not only for her political triumph but also for her advocacy for women’s issues.

City Councilor At-Large Pressley is the first woman of color to be elected (in 2009) to serve on the governing board in the council’s 100-year history. In addition, she was the only woman in a field of 15 candidates to have earned one of four “At-Large” spots on the city’s 13- member council, garnering nearly 42,000 votes.

In keeping with her historic win, Councilor At-Large Pressley set out to support those whom she saw as undeserved and thus formed and chaired a new committee, the Committee on Women & Healthy Communities. The committee is dedicated to the causes that are close to her heart: stabilizing families and communities, reducing and preventing violence and trauma, and combating poverty. With a particular emphasis on girls and women, the committee focuses on adequate delivery of city services and programming for youth, families, seniors, and new Bostonians. The committee does not shy away from tackling the tougher issues ranging from domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, bullying, substance abuse to mentoring, poverty, and homelessness.

Councilor At-Large Pressley goes beyond government work to hold leadership positions with community organizations such as the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and the Young Professionals Preventing Child Abuse of the Children’s Trust Fund. She also serves on the Boards of UMass Boston Community Development, Inc., and the Young Black Women’s Society.

What makes Big Sister most proud of City Councilor Pressley’s advocacy for women is the special role she plays with our organization. Despite her busy schedule, she has found the time to join Big Sister Association of Greater Boston by becoming an active Big Sister mentor. Not only is she proud of her mentoring role, but she is just as proud to be considered a part of her Little Sister’s family. As an advocate for mentoring, Councilor At-Large Pressley recently spoke at Big Sister’s Rise & Inspire event in which she concluded, “I’m a Big Sister who happens to be a City Councilor.” Councilor At-Large Pressley launched a personal campaign, which she called ABC – Ayanna’s BIG Challenge – a yearlong initiative to recruit mentors for children living in the Boston neighborhoods with the longest waiting for Big Sisters. Now, that’s walking the talk.

Big in Boston: Former Little Sister Lianne Hughes speaks at Big Sister’s 60th Anniversary Party [Video]

Former Little Sister Lianne Hughes brought the crowd to their feet at our 60th anniversary party, Big in Boston, with her inspiring words on the power of human interconnectedness and mentoring to change lives and communities.

Good-Evening

I am beyond grateful, yet humble to be standing here in front of you today to share, recapture, and paint my story as I re-explore the creation of my masterpiece as a former Little Sister of the Big Sister Association.

Growing up in the projects of Boston, my mother was a single parent learning how to navigate her way to the American Dream. My mother struggled to maintain like many single urban parents. What was important to her was food, shelter and survival. So she did her best to raise my brother and I so we wouldn’t fall victim to the streets.  She understood because of her circumstances and situation that she alone could not provide us with the resources and opportunities that we needed.  So she reached out to the Department of Social Services who then connected us with the Big Sister Association.

As I shared in the video, I was nine years old and nervous the day my Big Sister and I were matched.  She was white; I was black. Her name, Maja Milenkovic, sounded like a witch spell from the Disney Channel. We had so many cultural differences! I knew at nine I was socially constructed because a lot of my perceptions about white people came from watching television shows like Feed the Children on B.E.T. All I could think about was, I didn’t want someone to “save me”; I wanted a friend, someone I could relate too, and someone that was going to believe in me.

As we bridged the gap, Maja was just normal. She was nothing I expected. She liked dance; I liked dance. She loved hip-hop music; I loved hip-hop music. She was impatient in malls; I never had any patience in malls. We just had a lot of things in common.  Even when it came to principles and perspective, she always mixed the old school with the new school. She never was the type of person to say, “I’m older, so I know better.” It was all about positive youth development and finding common ground.

From Maja I embraced the concept of Ubuntu, “I am because you are, humanity, human inter-connectedness”. It was from her that I learned not to judge people by their skin color, but more by their principles, character and dignity. It’s really hard when you grow up in a society where everything is so black and white. You get all these different mixed messages about people, so automatically you become programmed to judge. But I learned from my Big Sister through all the confusion and illusions, the common denominator remains the same within people. We’re human. Despite our differences, were one in the same and we should celebrate those differences.

Two years ago before I graduated from Wheelock College, I didn’t have the money to go back to school. I was short $5,000. And I remember painfully crying to Maja that, “It’s wasn’t fair that I didn’t have the money to go back.” Her simple reply of “It’s OK, Lianne. I’ll co-sign your loan” provoked the most overwhelming feeling of affirmation in my life. She affirmed that my aspiration for college was not merely a choice, but a task my heart so eagerly needed to complete. I knew it was more than just signing my loans. I knew this implied that she was inspired by my dreams, trusted my judgment and ready to join me on my quest toward self-accomplishment.  This didn’t mean she paid for my college, this means she signed her name on a paper that could merit me my dreams.

With that being said, my wish for Big Sister over the next 60 years is that it grows and keeps producing Big Sisters from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. Diversity within race, as well within ideas is important in the world we live in. Just being culturally competent, relatable, and interpersonal touches people from the heart; it’s human interaction at its purest.

I mean, I’m glad I and we have Big Sister, and it provides the services that it does. Because I know without having my Big Sister in my life, as cliché as it sounds, I wouldn’t have the mind set or perspective on the world that I have now.

So I challenge Boston as well as everyone in the room to think collaboratively. Envision the best possible Boston, community, and world. Let me give you an alternative way to think about it. In school, I learned about Bronfenvrenners Ecological Systems Theory. In short, it speaks to the ideology that every institution on a micro to macro level is connected.  For a society that’s thriving, everybody has to be involved, but most importantly everybody has to be on the same page. Not just communities and local organizations, but governments too.  I feel that when everybody is listening to the mission, negotiating, or has some type of common interest, it serves the betterment of society, and young kids are able to strive. And when we’re not, we fail, our systems fail and we fail our communities and kids.

According to Wednesday’s Boston Globe, “Poverty Worsening in Hub, Study Says”, 85 percent of families in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury are headed by a single parent, mainly mothers and at least 20% of the adults have no high school diploma. These are the broken communities I live within. And every day when I walk though my community I see the impact and reflection of those statistics. I see young girls without fathers and mothers. I see young girls pregnant, and not enrolled into high school or on a pathway to a preferred future into college. I see young girls without that positive role model or Big Sister.

So if you BELIEVE IN GIRLS (B.I.G) and that every girl in this room is a MASTERPIECE, you’re not just believing in the organization; you’re believing in a better individual, community, society and world as a whole. Because Big Sister is not just about the “neighborhood girl from around the way”, it’s about every young girl all over the world. Thank you.

A Strong Female Role Model For Every Girl

Washington based writer Gabrielle Nomura recounts meeting her role model, journalist Jenni Hogan, and the importance of a good female role model for every girl…

Gabrielle Nomura

Her role model, Jenni Hogan, KIRO 7 TV anchor

“What hit me then was the importance of role models.

Every girl, whether she wants to be a journalist, a professional athlete or a full-time world traveler should have a woman role model they can emulate, see a bit of themselves in, and be inspired by.

All girls should get an experience like I did at least once in their lives, to be able to sit down at a table with their own version of Jenni Hogan.

It’s not always easy to find a role model, as our society’s way of choosing which women to pay attention to is often skewed. As Faizon Love put it, why is it that Kim Kardashian makes the news, while masses of women who are actually doing newsworthy things, female doctors, researchers, teachers, activists, scholars, business owners and mothers, go unnoticed?”

For more of Gabrielle’s piece on Strong Female Mentors: CLICK HERE

To your Little Sister, you are her role model. Thank you Big Sisters, for being that influential woman in a young girl’s life.

If you are (or know) a girl between 7-15 who would like a women mentor call us at 617-23-8060, email us at bigsister@bigsister.org or visit us on the web at www.bigsister.org

Invest in Girls

Illustration by Gerard Dubois for TIME

Illustration by Gerard Dubois for TIME

The benefits are so obvious, you have to wonder why we haven’t paid attention. Less than 2¢ of every development dollar goes to girls — and that is a victory compared with a few years ago, when it was more like half a cent. Roughly 9 of 10 youth programs are aimed at boys. One reason for this is that when it comes to lifting up girls, we don’t know as much about how to do it. We have to start by listening to girls, which much of the world is not culturally disposed to do.—To Fight Poverty, Invest in Girls by Nancy Gibbs, Time, Feb. 14, 2011

According to the article from which that quote was taken, fewer than 1 in 5 girls make it to secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly half are married by the time they are 18; 1 in 7 girls across the developing world marry before they are 15 and get pregnant shortly thereafter. The leading cause of death for girls 15 to 19 worldwide is not accident or violence or disease; it is complications from pregnancy. Girls under 15 are up to five times more likely to die while having children than women in their 20s. Their babies are more likely to die as well.

At Big Sister, we know that investing in girls locally is just as crucial as investing in them globally. Consider this: In 2008, 595 children were born to teenage mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 in Massachusetts, according to a study by The Alan Guttmacher Institute, as reported by the Mass Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. Big Sister has been “lifting up” girls since 1951. We encourage girls to live up to their full potential by providing them with strong female mentors. These are women who most often are simply there to listen; the point at which Gibbs urges us to begin.

There is no doubt that whether it is in Malawi or right here in Boston, we need to increase the investment made in girls. That investment is one of time, of money, and of open ears, hearts, and minds when it comes to addressing the specific needs of girls. We can also encourage girls to invest in each other. That is the mission of Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation that Gibbs references in her article. If you are a Big Sister, we encourage you to visit http://www.girlup.org/with your Little Sister. Perhaps it will spark a conversation about girls supporting girls locally and globally…and get others to start talking about what it really means to invest in girls.

To read Time Magazine’s number one most emailed article, “To Fight Poverty, Invest in Girls” click here.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

– Margaret Mead

For more information on how to become a Big Sister, apply on our website at http://www.bigsister.org or call 617.236.8060.

All That Jazz: Grace Kelly to Perform at Big in Boston

Grace Kelly performs National Anthem at 2009 NBA Playoff Game between the World Champion Boston Celtics and The Orlando Magic.

“Grace Kelly plays with intelligence, wit and feeling.  She has a great amount of natural ability and the ability to adapt that is the hallmark of a first-class jazz musician.” -Wynton Marsalis

She’s recorded more albums than Miley Cyrus.  She plays more instruments than Taylor Swift.  She’s performed with more legends in her musical genre than Britney Spears, but she won’t be starring in the next Disney movie, appearing on lunch boxes, or lending her name to the latest department store clothing line.  She’s Grace Kelly, and she is amazing.

On November 12, Grace, the Brookline-based jazz sensation, will be performing at Big Sister Association’s signature event, Big in Boston, held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.  Not only will she fill the room with musical talent well beyond her years, she will also represent what is at the core of Big Sister’s mission:  when someone is there to believe in you and support you, there is no limit to what you can do, become, or achieve.

Grace first picked up a saxophone at the age of 10, and hasn’t put it down since.  She became the youngest student ever to complete the four-year Jazz Studies Certificate Program at New England Conservatory Prep School.  At age 15, Grace was offered a full scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music. She finished her high school requirements and entered Berklee College at age sixteen.  She is currently in her sophomore year.

Says Grace of the musical mentors that have helped her on a path to success:  I have been very lucky throughout my career in music to have many wonderful mentors.  Jazz greats such as Lee Konitz, Frank Morgan, Phil Woods and Wynton Marsalis have taken me under their wing and had me perform with them.  However, when I first started in music there was one person in particular who was a significant mentor to me.  My elementary music teacher Ken Berman was the first one to discover my talent and help nurture it.  When I was in kindergarten he heard me sing and immediately recognized it as real talent.  Ken is also a great jazz pianist and wonderful musician.  He was the one who stayed after school to work on songs with me, encouraged me to do my first solo performance at school, and later emboldened me to record my first CD at age 12.  We all know it’s important to have support from your family and friends, and that of course means a lot, but to have a professional musician who mentors you is irreplaceable.  Mr. Berman challenged me, supported me, and believed in me so much.  He watched me grow musically and was there throughout the years to help me out.  He helped me find my passion and for that I will be forever thankful.

Now just seventeen, Grace has already recorded and performed with many notable musicians including Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Kenny Barron, Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland, Dianne Reeves, James Cotton, and the Boston Pops, among others.  She has recorded five CDs and performed around the world.

What makes her a great role model for the girls we serve—and girls everywhere—who want to have a career in music is that she has not had a meteoric rise to fame, though she could have gone that route.  Today’s girls are inundated with images of instant fame:  the tween set who become their own brand before they’re even old enough to drive, the American Idol hopefuls who need only endure Simon Cowell’s grueling remarks to make it into the national spotlight.  Instead, she is taking her time to arrive at the stardom for which she is destined.  While Grace’s reputation as an extraordinary musician is growing, she continues to study her craft and to explore new areas of music.  Not only is she an accomplished saxophonist, she is also a singer, songwriter, composer, and arranger.  She plays the alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, clarinet, flute, drums, and bass. In addition to jazz, she embraces blues, funk, rock and contemporary styles.

We look forward to not only hearing Grace’s inspiring music on November, 12, but also her thoughts on the power of mentoring in helping girls follow their dreams.

Click here to learn more about Grace and Big in Boston.