People often ask me how I became involved with Girls Leadership Institute.
I used to give a long-winded answer on how I attended a workshop last fall with my eldest daughter, and a job was posted that same month for a Colorado marketing manager and yadda, yadda, yadda …the rest is history. I have since amended that answer to something that is less wordy and more related to the GLI technique of using your “inside feelings.” It is simply this: I have always been a leader.
It started early – in preschool I am told.
Upon arriving at Kirkmont Presbyterian Church Preschool in Beavercreek, Ohio (presided by one Mrs. Bischoff), I announced that I would be starting a club for all of the “new kids” (we were all new, having all hit our fourth birthday in the past year), and if anyone wanted to join, I’d be in the blocks area of the room. Inclusion was my name.
Various and sundry positions throughout my school career and beyond in student councils, sororities, PTAs and the like all preceded my working for GLI. Ever the leader.
I have been described as “blunt,” “forceful,” “direct,” “bitchy” – all of which I own up to.
What never felt right to me, however, in those descriptions was that anything was necessarily wrong with that. The tools that I have learned both as a participant and an employee of GLI have proven this. I have been the Odd Girl and the Good Girl and the Bully. I can role-play the GLI tools from all angles. Always the actress.
While I only met her a handful of times before her death (when I was 12 years old), my grandmother’s story is a model of inspiration for all women and truly where I feel my strength as a leader comes from. Her name was Gladys Mitchell Kinsey.
There is a picture in the family album, which is hauled out every two years at the Kinsey reunion, which symbolizes Gladys’s character best. She is positioned on a table, in front of her mother and father, her presence exaggerated by the photographer’s positioning of her in the frame, but nonetheless appropriate. Only she and her father look straight at the camera; her shoulders are set in a strong posture.
That strength would serve Gladys well as she married a local boy named Jess at the age of 20 and went on to raise twelve children. My father was number eleven.
As the wife of a sharecropper in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma, she did not have an easy life. The family was close-knit though and Gladys ran an efficient home. The division of labor was never based on gender. The first four children were male, the girls had to learn to keep up with expectations. There was never an attitude of “girls can’t do that” because they had to do it all.
When the twelfth Kinsey child graduated from high school, Jess announced that he had met someone and would be filing for divorce. After 40 years of marriage and raising twelve children, Gladys was alone. She owned no property. Only a few years earlier she and Jess had left the sharecropper-owned house and bought their own land. The house that now stood on that land had been built by Jess and their sons from the lumber of an old torn-down schoolhouse.
Many women would have given up, and no one would have blamed them. No doubt many people offered to make it easy for Gladys to do so. What they didn’t know is that Gladys had given up on her own dreams years before by not going on college. Very few of the girls Gladys knew had even finished high school, but she had made it a priority, putting off Jess’s proposal until she graduated. Gladys had never lost sight of her dream and there and then she decided not to curl up into a fetal position but rather to go to college with her youngest child, Marlene. And that she did.
Gladys graduated with honors and went on to teach for seven years before Oklahoma law required her retirement at age 70.
There have been times in my life when things felt insurmountable and the thought ‘I am Gladys’s granddaughter, and I can do anything’ has shot through my mind.
I try to honor Gladys’s memory and strength every day through my work at Girls Leadership Institute. She is my face of leadership. I can only hope that my daughters’ daughters will say the same of me.