Speech to Virginia Girl Scouts

Photo by Francine Williams

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at the Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 2011 Girl Leadership Recognition Ceremony April 9, 2011. This is the GS council that I grew up in and helped shape me into the person I am. It was a great honor, like giving a commencement speech.

First, let me say thank you to the Commonwealth Council for extending the invitation for me to speak here today. I want to thank my mom and family who always support me. I also especially say thank you to my former leader Sarah Gregory for thinking of me. Because of her, Linda Cole, and women, like them, who gave of their time and talents to Girl Scouting, I am here today. Many people say that sort of phrase in an abstract way but I can honestly say it is true literally for me.

Girls Scouting introduced me to my career field and gave me the opportunity to see and do wonderful things and have adventures. It was a Girl Scout career fair when I was about nine, that I first met a woman architect whose work interested me so much, I began researching everything I could about what architects did and how to become one. A Girl Scouting Wider Opportunity summer camp in high school gave me two weeks of travel and further exposure to the skills needed to become an architect. That summer I also met scouts from across the US who shared my interest.

15 years ago I was sitting in your place. I looked out at a world of possibility as I prepared to leave the safe cocoon of home. At that time scouting was one portion of my very full life including school and church and other activities. Girl Scouting gave me the ability to try leadership and learn from other women leaders. I applaud all of you here because, in your obtaining a scholarship or achievement of the Gold Award, you have demonstrated your leadership. I urge you to hold on to that. When you feel discouraged or are having a bad day think back to how you got here or your work on your project and how you felt when you reached this day.

Now as you look on to your next life milestone, I encourage you to reflect on what you cherish about scouting and how you can carry that forward. Reflect on what you discovered about yourself and others during the time you spent working on your project. How are you as leader? Do you like to be out front leading the charge? Do you prefer stay in the background directing? How did your work connect with your community and the world?

Use the next few years to build on what you have learned. Talk to lots of people who are where you want to be. Read about people you admire. One recommendation I was given was to create a 20 year plan. That may be hard to imagine but it gives you an idea of where you want to go. You should also have a plan B and C and adjust as needed. Whatever your heart is set on today, may change as you go forward and that is ok.

My goal was to be an architect. When I was in college there were less than 200 black women licensed architects. Today there are about 270, still very low considering there are 100,000 licensed US architects. Despite the people who tried to dissuade me, despite the long studio days and nights, despite the nine exams, I accomplished that goal last year. I stay “friendly and helpful” now encouraging those women who are still in the trenches by helping to coordinate an email list serve and speaking at conferences and to school groups about my experience. I also have been writing about the statistics on my website. It is important that we know the data and are able to share that.

Like you all I am considering what the next phase will be for me, how to go to the next step. I participated in some wonderful work then decided to turn my attention to communities in need of architects. I received a three year fellowship to bridge my architecture skills with community development work. The “help people at all times” part of the promise has always been part of my nature and now I feel that is a daily part of my work. People who could not imagine picking up and moving to the other side of the country with a child thought I was “courageous and strong” but most of my motivation then and today is “to make the world a better place” one neighborhood at a time.

Now my effort encompasses thinking about how to take the community planning done in a neighborhood and make it a reality. In a community that is considered the “worst” in San Francisco, what steps need to be implemented to actually bring positive activity and crowd out the negative influences?

My scouting experience has also come full circle in the last year. My daughter has been a Girl Scout since she was in kindergarten and started in Daisies. This year, her first as a Junior I am her troop leader. I have a whole new perspective on what that job entails. Every month about 12-16 girls gather and look to me to help give them a great experience in scouting. Honestly, I know that they just love to get together and talk and play as all nine year old girls do. Most of the girls are new to scouting. This year they have camped, gone skating and bowling, learned about Juliette Low and the Girl Scout Promise. They also sold cookies…….Lots of cookies………. They are a great group and excited about scouting. I hope that they can carry that forward for many years.

I hope you realize that you have both the benefit and detriment of beginning adulthood in this time. Massive changes are happening around the world. Here in the US, the economy is causing many people to think differently about how they live and work. Innovation is the new order. Know the rules but also remember that if they don’t work for you it may be time to innovate and bring something new to the table.

Last, always remember to “do your best.” No one expects you to be perfect. In everything you do bring your best self.

I leave you with the quote from Marianne Williamson that I have been holding onto for the last few weeks.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I hope that you will use the light of this day and what you have accomplished to make manifest all of the potential inside of you.

Thank you.