March 4, 2022
In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, United Way SELA’s Kirby Jane Nagle shares how her mother’s example challenges us all to #BreakTheBias.
I called up my mom a few weeks ago to catch up and, in part, to help me stay awake on a drive home after dark – not my strong suit. She was on her way in the door when I caught her, unsurprising as she’s always on the go, but I was intrigued to learn where she’d been.
Advocates in my hometown organized to attend the area school board meeting in support of strengthening diversity and inclusion in the system. Social media posts across my feeds clued me into the number of friends who would be in attendance, all of whom have children or grandchildren in local schools and a vested interest in the system’s future.
Who sat among them? My mother: simply a concerned resident with no grandchildren of her own. She and a friend attended to demonstrate how much an equitable, diverse school system means to the community. They recognized that thriving communities require quality health, education, and financial opportunities for all, and they showed up to help make the message clear.
Relatively Segregated, Legally Unsegregated
After rehashing the meeting, we reflected on what life was like for my sister and me growing up in that same school system and city, which, I should mention, we are proud to call home. I knew my mom had moved to Arkansas from Philadelphia in the 70s and ended up in a relatively segregated, legally unsegregated town. The culture shock for her family was unsettling, and their time there was short.
So when she returned to a new town in Arkansas some years later with two young daughters in tow, she worried about the prejudice and bias we might encounter and their effects on our developing minds. And so, my mom took it upon herself to expose Chelsea and me to as many diverse people and ideas as possible.
I’ve always remembered the hours we spent together reading books and watching movies on Wilma Rudolph, Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, and others. As far as I knew, that was quality family-time revisiting the stories of our childhood heroes. But it was the little things she revealed to me during the phone call that blew me away. Not only did she teach us about extraordinary women in history, she also wanted us to see extraordinary women in our everyday lives and in roles we might imagine for ourselves one day.
Our pediatrician? A woman. Our dentist? A woman. Our beloved cats Barney and Zippy’s vet? You can see where this is going.
I had no clue of the small yet intentional decisions she made to show her daughters a gender-equal world. And I can tell you, my sister and I have never once second-guessed our ability to do – or not do something for that matter – because of our gender roles.
It’s a privilege, I know, but I pray that it’s a privilege realized for all one day.
The Least She Could Do
Today, my mom spends much of her time running for worthy causes, filling food pantries, and showing up for people when they need it most. On the anniversary of the Pace nightclub shooting, she set out on a solo run to map out the word love in a demonstration of remembrance and peace. And when Hurricane Ida struck our shores, she loaded up her car with diapers from the collection she organized in her hiking club and volunteered to help Southeast Louisiana recover. Grand gestures, no doubt, but I’m sure she’d tell you it was the least she could do.
This International Women’s Day, just like my mom, I hope you’ll consider all the little things you can do to help #BreakTheBias and create a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all.
Kirby Jane Nagle
Public Information Officer
United Way of Southeast Louisiana
P.S. Be the Momma Lisa you want to see in the world by joining our Women United’s School Supply Drive for The Closet at Operation Restoration to help women and children affected by incarceration.