A Message from Mendi Blue Paca: The Wind at Our Backs
Mar 20, 2023
In The Wind at My Back, Misty Copeland writes, “Once we break a barrier or shatter a glass ceiling, we make it possible for other dreamers to enter the space that once excluded us and thrive… we ‘dance’ for all those who came before us and the many who will hopefully come after us.”
As I reflect on Women’s History Month, I think of the many ways – both tangible and intangible – that women serve as the wind at one another’s backs by mentoring, inspiring, and motivating each generation to go further than the last.
Sometimes acts of encouragement and support are attached to larger social movements, such as the fights for women’s suffrage, reproductive freedom, or pay equity.
Sometimes acts come from collective efforts of smaller groups of committed individuals, like the founders of our Fund for Women & Girls, who brought together their time and resources 25 years ago to invest in sustainable solutions that support the safety, health and economic security of women and girls across Fairfield County.
Sometimes acts occur 1:1 between women when one chooses to teach, mentor or guide another on a professional or personal journey.
And sometimes, acts that create space for others to enter and thrive occur from a distance, between women who may never even meet. In my own life, I have often found that this last form of encouragement and support – the act of breaking barriers for and inspiring others by simply striving for excellence and impact in one’s pursuits – to be the most powerful.
A decade ago, I met a local community college professor at an event who told me that she’d recently led a discussion about my background and accomplishments in a class of primarily first-generation, young women of color after I’d been featured in a profile in a local newspaper. Though I didn’t know the professor and never met her students, she told me that my personal story had instilled both pride and inspiration in her students who were not used to seeing women from their hometown, with similar backgrounds to them, achieve noteworthy accomplishments. In that moment, I understood how important it is to always lead in place and to “dance” with courage and integrity because the women who will come after me are watching.
Each year at this time — during Women’s History Month — that story comes back to me. And I am humbled by the fact that my journey and experience matter to others. It also prompts me to think about the women who I barely know, or who I’ve never even met, who have, nonetheless, shown me what’s possible.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve drawn great inspiration from women like Constance Baker Motley — a Civil Rights hero who came from my home city of New Haven and ultimately became the first Black woman to argue at the Supreme Court and the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge.
And I’ve been greatly impacted by the wisdom and guidance of Carla Harris, a Morgan Stanley executive who was appointed by President Obama as chair of the National Women’s Business Council and who served as a mentor for me and hundreds of other students of color pursuing uncommon careers on Wall Street.
Though I never met Judge Motley and had only limited interactions with Carla, they have provided lessons and motivation to me and countless other women. And I believe that every woman, in one way or another, serves as both a supporter and an inspiration for future generations. We cannot take that responsibility lightly.
Next month, I’ll have the honor of sharing a stage with Misty Copeland, the pioneering Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre, at our annual luncheon for the Fund for Women & Girls. At this year’s luncheon, which is a wonderful opportunity for women to support one another, Misty will reflect on how her mentor, Raven Wilkinson, acted as the wind at her back. And she will also reflect on her own standing as a role model for all young girls – and especially girls of color – across the country.
As we prepare to come together, I invite you to reflect on who has paved the path for you and to consider how we can all continue to show up for each other and for those who are paying attention.
Mendi blue paca
PRESIDENT & CEO
FAIRFIELD COUNTY’S COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
Join us in person at the Greenwich Hyatt or virtually via our live stream for our Fund for Women & Girls 2023 Luncheon! Get inspired by keynote speaker Misty Copeland, learn about our newest signature initiative, and support women and girls across Fairfield County in achieving their best lives. Learn more and get tickets.