Growing up on the tiny island of Jamaica in the late 1960s, the message I received from observing the adults was this: men have all the power and women are their accessories.
I knew my place as a young girl, which meant speaking only when spoken to. But I was naturally inquisitive, so I didn’t always adhere to that rule. As such, I got in trouble often.
But the trouble was worth it.
I was exerting my independence at a time when every girl my age was afraid to talk back.
My bravado frightened and confused my mother, who believed nothing good could result from me being so fearless.
At the tender age of six, I made a vow to always be myself, no matter the consequences. I then began to identify role models who could inspire my journey. Luckily, I didn’t have to look far.
My no-nonsense mother was my first hero.
She and my father ran the household like a well-oiled machine while also raising four daughters.
I was the daughter who often tested my mother’s patience.
Nonetheless, she remained steadfast in loving me. And she taught me how to embody all the social graces of womanhood.
At age 9, after learning many of the family recipes, my mother guided me in preparing my first full-course meal.
I cook all the time now.
Undoubtedly, my love for cooking is linked to the time spent in the kitchen with my mother.
On my kitchen wall, today hangs pictures of two more of my heroes: Nanny of the Maroons and Harriet Tubman.
Nanny of the Maroons — the spiritual, cultural and military leader of the Windward Maroons whom I learned about in Caribbean History classes — is the only female national hero in Jamaica.
She was a fierce woman who led a group of formerly enslaved Africans through a multi-year war against British colonizers.
Legend has it that Queen Nanny caught bullets with her bare hands!
The photographs of Queen Nanny and Harriet Tubman, the radical American abolitionist who freed dozens of slaves, serve as a daily reminder of what I am capable of as a woman when I act with bravery.
I love being a woman.
But sometimes, it can feel like caged joy. Because, even in 2020, there are those, including other women, who believe that the world isn’t ready for us to lead in government.
For example, the day after the 2016 presidential election, I sat in a room filled with 62 women. Surprisingly, 60 of my peers admitted that they did not vote for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.
One woman actually said, “No woman should have that kind of power.”
At that very moment, I decided to be more vocal about our brave heroes, especially during Women’s History Month.
To that end, I am happy to be surrounded by courageous and persistent women who are making history.
Women like Andrea Adams, whose 17-year-old son, Juwan, has been battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In a literal race against the clock, Andrea has been working to mobilize people of color to join the stem cell registry.
Her fight gained mainstream attention when Robin Roberts of Good Morning America highlighted Juwan’s story. As a result, people began registering.
Andrea is taking on a task many would consider insurmountable. She’s a champion. She’s my modern-day Harriet Tubman.
Keir Bradford-Grey is the Chief Public Defender at the Defenders Association here in Philadelphia. She is my modern-day Nanny of the Maroons, because of her warrior energy.
Keir made history as the first-ever Chief Defender of color in Montgomery County. When she came to Philadelphia, she earned the distinction of being the first Black woman to lead the Defenders Association, which represents 70 percent of those arrested in the city.
Keir has established herself as a reformer, an innovator — she created the widely celebrated participatory defense hubs — and a maverick. Most recently, Keir served as the lead defense attorney in a high-profile murder case, which was a first for her. She argued effectively and won the case!
These two women are creating legacies while breaking down the walls of injustice.
I pray that their voices continue to resonate and inspire women like me, and even those women yet to be born.
Andrea Lawful-Sanders is a wife, mother, writer for the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and founder of A Lawful Truth Enterprises. You can hear her on WURD Radio every Tuesday and Thursday beginning at 1 pm.