You may know that Malala Yousafzai will be awarded the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center today. And by now you must have heard that she will share the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Malala will receive these most significant awards for her amazingly articulate, courageous and outspoken support for the education of girls, even at the risk of her own life.
Yousafzai is an inspiration.
As a role model, she sets a pretty high bar. After she recovered from being shot in the head by the Taliban for asserting her right to attend school, her response in a speech to the United Nations was,
“They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed … The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage [were] born.”
Malala inspires us to speak truth to power, to stand up for what we believe in, to see that change is possible in the world and to work for it.
She is part of a long history of girls who have been inspirations to us.
A rider to revere
In 1777, Sybil Ludington was an inspiration to soldiers and civilians alike during the Revolutionary War. At sixteen years old, she rode out to raise the alarm that the British were burning Danbury, Connecticut.
She rode 40 miles on horseback on a rainy night to rouse the farmers who made up her father’s militia so they would be ready to fight at dawn. Because of Sybil, the militia was able to push the British back in a significant victory for the colonials.
The right side of history
In 1957, the six girls and three boys of the Little Rock Nine were the first African-American students to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. On their first day, they faced jeering mobs and threats of violence from those who opposed racial integration. Eventually, they had to be escorted into school under the protection of the U.S. Army, as directed by President Eisenhower. Life inside the high school was rough too. The students were spat on, called names, jostled and pushed in the halls. Melba Pattillo recalled being assaulted in the bathroom, where girls trapped her in a stall and dropped flaming paper on her.
The students of the Little Rock Nine were just teenagers, from 15 to 17 years old: Elizabeth Eckford, Carlotta Walls, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Ernest Green, Jefferson Thomas, and Terrence Roberts. Even so, they held their heads high and walked into history.
The diary of a young girl
Anne Frank did not survive the Nazi death camps of World War II, but her diary survived and became an inspiration to millions of people. She was a young teenager during the two years her family spent hiding in an attic in Amsterdam to escape the Nazis. She wrote often in her diary about the everyday things that happened in the attic, the things she missed from the outside, her dreams and her feelings.
Anne’s diary is inspirational because it tells the story of young girl, in her own words, during a terrible time. Despite being locked away in “The Secret Annex” as the attic was called, Anne managed to live a rich, creative life and to write about it. And despite her troubles, somehow she remained an optimist:
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Philly’s Little League heroine
Sometimes inspiration comes not in a war, or a big social issue. People in Philadelphia and across the nation found inspiration this summer in Mo’ne Davis, the flame-throwing pitcher of the Taney Dragons baseball team that made it to the Little League World Series. Thirteen-year-old Mo’ne is the only girl on an all-boys team and the first girl to throw a shut-out in Little League World Series history.
She inspires girls (If she can play baseball with the boys, so can I!); educates boys (It’s okay to have a girl on your team!), and does it all with poise and enthusiasm, doing what she loves to do. Her inspiration to the rest of us: “Throw like a girl!”
Courage to speak up; power to influence
Recently, 12-year old McKenna Peterson became an inspiration when she called a sporting goods retailer on its failure to include girls in its basketball catalogue. Her letter to the retailer, which went viral on social media, not only chastised the retailer for excluding girls but schooled it on the great female players on McKenna’s favorite WNBA teams, the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx.
Her message was received loud and clear not only by the retailer, who has apologized and promised to include girls and women in its catalogues in the future, but the tens of thousands of others who also got McKenna’s message that, “girls should be treated as equally as boys are treated.”
The experiences of each of these girls shows how one person, standing up for what she believes in, whether it is on the world stage or a baseball field, a diary entry or a letter of protest, can be an inspiration for others to do the same.