Inspiring Stories from Local Women Leaders

I am currently a mentor in the Starr Women Leadership Program (SWLP) and I am really enjoying it. Through this program (which is collaboration between the UMKC Women’s Center and the Women’s Council) I have had the opportunity to attend some great workshop and events to build on my leadership skills.  The Starr program I attended yesterday was titled “Beyond Gender:  The Diversity of Women’s Leadership” where a panel of local women leaders shared their life stories about how they became the women they are today.  This program really touched me.

The panel consisted of five diverse women who had so much to bring to the true definition of leadership. I noticed that many of these women did not consider themselves leaders, but after I heard their stories I could only see them as such. I feel like I could relate to each of these women on a personal level.

The first woman to speak from the panel was Anita Rodriquez.  She is a Latina who was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador and came to this country illegally at the age of 8.  She is currently the head Coach for UMKC’s brand new women’s soccer program. This woman was a real go-getter, and was the first one in her family to get a college degree. I am also a first generation college student, so hearing her story pushed me a little harder to continue my education.

The next panelist, Tiffany Williams, is a Kansas City native who became a mother at a very young age, but did not let that stop her from going forth with her education and ultimately becoming the current Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs at UMKC and also a doctoral candidate.  She is an extraordinarily strong woman and I admire her perseverance and not letting the cards she was dealt dictate how she was going to live her life.

Jolie Justus, the third panelist, is currently on the Missouri State Senate and is a member of the LGBT community. She talked about her parents, and how they told her she can do anything she dreams.  This reminded me so much of my mother because she always has, and will continue to be, my biggest motivator.

Consuelo Cruz spoke next and told her story with a little humor. She is the current Director of Development at Mattie Rhodes Center, but she did not start out in this career.  Ms. Cruz initially went to school in search of a career that would make the most money regardless of how unhappy it would make her. She later found that the career that makes the most money made her really unhappy and she needed a change. I think that her advice to do things that make you happy are great words to live by.

Last, but certainly not least, was April Adicks, the Development Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas City and Western Missouri who had a story that knocked my socks off. She is a sexual assault survivor who became pregnant as result of her attack and eventually had an abortion. April left me with the most powerful message saying “accept hardships and be grateful for them” because from them you will find your strength.  For me, this statement is so true. I am the product of a single-parent household – a parent who was also physically disabled.   We were on welfare and living in public housing but I was able to overcome my hardships and become a college student with big hopes and dreams. 

Like I said, although, all these women were diverse and they all traveled different paths, I consider them all great leaders.  I could relate personally to each of their stories and felt inspired to discover my own leadership story.   I cannot wait to attend the next Starr Women Leadership Program.


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