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A Tribute to “Sheroes” Near and Far

Debi Miller

Women’s History Month — I had completely forgotten we have one, all to ourselves. I suspect that I, like many other working women, have been just too busy to think about it. But I can’t complain about being too busy, because there are so many women who are facing very difficult challenges, each and every day, that I can’t even imagine. To be sure, I’ve had a few of those challenges, myself, but I know that my success, my commitment to service, and my faith are built on the trials, tribulations, sacrifices, and courage of those who have gone before me.

We are the sons and daughters of these women who made it their lives’ work to provide us with the education and the exposure they did not have. They instilled a courageous sense of self in all of us and taught us, by example, that we must be kind, that we are smart, and that we are important. They promised us that dreams, fueled by hard work, really make anything possible. I am fortunate to have grown up, blessed in the care of a few kind, smart, important sheroes.

There was my Bahamian great grandmother, who boarded a boat to the U.S. alone at age 16, at the turn of the 20th Century. She married a Haitian carpenter who made a fortune and then lost it all in the 1929 stock market crash, so she went from having servants to being a servant. Still, it was in serving others that her sheroism became most evident. By her example, I learned to not be afraid of the world, and to appreciate books and the written word. Above all, she taught me that I was the mistress of my own fate.

Then there was her daughter — my grandmother — who grew up in the lap of luxury and married well, yet she also became “The Help” in that she sacrificed her own opportunities, limited as they were in that era, to provide more of them for her family. She taught me the value of education and instilled in me good manners, proper diction, a healthy sense of pride, discipline, optimism, a commitment to tell the truth, an appreciation for all kinds of music, and an understanding of the importance of saving for and investing in the future. To her, being a woman of substance was expected, and financial wealth was a sign but not proof of that substance.

And finally, there was my mother, who also married well but became a very young widow. She had to reinvent herself, so many times, to keep us fed, clothed, and educated. Her fearlessness, her strength, her love of learning, and her commitment to serving others was infectious. Success for her daughters was the reason she existed. She wanted us to be the epitome of Southern gentility, with an edge. She made my sister and I participate in civil rights demonstrations as children and we all remain politically active to this day.

These are the closest of the sheroes in my life, yet there are so many more who I could mention. We pass them every day, in the halls of our workplaces, in elevators, in stores and restaurants, everywhere. My mother, grandmother, and great grandmother received the love and respect of their families for their sheroism, yet there are many more to whom we owe our love and respect. They are the women who silently toil away, making contributions to the world that go largely unnoticed. We know who they are, if we stop to think about them; they are all around us. They take care of our children, they answer our phones, they clean our houses and our offices, they type our briefs, they sell us groceries and clothing, they serve our food, they deliver our mail. They come in all colors, sizes, and shapes. We are they and they are us. They are the “phenomenal women,” as Maya Angelou has honored them through her words.

So this Women’s History Month, let’s take the time to see the quiet sheroes, to engage them, and to honor them. And, while you’re doing that, be a shero and honor yourself.