Soledad O’Brien is an extraordinary woman, brilliant journalist and a mother. She is in Jacksonville this week raising awareness about her foundation PowHERful. We asked her a few questions about the work she is doing today, and to share her thoughts on being an American woman in 2017.
1. You are the daughter of immigrants who were both educators. How did their careers shape their identity as new Americans?
For both of my parents they valued education. Especially my mother coming from Cuba. Many cubans had to flee the island with just what they were carrying. Both often said “no one could take your education away from you.” That definitely shaped their identities and ours as well.
2. I am reading Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime, right now, and in it he discusses the old adage, “If you give a man fish he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime.” He brings up the point that without a fishing pole or even a net, it doesn’t matter how much a man learns about fishing … without the tools, the education is tough to act on. What are your thoughts on that observation?
So so true! We are in an environment today where people like to talk about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” but realistically if you don’t have support and you don’t have opportunities that is unrealistic and that is exactly why we decided to start the foundation.
3. Your foundation serves women of color in underserved communities. How are the challenges women face different than men in those communities?
In many ways the issues in underserved communities are the same for men and women. I think the fact that generally speaking women in underserved communities are often dealing with sexual violence and women generally speaking, in underserved communities, are often paid less than their male counterparts are additional challenges.
4. When we talk about communities being “served” or “underserved” it is often in reference to the availability of public services like quality education and transportation. You work with a number of corporations that support your foundation. Can you or anyone from the companies you work with talk about how corporations can make real positive change when it comes to supporting those in need, and why altruism is good business?
Altruism is good for business. In one way because customers want to support businesses that are doing good work. In a competitive environment I prefer to give my money to someone who is doing good work. Lyft is the official transportation sponsor for the PowHERful Foundation Conference in Jacksonville this weekend. Transportation is often a barrier to career advancement, and as a company they are happy to play a small part in helping these impressive young women gain tangible skills to pursue their dreams. Coca Cola as well. They value the economic empowerment of women and support the work we are doing.
5. You are an extraordinarily successful working mother. Any advice to those of us in the trenches trying to advance professionally, while still being there for our families?
Yes, I think in a lot of ways its about having fun. Life is not all serious… even when things are serious. When my son was diagnosed with being deaf we felt so much relief that we finally knew. Doom and gloom wasn’t going to help that, having a giant cocktail was the best strategy! Women get off your back! Cereal is good for dinner sometimes, microwaving is a skill you don’t have to be hard on yourself, lots of people are there to do the job for you.
6. American women come from a myriad of backgrounds, and in recent months it seems as if we are operating more so as a collective voice. Any advice on how we can continue to work together to support each other as women, regardless of our differences?
So easy! Elevate other women, support them, give space to their stories. Highlighting other women and including them will show them the support they need.
Photography by Eric Espada