New York

Commemorating The Memories…

The commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act taking place this week at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, reminds me of my own somewhat distant history with President Johnson, my first big professional break, and of the excitement that comes with having your whole life ahead of you and thinking anything is possible.

My first professional "head shot". Can you tell I was trying to look older. Note prim chignon.
My first professional “head shot”. Can you tell I was trying to look older. Note prim chignon.

While visiting my parents, a friend who worked as a copywriter at ABC News in New York told me that the network needed to staff up for the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. He knew I wanted to be a journalist but he also knew how old I was so I’m sure he was teasing me. Without telling anyone, a few days later I got on a bus and showed up at ABC’s employment office in New York…they didn’t have “HR Dept’s” yet.

I told just a teensy tiny little white lie to get hired…that I was about to graduate from college with a degree in journalism. Actually I was still a teenager. Before the internet it was much easier to get away with that kind of thing. I dropped the name of my parent’s friend, saying he had referred me for a position, again, no one checked, and I was hired right on the spot. The job description was a little vague, something about “assisting as needed”, but nothing could have mattered less…I floated home.

I'm so glad I still have this; found it in the bottom of a drawer not long ago... My official name badge I wore to gain access to the Convention Hall.
I’m so glad I still have this; found it in the bottom of a drawer not long ago… My official name badge I wore to gain access to the Convention Hall.

My parents were more supportive than I expected. Of course, I was once again stretching the truth a bit, like how all the girls who were hired to assist at the convention would sleep in a dormitory and be chaperoned.

I had my first professional head shot taken and off to AC I went in my father’s “quarry car” a beat up Plymouth with big fins. I found a room for $20 a day at a boarding house near the convention center. I was so naïve that it never occurred to me I could be in any kind of danger or that anyone might be dishonest. The first night I got in from work, all my jewelry had been stolen from the room.

Even that reality check could not take the glow off what turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I’ve never worked harder, had less sleep, or felt more exhilarated. We were making a difference; keeping the American public informed. Everyone, even rival networks, had a spirit of camaraderie. The ABC anchor booth was near NBC, and one day, when nothing was happening on the floor, the famous Chet Huntley of Huntley and Brinkley, invited me in for a cup of coffee. They seemed genuinely interested in how I was doing, how I felt about being there, and what kind of career path I was planning. Not sure a leading network anchor would do that today…

It was my first taste of power and success. I’ve never forgotten it. When Johnson walked in to the Hall, his presence changed the air…it was thicker, heavier, carried more weight. So as we honor Lyndon Baines Johnson and his momentous accomplishment for this country, I’m also enjoying honoring the adventurous spirit of a young woman I used to know.


Women of the World at the United Nations

That first view of Manhattan is always a thrill but never more so than knowing we were headed for the United Nations.

Every conceivable event, product, food, seems to have its own day or month: March alone runs the gamut from ridiculous to serious, from National Ear Muff Day to International Women’s Month. Although it was chilly enough for the former, it was in honor of the latter that I, along with friend and colleague, Attorney Eleanor Breslin of Easton, traveled to New York to attend the United Nation’s Conference on the Status of Women. 

Eleanor and I share a desire to have a positive impact on the struggles of women in the developing world, especially in post-conflict countries where war and violence have resulted in many women being subjected to brutality beyond the imagining of most westerners. Eleanor has traveled to Africa to work with victims of mass rape and I have been to Afghanistan as both an advocate and writer. We have found outlets for our passion on this side of the ocean through two NGO’s, The Business Council for Peace, Bpeace, an organization whose focus is creating women entrepreneurs who will then create jobs, and Open A Door Foundation, OAD, who believes in global transformation through women’s higher education.

Four of OAD’s students are currently in the Lehigh Valley, three at Lehigh University and one at Lafayette College. More will be coming in the fall of 2014, including the addition of a student at Muhlenberg College.  It was at the invitation of OAD that Eleanor and I boarded a bus bound for New York and the United Nations’ CSW Conference.

To call our experience “inspiring” would be an understatement. Sharing the energy of women from around the world all gathered in one place for one purpose, advocating for the welfare of their sisters, creates an atmosphere of “anything is possible”. Eleanor and I especially enjoyed two panel discussions where OAD co-founder, Barbara Bylenga, participated; “Empowering Women as Change-Agents through Global Networking” and “From Higher Education to Women’s Leadership”.

Panel discussion on “Empowering Women as Change-Agents” at the UN Conference on the Status of Women

After spending time in the company of hundreds of women committed to improving conditions for women within their countries, it’s almost easy to envision a future where every woman enjoys equal protection under the law and equal opportunity in their culture. Yet, certain voices remain with me, certain faces are imprinted on my mind days after returning home, like the woman representing a united federation of women’s organizations from the Ukraine, who stood to say that the young women of her country are demanding democracy. And the woman who spoke of the Syrian university students her organization is rescuing so they can continue their education. Through the euphoria of our common purpose, they are a stark reminder of the realities that still exist.

Why should this matter to those of us whose lives are safe and secure? Because where women are repressed, uneducated, brutalized, half of that country’s potential is lost. No economy can thrive without the input of its women. The result is poverty, war, turmoil, and terrorism.

In honor of International Women’s Month, and for the good of the planet, please consider doing your part to have a positive effect on the future of women around the world. Donate; Volunteer; Mentor. One person CAN make a difference.

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