“You’re just a woman. What can you do?”
These words pierced through me. This was a comment I received from a male acquaintance who was questioning what I could do about the needs of the women in my community — their education, health care, equal pay, gun violence, and more.
I felt like I was living out one of those dream sequences that you see on TV. You know, the kind where you visualize yourself doing some type of unexpected act to catch a person off guard while teaching a solid lesson. Of course, that was not the case. Coming back down to reality I replied, “I’m going to do my part, that’s what.”
But what exactly is my part? I have to admit, I’ve been in denial for a while. While I like to think of myself as an advocate, I’ve never been fond of the word politician. I’ve felt safe teaching at the head of a classroom, speaking up at local meetings, and advocating in groups that were already supportive.
However, as the state of North Carolina continues to move further away from my values, I now know the safe option is not the right one for me. I have to use my voice and speak out loud and proud. At the same time, I must encourage and motivate other women to do the same thing. I must now focus on the needs of the women in my community. When I– and other women like me– lead the way, our children will receive what they need and the community as a whole will benefit as well.
I’m an educator and a single mother. I see the struggles that women experience first-hand. I go through them myself everyday. Women who are paid less than their male counterparts send hungry children to school without supplies. Instead of keeping sick children home, mothers without sick leave have to work due to the fear of losing their minimum wage jobs.
North Carolina does not seem to appreciate the hard work women do. Beyond that, lawmakers attempt to take away our own decisions for personal health care needs. Decisions are being made by a government that does not respect or represent women.
So I started a Women AdvaNCe team in Durham to take back my state. When women come together we can educate the public and advise politicians on what needs to happen to truly represent every citizen. Our voices together WILL BE heard.
If you are in Durham, comment on this article if you want to join my AdvaNCe team. Or why not start your own? All you need is a belief that North Carolina can be the type of state that treats every single person fairly and with dignity and respect. Let’s support one another and make this movement happen. Rise up, be heard, and make change happen. Who’s with me?
>> NaShonda Cooke is an eighth generation educator and advocate. She teaches 5th grade at Durham County Public Schools and serves as the Director of Men of Honor, an after-school program for at-risk minority males. Cooke lives in Durham, NC, with her two daughters.