In celebration of Women’s History Month, five young ladies portrayed five women who have earned a reputation for leading their lives with conviction—including a marine biologist, politician, author, ballet dancer and shark expert.
The portrayals were part of this year’s Women in History Project, presented by the Thousand Oaks chapter of the American Association of University Women. The presentations took place in March at the Grant Brimhall Library in Thousand Oaks.
“In the words of Shirley Chisholm, these young ladies represent the female leadership of tomorrow: they are ‘un-bought’ and ‘un-bossed’,” says Lori Peters, a member of the women’s history committee and the Thousand Oaks chapter of AAUW.
The five young women presenters are students in Grades 6 through 9 at One Spark Academy, which was founded by Peters, of Newbury Park.
The Women in History Project was started by Sandy Hindy, an AAUW member who saw a need to prove that women’s aspirations shouldn’t be limited by gender. Her mission started when her daughter said she wanted to be a nurse, because only men are doctors.
With that, Sandy decided to research, write and then present several first-person monologues to students at her daughter’s elementary school. One of the women she presented was Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first woman physician.
“Our Thousand Oaks branch of AAUW built upon what Sandy started by writing and presenting more scripts in local schools, filling three volumes of the book of scripts called Profiles of Women Past & Present,” Peters says.
Based on these scripts, 15-year-old Mhlani Polo Johnson portrayed Rachel Carson during the presentations in March.
Carson was a marine biologist and environmentalist born in 1907, and her most famous book, The Silent Spring, was published in 1962. Two years later, Carson died of cancer at the age of 56. And in 1980, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.
Mhlani says that Carson represents the epitome of what she wants to do when she is old enough to start her career.
“These experiences will help me to always remember that women truly do have power in this world, no matter how prevalent misogyny and sexism may be,” says Mhlani, of Thousand Oaks. “We are 52% of the global population, after all. There are too many women being wrongfully oppressed.”
Thirteen-year-old Jasmine Chang portrayed Misty Copeland, who was born in 1982 and became the first African American principal dancer for a major ballet company.
“She was oftentimes told that she could not become a dancer because of her body type, skin and age,” says Jasmine, who lives in Thousand Oaks. “However, she knew what her passion was and accomplished her dreams anyway.”
Haiden Corwin, an 11-year-old who lives in Newbury Park, portrayed author J. K. Rowling, who was born in 1965 and is known for her incredibly successful Harry Potter books.
But before Rowling became such a huge success, she suffered from a broken marriage as a single mom to her baby daughter, Jessica. Rowling struggled to make ends meet while writing and had to rely on welfare. She often wrote in cafes because they were heated, and Jessica would fall asleep more easily. Rowling also tried desperately to get her story noticed, but was rejected by a dozen book publishers.
Haiden says she was inspired by the fact that Rowling went from poverty to one of the most influential people in England.
“She inspires me to try harder in school, to never give up,” Haiden says. “Being part of Women in History has opened my eyes to so many amazing women that I had never known of before.”
The presentations join other AAUW efforts that take place year-round, such as Tech Trek, an overnight summer camp for girls in the seventh grade that’s focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The AAUW also awards scholarships for young women at Moorpark College that are transitioning to four-year universities.
While this year marks the 31st anniversary of the Women In History Project, there’s still a lot of work to be done, Peters said to the audience during the March presentations.
“In America alone, the number one economy in the world, we rank 45th out of 144 ranked countries in gender equity,” she said.
“The World Economic Forum predicts that, at the current rate, the global gender gap will not close until the year 2186,” Peters noted. “So, on this day, International Women’s Day, let us all in this room be feminists. Let us all in this room aspire for the day that there’s gender equity.”
For more information about the Thousand Oaks AAUW, visit AAUWTO-CA.AAUW.net/.