“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”—Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin (1942) American soul singer. Often called “the Queen of Soul,” she is widely considered one of the greatest musical performers of all time.
In this podcast, my friend Sarah discusses the admiration she’s had for Aretha from an early age—and the influence she still has on her life.
“I believe unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth. We need to be taught to study rather than believe, to inquire rather than to affirm.” —Septima Poinsette Clark
Septima Poinsette Clark (1893-1987) was an African-American teacher and civil rights activist who set up citizenship schools for disenfranchised African Americans in the 1950s and 60s. Here, they were taught to read and write so they could pass the literacy tests required by southern states to register to vote. The citizenship schools began to spread through the south, and were adopted by Martin Luther King Jr’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1961. As a result, many began to take control of their lives and discover their full rights as citizens. Septima’s 40 years of teaching experience and her own struggles and triumphs of finding work as a black teacher in the south equipped her to design an education program that changed the course of history…and empowered many African Americans to take control of their lives and discover their full rights as citizens. She became known as the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother” of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
“If we assume we’ve arrived: we stop searching, we stop developing.”
―Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Dr. Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born 1943) is a Northern Irish astrophysicist, who, as a 24-year old graduate student, discovered the phenomenon known as pulsars (signals from tiny but extremely dense dead star remnants called neutron stars) while working with a team of researchers under supervision of her advisor, Antony Hewish. The paper announcing the discovery, had five authors (Hewish’s name being listed first, Bell’s second), but when Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize for astronomy (along with fellow astronomer Martin Ryle), Jocelyn was not included. Many critics of this decision began to call it the “No Bell Prize.” Her attitude to the snub has been admirable, to say the least: “You can actually do extremely well out of not getting a Nobel prize, and I have had so many prizes, and so many honors, and so many awards, that actually, I think I’ve had far more fun than if I’d got a Nobel Prize – which is a bit flash in the pan: You get it, you have a fun week, and it’s all over, and nobody gives you anything else after that, cos they feel they can’t match it.
On top of the many honors Jocelyn Bell has achieved in her long teaching career: She was President of the Royal Astronomical Society, President of the Institute of Physics, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Pro-Chancellor of the University of Dublin, she is currently the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a visiting Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University. Not bad for getting ahead anyway!
Artist’s note: I love this picture because I think she looks like a Judy Blume character from my own younger years. Why shouldn’t a smart girl follow her dreams of learning and be rewarded for it? This determined, happy face says there’s no reason at all!
“Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.” — Julie Andrews
Dame Julie Andrews (born 1935) is an English actress, singer, author, theatre director and dancer with a career that spans 71 years and is still going strong. She is beloved by many generations all over the world.
My 12-year old niece Fiona Bergen shares a little about about why she admires Julie Andrews in the podcast.
“You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.” —Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi (1945—) is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero General Aung San. After 15 years of house arrest by the military that tried to thwart her work for Democracy in her country, she became the state counsellor of Myanmar and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Her father, General Aung San, was a national hero. He was the man who secured Burma’s independence from British Colonial rule, but he was assassinated when Ms. Suu Kyi was only two years old. She went on to study at Oxford University, where she met her husband and started her family. Eventually, she returned to Burma to take care of her ailing mother. The country was in turmoil because the army was running the government and not allowing the people to have a fair election. Ms. Suu Kyi led the people’s revolt with a series of peaceful protests. Although she and her party won the election, she was disqualified by a new law that stated no person with children with foreign passports could hold presidential office and she was placed under house arrest for fifteen years. She was not allowed to see her family—her two sons and her British husband, who died during this period. She was finally released from house arrest in November 2010. Since then she has been the State Counsellor (and close advisor to the elected president) of Myanmar and a symbol of hope, loyalty, and tenacity for the people of her country.
I can’t pretend to know much about Myanmar, let alone it’s complicated politics, but I have been inspired by what I’ve read and heard about this strong lady. I do want to share a story about her that resonates with me deeply. I was listening to this episode of Desert Island Discs, a BBC broadcast in which the guest tells personal stories between favorite choice of music. In this interview, Ms. Suu Kyi explains that even though she has no real memories of her father (he was killed when she was just two) he continues to be a strong motivator for her cause and the choices she’s made to honor his legacy. She says: “My father is my first love and my best love. I loved listening to stories about my father. And my mother of course concentrated on the fact that he was very honest and brave and loved his family and country very much…I think I can say that my father was my first love because I was always told that he loved me best, so this gave me tremendous confidence in life that I was his best loved.”
I was very moved to hear her say this as my own kids have lost their dad at a young age. Justine often romanticizes her father, as I suppose she should, asking to hear stories about how he showed love to her—though she can’t remember it herself. When I heard this interview, I couldn’t help but think of how important a father’s love is…and believing in it. This woman went on to fight for her father’s legacy even though it separated her from her own family for nearly two decades. I’ve been researching a lot of important famous women, and one thing is becoming clear: a father’s support is profound in their confidence. If they were treated as special/equal by their dads, they had an elevated springboard from which to do great things. Even if the father isn’t around, children can be reminded of his personal love for them. It seems profound to me. In the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, that love compels her to lead a nation, regardless of personal cost.
“In societies where men are truly confident of their own worth, women are not merely tolerated but valued.”—Aung San Suu Ki