Lower Eastside Girls Club Cruise, May 2002

Saturday, May 11, 2002
11:15 AM
Amberjack V Pier 85

I am very pleased to join you today for this special Mothers Day celebration, and proud that FIT's own chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America has been so actively involved with this organization.

They chose a wonderful group. I very much admire the work of the Lower Eastside Girls Club. I think the writer Virginia Woolfe got it right when she said, if I may paraphrase: a woman must have...a room of her own if she is to flourish.

You have provided the young women growing up in your historic neighborhood the "room" they need in order to flourish. By creating an environment that supports their interests, abilities and concerns, you truly expand their universe. Clearly, at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, the girls will never take second place. What a powerful message that is.

When I learned about this boat trip, and how the young members of this Club actually wanted to spend a whole afternoon together with their mothers, I thought: How lucky you mothers are! But then I thought...no, how lucky you daughters are...to have the kind of relationships with your moms that would inspire you in this way.

It completely bursts the stereotype, doesn't it? After all, these are supposed to be the difficult years, the years of adolescent rebellion...the years that make the so called "terrible twos" seem like heaven. However, that may not be the whole picture.

It reminds me of a contest that is sponsored, in part, by the New York City Board of Education...a writing contest just for public high school girls. It has been going on for many years now; I have read about it in the papers. Perhaps some of you have entered it. The girls are asked to write about a woman they admire.

Every year, hundreds and hundreds of essays pour in. Every year, the results are pretty much the same. The girls write about everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc to Jennifer Lopez. Hillary Clinton. Oprah.

But mostly, and with special feeling, they write about their mothers, or those women who play the role of mother in their lives: grandmothers, stepmothers, aunts or foster mothers who have often wrestled with poverty, violence, illness or loneliness triumphed; women who have achieved, both in the home and in the world at large.

Some are immigrants, making new homes in New York; some are single, struggling to raise children on their own...but whoever they are, whatever their struggle, they are always ...and I quote..."there for me"...endquote, one of the most common phrases in these essays. These women show courage, determination, compassion and true grit: qualities that allow their daughters to see what is heroic in the intimate stories of their own families.

Tomorrow, I will be spending some time with my own mother to celebrate the day. Like you daughters, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by strong women since childhood mother, aunts, a grandmother who ran her own small dressmaking business from her own small apartment. It was their interest in me as a young girl faith in me gave me strength and determination as a grown women.

I emerged with a deep faith that I could make a difference and was obliged to do so. I also emerged with a deep and abiding trust in the bond that I share with all women what a difference we can make when we choose to work together.

What a wonderful example you have created at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, an example of what women can build when they bond together. It is here that daughters find their real heroes...you: educators, community leaders and mothers. You are their guiding lights.

And in inviting you mothers for this event, it is pretty clear that they know it, which brings me back to that essay contest I spoke of a moment ago. I would like to close with a brief excerpt from an essay written a few years ago by a teenager from Queens, who chose to write about her mother woman who works the night shift to support her four children alone.

The girl watches from the door as her mother drives off to work at 10:00 PM.

"How does she do it?" she writes. "How does she always remember to give me $3.60 for school? How does she always remember to tell me that she loves me? How does she work all night and do errands all day? How does she raise me and my sisters on her own?...She never gives up or says, I can't go today. She never, ever, doesn't get up, no matter how little sleep shes gotten.

"I shut and lock the door. I walk silently through Mamas dark world and go back to my bright room. I replace the books on my lap. Before I begin again, I turn my eyes toward God and silently thank the Lord for Mama."

Mamas: this boat trip is your thank you. I hope you all have a wonderful afternoon.