There are few things I believe in championing more than strong women.
I have known many in my life- the academic and heart-felt teachers I worked with in the trenches of high school, the brilliant marketing tech gurus I’ve been lucky to call coworkers, the church leaders who built me up in spirit and mind, female athletes who inspire me, the amazing women I met during my MBA program- many running their own businesses or branches of major Fortune 500s now with great success! All of them are heroes in my book, but there is one hero who I admire most of all- my mother.
I try to keep my extended family quiet here on the blog, but when a campaign came up to share an everyday hero I had to take the opportunity to brag about my own mother.
She has raised six children, and I have to say she did more than just get us to adulthood. I often am shocked at how confident we all are- none of us happen to think we’re good looking or the best at anything- or even all that amazing, yet somehow we all seem to believe in our dreams and who we are, and that we all attribute to the amazing teaching and coaching from our mother.
She lost her father young, and stood up as a partner with her own mother managing finances and helping raise her younger brother at the age of nine. She overcame poverty, living in an extremely violent and unsafe neighborhood in the suburbs of Chicago, and made a dual degree happen from a major university at a time when few women finished their education.
She’s smart, she’s creative, she’s funny, she’s fun, and she can figure out how to do and make anything. I can remember going to bed as a child and waking up to a row of Halloween costumes costume designed and sewn for her children. I can remember her reading countless books each night, and even when money was tight, finding money to help us get a book from a book order to help our minds grow and support our classrooms. She’s made some of the most elaborate cakes sans fondant one can imagine, and she’s legendary for making anything her grandchildren want happen in cake format. All 14 of them have personal relationships with her and adore her, and that’s no small task!
Of course she means the world to our family, but I have watched her do something the past few years that deserve the title of hero. She returned to the workforce to be a full-time teacher to special needs students. Having been a teacher myself I know what teaching takes, but special education teachers are a particularly heroic breed. They do more paperwork than you can imagine, they deal with issues beyond the madness traditional teachers deal with, and their patience is nothing short of saintly. They are the best of the best, and they all really do make the world a better place.
My mom teaches at a low-income high-risk school. Whenever we hear of another gang fight or lockdown and plead with her to change schools she lets us know she went to schools like this, and she feels a kindship with kids who are wondering where their next meal will come from and if they have a safe place to be tonight. She understands them, and she finds ways to form special relationships with them. She loves them. She makes them birthday gifts and treats because for many, she knows no one else will. She buys them clothes when they don’t have any, particularly P.E. clothes so they don’t lose points for not dressing down and can pass their classes. She instills confidence and she cries when she sees them overcome so many obstacles and graduate.
She’s one of those people who everyone loves, and everyone wants to spend time with. She’s an amazing person and I feel grateful everyday I get to call her mine and my kids get to know her and be influenced by her too.
This portrait of my mom and this story are inspired by the Annie Leibovitz portrait collection.
In 1999, Leibovitz published Women, a book of portraits made in collaboration with Susan Sontag. The popular series of photographs was accompanied by an exhibition that opened to great acclaim at the Corocan Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The UBS x Leibovitz collaboration continues to explore the changes in the roles of women today while bringing to life one of the greatest art exhibitions of the 21st century.
The tour will travel to ten host cities over the course of twelve months. Entry is complimentary. Visit www.ubs.com/annieleibovitz to learn more.
Who is your hero?
Submit your own story by posting a picture of your hero on Instagram with the hashtag #ShareYourHero. By sharing your hero, you are entering yourself to win a trip for two to New York City to the opening of the Annie Leibovitz WOMEN: New Portraits exhibition in November.