by Alexis Mburu
Whenever we speak of women in history or of the present and their impact, it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list. However, something that we always sense, whatever the list, is the power that women carry and embody. That power includes the energy and life that women can bring to a room, a movement, or enterprise. Women are the backbone of society and shape us all in ways we’re aware of and otherwise. Today, I bring you five women who inspire me, as a young woman, for a multitude of reasons. Hopefully, these stories can help you reflect on the power that women bring to your life, not just for Women’s History Month, but for every day of every month.
Jessie Kuwada is a science teacher at Showalter Middle School in Tukwila, Washington. She has been teaching for six years, yet she is always looking to learn more, a trait I believe makes the most powerful educators. Jessie is also a proud leader of her school’s growing Race and Equity Team. Powerful educators are ones who know their jobs exist beyond just teaching what is in the textbooks. “I want to live in a world where people are free to be themselves,” she said. “Being a teacher is where I have a direct and tangible impact on that.” Having had Jessie for two years as a student myself, I can personally attest that she is a teacher who prioritizes relationships and safe space building within her classroom, something that now, with hindsight, I recognize is not as common as it should be. For example, she was transparent as a teacher, letting us know when she wasn’t having a great day, but also holding restorative circles often for all of us. Jessie Kuwada is the type of person who makes an impact on your life because she is always trying to work towards being her best self, something that I look up to as someone still trying to find myself at all.
Priyanka Mukhara is a junior at Interlake High School in the Bellevue School District and is the epitome of a changemaker. She is a fierce advocate for racial justice in education which can clearly be seen in the litany of activism she is involved in. Whether it is as a member of Washington Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC), being co-student body president of her school, or founding her own youth activism organization called Education For Equality, Priyanka knows exactly where her passions lie. Priyanka says that she has always been intrigued by social issues, citing book reports she wrote about Rosa Parks in her adolescence and books she loved to read about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She also says the murder of George Floyd opened her eyes to the fact that social issues go beyond what you read in books. It has motivated her to get involved more in advocating for change in her school district and challenging the powers that be. Priyanka’s self-awareness and her position as a changemaker is very impressive, only further proving the future is now!
I’ve had the privilege of working under the tutelage of Shaude’ Moore with the Seattle Martin Luther King Organizing Coalition and the experience taught me so much about leadership and servitude. Shaude’ is chair of the 39-year-old coalition and made history by becoming the youngest female voted into her position. Shaude’ also has a full-time job on top of her community work and is a doctoral student. Watching her maintain such elegant composure while juggling so many different responsibilities is what drew me even further into the volunteer-based coalition. Shaude’ was so inviting from the first time I met her, and when I was able to see her in full gear at the 39th annual MLK March for the coalition, it opened my eyes to the many superpowers of people, especially women, that I hadn’t seen before. Shaude’ is a role model in so many ways, but what’s more impressive is I know she has even more magic to shine. I know that at the end of the day, I can always count on amazing women like Shaude’ to keep me grounded when I think about the example I want to set. I hope we can all learn to recognize the vital role that women like Shaude’ play in our lives.
I only just met Chiwetalu Ekwueme recently but was enamored with her from the beginning. She is a member of the NAACP Youth Council and every time she speaks it is with such intensity and passion that it hypnotizes you. The junior at Meadowdale High School describes it as just “speaking the truth”; however, she does acknowledge the reason for her fierceness when speaking about important issues like Black Lives Matter is “to make people uncomfortable,” to force the audience to feel the story’s pain, discomfort and all. Not only is Chiwetalu a master of words and emotions, but she is also so grounded as a person. She is proud; she knows how to lift herself up when needed, which I learned from a story she told about coming back from an all-girls field trip once and feeling down about herself and inadequate. When she got home that day, Chiwetalu told herself, “You can’t keep feeling this way … there’s no point in feeling sad.” From that day on, she has prioritized her mental health in everything she does. That level of mindfulness is what we should all strive to achieve. Chiwetalu is a force to be reckoned with and I am so excited for her to continue paving her path that we will all benefit from.
Knowing Shraddha Shirude is like winning the jackpot. She teaches math at Garfield High School in Seattle, is on the executive board of Washington Ethnic Studies Now, and, to me, exemplifies the perfect mix of tranquility and fierceness. She is so sharp and her knowledge seems infinite when it comes to ethnic studies and how to reform education systems. At the same time, I will never forget how her email signature includes “drink more water,” a testament to how Shraddha always makes self-care a priority for herself as well as those around her. In the classroom it’s the same story. For Shraddha, she knew as a teacher she wanted to provide a safe place for young people to find their identity. Growing up as an Indian American in the Renton area, she was never able to fully connect with either side of her identity. Now, as an educator, she uses that perspective to shape her work with students by making sure she supports students while they navigate their pivotal high school years. For example, Shraddha uses math as a tool to instill the values of critical thinking in her students because, she said,“you can’t solve for X if you don’t know what X is.” She hopes that one day those critical thinking skills will be “so good that they find solutions for problems rather than just acknowledging the problems.” Shraddha has so much acumen and kindness that it is impossible not to look up to her as an empowered woman empowering women.
Alexis Mburu is a high schooler in Tukwila, Washington. She is a member of the NAACP Youth Council and on the Advisory Board for Washington Ethnic Studies Now. She is a part of the Tukwila Children’s Foundation as well as a co-facilitator for her district’s Race and Equity Committee.
Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.
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