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The power of women coming together

The power of women coming together

When I was a little girl, my two biggest fears were tornadoes and nuclear war. I grew up in East TN (tornado alley) near the plant that generates the explosive material for nuclear warheads. As you would expect, my parents were eager to relieve my anxieties. During tornado season we always had a couple of safe spaces carved out of the closets in the center of the house and I knew what to do when the sky turned green and the sirens went off. When it came to easing my fears about nuclear war, my mom was a little more creative. Through a church connection, she learned about a group called Peace Links. Peace Links was formed by Betty Bumpers, the wife of Arkansas congressman Dale Bumpers and a number of other congressional wives in the early 1980s, to humanize the connection between the US and the former Soviet Union through the women of those countries.

My first Peace Links meeting was my first lesson in the power of women coming together. I was about 30 years younger than the next youngest member of the group, but I loved listening to the stories of their families and careers. It was also inspiring that the women were interested in me and what I cared about. Every month we would get together and write letters to women in the Soviet Union. It was the connections that we formed – locally in our little group and globally with women from a demonized part of the world – that brought humanity to the conflict and reminded us that regardless of political turmoil, both countries included women who were mothers and sisters and aunts and daughters, women who wanted to make the world a better place, women who struggled and celebrated the same kinds of life events even though our belief sets may have been different. These women, regardless of geography, celebrated each other’s successes, offered advice and counsel to each other, held space for each other in times of loss and grief, and became important parts of each other’s lives.

My grandma Ruth, on my dad’s side, always had a strong connection with her woman friends. I was lucky enough to spend time with them throughout my childhood and again, I experienced the power of women coming together. My grandmother’s friends laughed together, cried together, they traveled together and were an integral part of each other’s lives.

Fast forward to 2013 and I saw the power of women coming together again. When my dad died suddenly, the community of women who my mom met when we were kids came back together to hold space for each other in time of loss and grief, support each other in times of celebration and struggle, and have become important parts of each other’s lives.

Fast forward to 2017, and again I experienced the power of women coming together. I was a guest of Janet McDonald from CUNA Mutual Group, at the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards Dinner at the CUNA Governmental Affairs conference. Among those seated at Janet’s table were Renee Sattiewhite, who was at that time the Executive Director of AACUC, and Lucy Ito, who was the Executive Director of NASCUS.

The Herb Wegner dinner in 2017 was special in multiple ways. First, at that dinner, Renee introduced me to AACUC. In fact, she took one look at me and said “I like you – you are coming to my conference this summer. Tell your boss.”

Second, I did attend the AACUC conference that year, and I was hooked. My membership in AACUC has renewed my commitment to credit unions and to social justice. It has connected me with a new group of men and women who inspire and motivate me every day. And, the women I’ve met through formal networking opportunities and through social connections inspire me every day. We live all over the country, have different roles, and come from different places, and in each other we have formed deep connections. We celebrate each other’s successes, offer advice and counsel to each other, and hold space for each other in times of loss and grief.

Third, my association with AACUC brought me an opportunity to participate in the virtual Commitment to Change events that they hosted during the pandemic. During one breakout session, a woman who had just joined the credit union system spoke up. She took a chance by voicing her concerns about being a black woman in a white industry. I took a chance by private messaging her and asking if she would be interested in a virtual coffee conversation. Lucky for me, she accepted. And so began our weekly coffee conversations throughout the pandemic. We celebrate each other’s successes, offer advice and counsel to each other, and hold space for each other in times of loss and grief. I met my friend Angie in real life at GAC in 2022, and she and her husband attended my wedding last spring.

This is the power of women coming together. Today, I’m 51 years old. I still live in the south, and I’m still afraid of tornadoes and nuclear conflict. Every day, I am tremendously grateful for the women in my life, who offer counsel and advice, who hold space for me in times of loss and grief, and who celebrate with me. To my friends and colleagues who identify as women, I encourage you to make a conscious choice to build bonds with the women in your life. Reach out to a woman you admire or want to know more about and invite them to virtual coffee – they could become one of your closest friends! Create a women’s Employee Resource Group at your office. Get involved with Global Women’s Leadership Network. Take part in the cross-cultural exchange program or DEI Leadership Academy or mentorship programs at AACUC or contact Shellee Mitchell to learn more about 1-1 Women’s Mentoring.

No matter what you do, I can promise you this: You will be stronger for it. The community will be better for it. And together, we can demonstrate the Power of Women Coming Together.

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