9 Pioneering Moms on Why They Are Changing the World
The Pop-Culture Leader
Bozoma Saint John
As chief brand officer of Uber, Saint John, mom of an 8-year-old, is charged with making “a brand that people feel good about supporting.” She has also built cultural cachet for businesses like Pepsi and Apple/iTunes. "I learned how to adapt," she says of her family's frequent moves. “My family moved around a lot after leaving Ghana when the government was overthrown. I realized early on that I had to adapt. When I started middle school in Colorado Springs, I was really tall and the only black girl in my class. I needed friends, stat. Everyone around me was talking about cool music, movies, and concerts—so I studied everything pop culture so I could become part of the conversation.” She writes to her mother:
M’idzi Ewuradze da’awo ase. [“I thank God for you,” in Fanti.]
The power of your prayers wraps me in protection, propels me to heights unseen, and gives me insight when I’m unclear. It is your sashay that I unconsciously emulate when I walk boldly into a room. Your dreams are embodied in me, and I wouldn’t be who I am without you. You set my expectations high but also provided the blueprint for me to pick up the pieces when things fall apart.
You exemplify self-pride and show how I can be intentional in my relationships. You have taught me to be, and now your granddaughter is learning to be. We thank you for your sacrifice, joy, and prayer. Ma, medasse pii. [“I thank you so much.”]
The Water Gatherer
Evans is the mom of a 6-year-old and founder/CEO of Well Aware and Well Beyond, two organizations solving global water problems. "It was a soul-changing moment for me," she remembers of being on her first drill for water. “Being on that first drill, I really felt the impact Well Aware was going to have. I met people who’d had to walk miles to get water, and what they collected was usually unsafe. When the water finally came out of the well, everybody celebrated, and we all hugged.” She writes to her daughter:
After you were born, I struggled with the decision to continue my work. From the day I knew you existed, you became my whole world.
One night, when you were just a week old, I was nursing you when my team phoned excitedly from Kenya to say that a drill site had hit even more water than expected. At that moment, I felt I was in two places at once. I was in the rocking chair with you and also in that remote village with the mothers who had lived in fear of losing their children due to contaminated water. I knew how phenomenally different their lives would be now, and I realized that I would continue to fight for you and all of the other infants on the other side of the world.I love you out of outer space!
The Safety Crusader
The mom of five is the founder of the nonpartisan Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. A year after starting it in 2012, she had chapters in all 50 states and began creating change in state legislatures. Now her nonprofit is part of Everytown for Gun Safety and stronger than ever. “I felt the need to help after Newtown, but I found that anyone working on gun-violence prevention belonged to a D.C. think tank," she says. "I wanted to create a grassroots movement that reflected the will of mothers. Women are the secret sauce for activism in this country—we have been since the 1920s. When women get involved, that’s when you see change.” She writes to her son:
Every day, I worry about you, my youngest child and the only one still in high school. Because we live in America, the threat of gun violence is a constant hum in the background of our lives. Will a classmate with a vendetta and a loaded gun show up at your school and open fire? Will a friend show off at a party and unintentionally shoot someone? After a difficult day, will you consider taking your own life?
Ever since 26 lives were taken in Newtown, I’ve done my best to help make you safer by working to change state laws and corporate policies. For too long, we have allowed lobbyists and lawmakers to roll back gun restrictions, and this will take years to fix. The good news: I believe the national transformation required to protect Americans from gun violence will be led by you and your peers. Your generation has the moral compass to understand that active shootings like Parkland aren’t acts of nature—they’re caused by the cowardice of our lawmakers. Use your passion to fuel your activism.
The Word Warrior
A mom of three teens and a YA and middle-grade author, Oh is CEO and cofounder of We Need Diverse Books, a nonprofit that champions stories, characters, and writers from all cultures. "The book that saved me was The Joy Luck Club, about a girl like me, with parents like mine," she recalls. "Sadly, I didn’t find it until I was an adult. And I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to read stories like this that reflected my experience when I was young.” She writes to her teens:
Dear S, S & G,
When I was little, I liked books better than people. Books made me forget that I was poor and hungry, and that my parents spoke with an accent and ate rice with every meal. But reading also gave me a complex, I only later realized. Since all the stories I’d read or had seen on TV or at the movies were about white kids, I internalized a belief that being white was better, and I developed a self-hatred that took years to get over. My experience is not your experience. And yet, racism still exists. Remember you are never completely powerless—because change happens when good people put ideas into action.
The Can-Do Politician
Senator Tammy Duckworth
Iraq War veteran, Purple Heart recipient, senator from Illinois, and mom of a 3-year-old and now a newborn, she was the first serving U.S. senator to give birth while in office. "I'm proud to advocate for moms," she says. “Last year, I introduced the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act to the Senate, which would ensure that breastfeeding women can have access to clean, convenient lactation rooms in airports. Even though we’d never expect travelers to eat meals in bathroom stalls, mothers are often directed to airport toilets to nurse their children or to pump breast milk. If airports still have areas for smoking lounges in 2018, surely we can find this space for mothers.” She writes to her daughters:
To My Daughters,
I have a lot to be grateful for this Mother’s Day. Nothing gives me more joy than being your mom, and I want you to grow up knowing you can be anything you want.
Sadly, far too many children, especially our nation’s girls, face challenges in school, at home, and in their communities simply because of who they are or what they look like. All children, no matter who their parents are or what kinds of toys they like to play with, should have an equal chance to lead, serve, and succeed.
The road ahead won’t always be easy. You will face challenges you can’t yet imagine. But rest assured, you have the power within yourself to overcome them. You deserve the chance to create any future you want for yourself, and your mom is doing everything she can to make that a reality.
The Tech Titan
Mom of a 15-year-old and an 8-year-old, Gouw is a cofounder of Aspect Ventures, which made news for revealing that 40 percent of its investments are in female-led companies. “We have seen data showing that diverse companies produce superior results," she says. "It’s also why our own team is 40 percent female, 40 percent immigrants, and 40 percent minority. Diversity, including different skill sets, backgrounds, and ethnicities, is a real advantage.” She writes to her children:
Dear S & L,
I remember sneaking into your room and marveling at your sleeping faces when you were babies. What I hoped for you most then was a world where you’d be valued for your contributions and hard work regardless of your ethnicity, religion, or gender. Our society has made strides in this direction, but we still need leaders to carry the torch.
I also wish for you the wisdom to not sweat the small stuff. When your grandparents left Indonesia and immigrated to Buffalo in search of a better life, they treated their newfound environment with amusement. They were far from their tropical home, but the bluster and cold could not take away their focus as they began their great American journey. Pursue what is important to you, like they did, and let the rest of it go.
And know that I am always on your side and will love you forever and always!
The Green Guardian
As the CEO of the nonprofit Dream Corps and leader of its Green for All national initiative, Truong, mom of 5-year-old twins, is on the front lines tackling poverty and pollution. "This work is a labor of love," she says. “I’m joining moms and hundreds of volunteers across the country to fight for all our kids. Whether they’re working to switch from diesel to clean fuel or to fix contaminated pipes, they’re all operating from passion, from a place of unconditional love. It’s not about politics or recognition or anything else. In that way, these moms remind me of my own mother.” She writes to her mother:
Even though you worked long hours, I remember you’d literally push me out of the kitchen. If I went in there asking to help, you’d say, “I don’t want you to learn how to cook. I want you to learn how to read.” You wanted me to get an education, to be the first in our family to attend college. At the time, we lived in apartments with roaches and in communities with violence. I didn’t know any different.
When I got to college, I decided that the purpose of my education would be not to escape poverty, but to end it. And it’s because of you and because you wanted better for me that I’m now able to pursue my dream as a career.
You’ve told me that what’s most important to you is how you make your kids feel. Well, Mom, you always made me feel loved.
The Humanitarian Housewife
The entrepreneur, TV star, and mom of a 7-year-old has become a juggernaut in providing disaster relief. "It was the most intense thing I've ever gone through.," she says of her experience after Hurricane Maria. “After coordinating money, aid, and supplies for natural disasters in Houston and Mexico, I felt like I had a new skill set. I could create start-ups for pop-up relief. When Hurricane Maria hit, I helped gather generators, food, water, solar lights, diapers, and more in churches, schools, and convention centers across the country. With my initiative B Strong, we brought it all to a donated warehouse in Miami. From there, we made about 54 plane trips to Puerto Rico. We also gave out about $40 million to $50 million in donated relief by cargo ship and raised $1.1 million in cash cards.” She writes to her daughter:
I love you more than anything in this world. Your entering into my life gave it meaning and made me understand why I’m here and what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel I’m most whole when I’m with you.
I try to lead by example and show you how to be a strong woman and a loving mommy. I tell you about my experiences in Puerto Rico because I want you to be a good—not spoiled— little girl. But I ultimately want you to be happy and not feel pressure about what you want to do in life.
The Immigration Reformer
As cofounder of the Resistance Revival Chorus, a collective of women who sing protest songs, Colombian filmmaker-turned-activist Paola Mendoza is using her voice for immigration reform and women’s rights while raising a 5-year-old boy.
On the power of storytelling: “I chose to make movies about unsung heroes: single moms, women and children living in poverty. That led me to working with undocumented communities and telling their stories in ways that were dignified, respectful, and full of love.”
On making her story: “As the former co–artistic director of the Women’s March, I was so proud that we birthed a progressive movement led by women and, in particular, women of color.”
On fusing music and politics: “The Resistance Revival Chorus formed in 2017 and has over 60 women, who participate when they can. My comanager, Ginny Suss, and I wanted to make this flexible because we’re all moms and artists. We’ve performed at the Grammy Awards, Carnegie Hall, in subways, at protests. We believe in joy as an act of resistance.”
On being an activist: “I focus my work on marginalized communities, because when we take care of the most downtrodden among us, we all thrive and get better together. So I had no choice but to become an activist. I do it for my mother, who gave up a lot for me, and to instill compassion in my son, Mateo.”
On raising a feminist son: “It means not being afraid to have difficult conversations with him about girls and boys. He looks up to me as his mom and loves me dearly. I’m teaching him that all women and girls need to be treated with the same amount of love and care. It's crucial he sees his father do that as well.”