by Jill Shenkel Henwood
Empowerment, Responsibility, Intentionality, Diversity, Connectedness, Joy, Optimism, Gratitude, Nurturing, Healthy, Open-hearted, Compassion
di·ver·si·ty / dəˈvərsədē
- the state of being diverse; variety. “There was considerable diversity in the style of the “
- a range of different things.
con·nect·ed·ness / kəˈnektədnəs
- the state of being joined or linked.
- a feeling of belonging to or having an affinity with a particular person or group.
I will be perfectly honest – these two words seem especially hard to write about right now. Our current state of affairs at the national level is a far cry from connectedness, and despite great diversity, the diversity sometimes seems more divisive than promising. Girls on the Run works to promote a different message – early and often. We are all about team – and connectedness. There is nothing I enjoy more than watching a gaggle of girls come back along the 5K course to find their teammate and finish together. Or during their practice 5K, it is amazing to watch teammates join their struggling teammate in their last lap. That connectedness is fun to watch.
We have diversity within our teams – and often that diversity is not visible. But there are fast runners and walkers, there are rock-picker-uppers and girls steadfastly focused on the number of laps they are running. There are talkative girls and quiet ones. There are girls who leave Girls on the Run and speak only Spanish until they return to school the next day, and there are girls who go
“home” to a shelter or a foster family. But as our season progresses – our coaches intentionally work to help girls celebrate diversity amongst the group and use the variety of experiences and personalities on the team to connect and create a powerful experience.
While I was born and raised in Western Colorado, I went to college in the late 80’s at Stanford – a university that prided itself on its appreciation and celebration of diversity. Ironically, I encountered more separation. It was there I realized that my good friend Tanya from high school was “different” than me. She was Hispanic – so I guess she was “different” but I was a kid, and she was just a great friend in my mind. With a focus in Cross-Cultural education, I spent time “studying” diversity and how that plays out in educational opportunities. But none of that discussion or awareness had nearly the impact on me as living in diverse places and being with all kinds of people. I traveled for a year with Up With People – young people from all over the world. I still enjoy hearing what my friends from other countries think about America! We traveled throughout the US, then Mexico, Finland, and Sweden living with families in a variety of communities. I learned a lot from my diverse castmates, as well as the range of host families I stayed with – some of whom I could not communicate with! I came back to Philadelphia to get my teacher certificate and student taught in inner-city Philadelphia. Germaine, a wonderful and resilient fourth grader, would walk by his transgender mother on the street on his way to school. Knowing him helped me better understand her. I then spent four years teaching on the Zuni and Navajo reservations – again gaining a better understanding and appreciation for others and history! I have lived the past 12 years in Olathe – wishing with all my heart that I had really learned Spanish in college. I know learning another language is one of the best ways to understand and appreciate different cultures.
While we can talk about diversity and connectedness, that is not enough. We need to live it and truly experience it. The national immigration discussion becomes something entirely different when you really know a DACA (Dreamer) recipient. The state of things on reservation land becomes another discussion entirely when you have lived there and counted folks who live there as your friends. I think we would be a better country if we all learned a few GOTR lessons. Girls on the Run starts to address it – talking about and celebrating differences and what makes us unique. Hopefully, our girls can continue to embrace it as they grow up – and have the opportunity to live with and learn from others that are different than they are. The girls are quick learners – adults and institutions sometimes seem to be much slower. I am hopeful that with a generation of girls who are experiencing GOTR and quickly becoming adults – that change is coming. Every day I am reminded that Girls on the Run is much more than a running program.