SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — SOMA Board of Education member Johanna Wright and Essex County Freeholder Janine Bauer shared their experiences in public service and thoughts on what it means to be a leader at the monthly session of local girls program Stand Up Girls, held Oct. 22 at the Baird Center in South Orange.
Held once monthly, Stand Up Girls is a program co-facilitated by Maplewood resident Alexandra Carter and South Orange resident Danielle Mann. Drawing on the goals of standing up for self, for others and as a leader in the community, Stand Up Girls hosts workshops and accompanying activities on topics such as self-esteem, conflict resolution, public speaking and leadership skills.
Girls in second through sixth grades participate in the program, but it’s not just them — parents accompany their daughters for the session, giving them time with their child to discuss topics that might not otherwise surface.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for girls to speak about things that we don’t have time to talk about during the school day, like leadership and standing up for themselves,” Mann told the News-Record at the workshop. “Tonight we have two distinguished women who are doing local public service so that our girls can see what women in leadership look like.”
For the October session, Stand Up Girls focused on political leadership and, in addition to hearing from Wright and Bauer, each participant made her own lawn sign that reflects what makes her special.
Part-time actor and librarian, judge, baker and Petsmart owner, and even mayor of Maplewood were just a few of the responses Wright received when she asked the group what they want to be when they are older.
“When I was your age there were only a few things that I thought I wanted to be: a secretary, a nurse or a teacher. After teaching for over 40 years, now people call me a politician because I ran for an office,” Wright said to the group. “I’m not a retired teacher — I’m a redirected teacher. I ran an independent, grassroots campaign for a Board of Education seat, and I had no idea what I was doing but I was fortunate to have some former students who were willing to help me. All I knew is that I care about kids and I didn’t like the way things were being done.”
Wright also offered some words of wisdom for the group to consider as they forge ahead in their future paths.
“Don’t play small. If you begin to speak up and speak out about the things that you care about, you can effect change. If you find that people aren’t listening to you, go talk to someone else who is willing to listen to you. Language and power: It can start wars or make peace.” she said. “Trust yourself, work hard, because learning is a lifelong process. And make sure that you select friends who have the same goals as you.”
Bauer, who in addition to being a county freeholder is also a lawyer and an environmental activist, had very simple advice to impart to the group: Stay true to yourself.
“As a freeholder, I’m in the county’s branch of legislation, the same as the state and the country has a legislative branch of government. The things I focus on in that role are the things that I have always focused on: the environment and climate change,” Bauer, a former member of the South Orange Board of Trustees, said. “Sometimes being true to yourself also means knowing the right time to take action on something. If I know that I won’t have enough support from the other freeholders to bring something to a vote, I wait. You don’t give up, you restructure. “
In addition to being authentic, Bauer encouraged the girls to take whatever they are passionate about and become an expert at it, putting that knowledge to work to make a difference.
“Don’t debate whether or not you need to stand up for something that you believe in — always do it; the key is to figure out the best forum to do it. Find a mentor or a role model, and that can be a mentor, a parent, a teacher or a religious leader,” she said. “Pursue the things that you want to change and then put a lot of thought into the best way to change them.”
Photos by Shanee Frazier