Assistant Managing Editor
If only every state could follow the example of "the Keystone State." The Pennsylvania Commission for Women has released the book "Voices: African-American and Latina Women Share Their Stories of Success."
It is a long overdue book that gives young minority females everyday heroes as role models and illustrates that there are thousands of successful African-American and Latina women who are not solely in the entertainment industry or found in the editions of their history books.
Published by Harrowood Books, "Voices" is a marvelous and uplifting collection of stories told by the honorees themselves. Fifty inspiring women from Pennsylvania who are currently excelling in their field of choice are each given a full-color two-page spread that includes their story, their message to young women and a childhood and current picture shot by photographer Darcy Padilla.
All of the stories teach the importance of education, perseverance and ambition.
Through numerous studies the commission agreed that young African-American and Latina women need mentors that they can identify with. Further research determined that being exposed to role models of the same color and sex improves academic performance and goal-setting in minority teens. These youth were also less likely to start using drugs, alcohol, be physically violent and skip school.
It is refreshing to read "real" encouraging quotes from fellow African-American and Latina women that have not been dulled down or sugar-coated for mass consumption.
Founder, Lead Researcher, and Senior Partner of Alegre Advertising and Research Lillian Escobar-Haskins empathizes with how minority women can be decisive about embracing their culture outside of their home.
"Puerto Ricans born and raised on the island are different from those born and raised in America," she explained. "Latinos raised in Puerto Rico don't see themselves as a minority. They've never felt marginalized. But those of us born here, who are second generation, we have to live in two worlds. At home, we're very Puerto Rican. Outside of home, we're very American."
One of the best attributes of "Voices" is that it is not preachy. There are no long monologues on "If I had known what I know now" or "this generation doesn't know a thing about struggle."
It is 107 pages of accomplished women who have excelled in medicine, law, communications, business, technology and more sharing their stories, admitting their faults, and saying, "Hey, if I can do it, you can do it."
Fellow minority women will be able to relate to the experiences discussed while youth from all walks of life will find a piece of themselves mirrored in one or many of the women featured.
"There are a lot more opportunities today for African-American women than there were back then," said Linda A. Hicks, chief of staff, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, in the book. "The ceiling has opened up because of the women who came before. It's not as big a challenge, because they won't be the first or second. They'll be a lot more comfortable than I was. They'll be able to look around and say 'I'm not alone.'"
"Voices" reminds all of us that no matter what lifestyle surrounds you, ultimately, you determine the outcome of your life.
Carmen I. Paris, deputy commissioner of Public Health once struggled to get her graduate degree. She was divorced from an abusive husband, raising a son, working, studying and going to school at night. She admits that getting to where she is today was not easy.
"There were many challenges, many tears. But I never gave up," she said. "I knew that even if today is a bad day, it's a bad day that I don't have to live through again. Tomorrow I'm going to do my darnedest to see that it's better."
Bottom line: This book should be available to all women everywhere.
Look for "Voices: African-American and Latina Women Share Their Stories of Success" in your local bookstore or contact Harrowood Books at 1-800-747-8356.