At a young age, Teresa knew that if she wanted to make an impact, she would have to dig deep. Lean in now, as she gives a snapshot of her life’s work of fighting for justice at the intersections of race and gender equality.
I’m an Air Force brat from North Dakota, who, as a young Black girl, knew more about farming than feminism and thought GS meant Girl Scouts, not Gloria Steinem.
As a lifelong Girl Scout, I live my life according to a specific value: I am here to make the world a better place. From grassroots organizing to leading a legacy foundation, I have always made it my mission to dismantle the structures that uphold inequalities. I started my career in the nonprofit sector running a children’s residential camp, then moved to civil rights and civil liberties at the ACLU, followed by policy work in state government. My most recent career shift was six years ago when I moved into the world of philanthropy.
My involvement in this space is driven by a deep commitment to social justice. I focus my work on the power of women and girls, specifically women and girls of color, and use my platform to amplify their voices and ensure that they receive the funds to transform their communities.
I just want to do right and well in the world. The challenge of transitioning a legacy foundation like the Ms. Foundation For Women into current movements is something that really excites and motivates me. By leading an organization that centers on women and girls in this moment, we are able to speak a unique level of truth to power.
My formative moment
When I was 7 years old, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Blackmore, reprimanded me and told me that she “expected more from me.” Those words have stuck with me all these years. Mrs. Blackmore was my first Black woman teacher, the first role model outside of my family that looked like me. By setting this expectation, she taught me what the world expected of her and what it would expect from me as a Black girl and, later, a Black woman.
Equity = race + gender
People need to recognize that we cannot have racial justice without gender equality and vice versa. It’s going to be those who live at the intersection of race and gender that can make the change we need to see and break outside the norms that have been presented to us.
We cannot achieve gender and racial justice by viewing them as separate movements.
As a Black woman, I do not get to leave my identities at the door. When I walk into a room, I do not get to be just Black or just a woman—these identities are inherently intertwined.
My work at the Ms. Foundation has allowed me to fight for justice and equity at the intersection of race and gender by intentionally centering women and girls of color. We respect all facets of people’s identities and the unique perspective they bring to the table—whether they are staff members, board members, grantee partners, partners in the movement, or everyday feminists.
New systems, new world
When we address the injustices of our society, we need to remember that most of the systems in this country were not designed by or for women or people of color. We must reconstruct what justice looks like from the perspective of those who live at the intersections of injustices.
As Audre Lorde so poignantly stated, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.” And it is this intersection of our identities that must be included in our work and in our vision for the future. So, my advice for other justice advocates is to design outside of these systems; envision a new world not grounded in the oppressive systems society is built upon and have patience and persistence in doing so.
See Recommended Reading from Teresa: Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
Support Teresa’s mission to defend the safety and well-being of women of color through GlobalGiving.
Featured Photo: Teresa C. Younger presenting at the Ms. Foundation for Women 2017 Gloria Awards Gala. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz and Monica Schipper Getty.