Category Archives: Inspiring People

A Tearful Good-Bye to Bakie

bakie wardIn the wake of several weeks of declining health, my dear friend Bakie Ward left her earthly body this morning. My heart is breaking.

We met in early 2001 as a group of eight women joined together to read Cheryl Richardson’s Life Makeovers and see where that journey might take us. We called ourselves Chicks in Change (and eventually just Chicks) and met every other week.

From that auspicious beginning, our little book group brought forth treasured friendships that have seen marriages, divorce, and other adventures in romance; graduations, career explorations, and job changes; relocations, road trips, and vicariously enjoyed travels; aging and spirited discussions about health; and, a myriad of joys and sorrows freely shared. These women have been an incalculable blessing in my life.

As I hold Bakie in the light, I feel the warmth of love reflecting back on me. For indeed, Bakie was love incarnate.

  • bakie readingShe loved her family and reveled in all the moments they shared together.
  • She loved her friends – those with whom she shared a life time, those who entered later in life, and those who had the privilege of more recent acquaintance.
  • She loved books and the beauty of language. She dedicated her life to supporting those who enjoy the written word.
  • She loved bridge and was a skilled card player and enthusiastic (and patient) teacher.
  • She loved learning and pursued with enthusiasm anything that piqued her curiosity.
  • She loved life and sustained hope, gratitude, and optimism even when things weren’t rosy.

No doubt the gates of heaven have opened wide to welcome its newest angel.

“But should the angels call for [her],
Much sooner than we’ve planned.
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes,
And try to understand.”  – Edgar A. Guest

Father Greg

Father GregI just finished reading an incredible book by Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has served the poorest Catholic parish amidst the highest concentration of gang activity in the Greater Los Angeles Area for over 30 years. Having witnessed the devastating impact of gang activity, Father Greg, his parish, and community members launched an organization to work with those who had been left behind with no hope. Starting in 1988, they put the welcome mat out for former gang members, helped them deal with substance abuse, removed tattoos, and provided gainful employment and training. They also offered critical services to community members in need.

Today, Homeboy Industries is the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. Their organizational model has become the blueprint for over 400 organizations worldwide. They share a common mission in “hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated people, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.”

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion bears witness to Father Greg’s ministry and the individuals who cross the threshold of his open door and open heart. For those among us whose only exposure to gangs comes through mass media, it’s a heartbreaking read. Scads of young people in his backyard grew up amidst absentee (often incarcerated) parents, economic hardship, substance abuse, violence, and precious little (if any) tenderness, understanding, or love. Some managed to find a way out of “the life” and recapture their humanity and sense of worth. Some left this world early in random acts of violence. Others were cut down on the brink of a new and productive life. Again – heartbreaking… and unimaginable.

Suffice it to say, I have tremendous respect for Father Greg and his commitment to this community. But I can’t help but wonder: What gives him the strength to pursue this mission year after year when the toll it takes on the heartstrings must be terrible?

As a man of faith, Father Greg finds inspiration in the life of Jesus Christ, a man who consistently located his ministry among folks on the margins. It was not about being in service to them; it was about his abiding love and compassion for their suffering. As Father Greg says:

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a covenant between equals… a shift from the cramped world of self-reoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship. We are bound together.”

He references the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus offers nine Beatitudes. Father Greg tells us that this list of blessed ones is not so much a recounting of those favored in God’s sight. Rather, it’s a prescriptive for where disciples of Jesus should locate themselves – amidst the poor, the mourners, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and those who follow Jesus’ example. Father Greg simply heeds that call, even when it’s painful to do so.

When looking past Homeboy Industry’s services and advocacy, a common theme emerges: the healing power of love, compassion, and kindness. In and through relationship, folks discover that they are valued and valuable. They discover their own light and realize that they are right and true and wholly acceptable just as they are. They are exactly what God intended when God made them – talented, gifted, good. Resilience comes from being grounded in this fundamental truth.

Father Greg used a metaphor for helping others that resonated with me. He casts the helper as one who has a flashlight in a dark room. The helper can illuminate light switch, but the one who wishes to come out of darkness must flip the switch and realize that light is better than dark. In the spirit of mutuality, one may wield the flashlight this time but be the one who needs it the next.

A final thought ties it all together: “If kinship were our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice, we would be celebrating it.” Our circle of compassion would be inclusive. We would belong to one another and feel our worth.

Man in the Arena

America recorded the birth of its 26th President one hundred sixty-five years ago this past week. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was a statesman, soldier, conservationist, naturalist, historian, and writer who led a progressive movement from within the Republican party. His “square deal” domestic policies called for conservation of natural resources, control of corporations through sensible regulation, and consumer protection. His many accomplishments included establishing the national park service, enacting anti-trust laws, and instituting numerous legal provisions for food safety. His successful efforts to broker peace for the Russo-Japanese War garnered him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.

Today, I honor him for a particularly inspiring quote from his Man in the Arena speech:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

In a time characterized by an unending supply of critics on social media and elsewhere and its deleterious impact on the character of the nation, I hope and pray that those who speak truth to power take inspiration from a man who ranks consistently among the country’s greatest Presidents.

Votes for Women!

“I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.” – Sarah Grimkés, abolitionist, feminist, and writer (1792-1873)

One hundred and seventy-five years ago today, the long march toward women’s suffrage began. Three hundred men and women convened in Seneca Falls, New York to discuss the social, civil, and religious rights of women. There was a lot about which to talk.

In 1848, women were subject to the guardianship of their fathers (if unmarried) or husbands (if married). They could not own property, hold bank account, sign contracts, retain their scant wages, or receive an inheritance. They were denied educational opportunities. If they divorced their spouses, their husbands assumed full custody of the children irrespective of his quality of character or interest. Women could not serve on juries, hold public or ecclesial office, or vote. Nonetheless, they were liable for payment of taxes, leading to a sustained experience of “taxation without representation.”

Under Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s leadership, the assembly listened to addresses from passionate speakers, voted on resolutions, and crafted a Declaration of Sentiments patterned after the Declaration of Independence. While provisions related to voting rights were hotly debated, Stanton held firm on their inclusion, arguing that a woman’s participation in democratic elections would prove the linchpin to securing other reform. She prevailed, and 100 delegates affixed their signatures to the document.

From this initial spark, the smoldering embers of a movement began to dot the countryside until the outbreak of civil war in 1861. As most of the activists were staunch abolitionists, they focused their energies on securing freedom for slaves. They were bitterly disappointed at war’s end to see the passage of constitutional amendments granting suffrage to African American males yet continuing to deny that right for women.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

In 1869, Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the all-female National Woman Suffrage Association to press for voting rights on a federal level. Lucy Stone founded the American Woman Suffrage Association which welcome male advocates as members and pressed for voting rights on a state-be-state basis. Both cultivated tireless efforts by the membership and leveraged print media, rallies, and lobbying to press for social reform. Yet, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention, very little progress could be reported. Only Wyoming (1869), Colorado (1893), Utah (1896), and Idaho (1896) had full female suffrage. Women’s rights improved modestly. By 1900, three-quarters of states let women own property, two-thirds let them retain their wages, and a few public universities admitted exceptional women.

After a lull during the first decade of the 20th century, Washington, California, Kansas, Arizona, and Oregon granted voting rights for women. A new generation of women came to the fore to take up the mantle of women’s suffrage. Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt brought forth the union of the two major suffrage associations to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with the dual focus of federal and state activism. Harriot Stanton Blatch formed the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women and launched publicity campaigns to raise awareness and support. Alice Paul orchestrated a march on the U.S. capital days before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1913. It drew 5000-8000 participants and 100,000-300,000 spectators and some notably bad behavior (e.g., tripping, slapping, spitting, heckling, cussing) from men who opposed to movement. One month later, 531 women marched the route in reverse to deliver petitions to each member of Congress.

Wilson declared support for women’s suffrage in 1916 but did very little to support it. That same year, Paul formed the National Woman’s Party and organized daily pickets at the White House with signs that read: “How Long Must Woman Wait for Liberty?” and “Mr. President, What Will You Do for Woman Suffrage?” Over 1,000 protesters gathered at the White House for his second inauguration. They decried Wilson’s call for global democracy in the wake of World War I while refusing to support full democracy at home.

The administration’s response to these unfailingly peaceful protests was to place the agitators in jail, violating their right to free speech and assembly. Conditions in prison were deplorable, and the women were mistreated by the guards and superintendents. They suffered mightily physically, mentally, and emotionally. Not willing to conceded defeat, they organized hunger strikes and let their plight be known outside the jailhouse walls. Suffice it to say, the activists were a real nightmare for Woodrow Wilson.

On January 9, 1918, President Wilson called for the enactment of women’s suffrage during his State of the Union address to Congress. The House passed the constitutional amendment 274-136 shortly thereafter; the Senate stalled the vote until October and defeated the bill. Alice Paul organized another march that December and ramped up the protests. When the 66th Congress was sworn in on May 19, 1919, both chambers took up the vote for women’s suffrage and passed the legislation.

Because a constitutional amendment requires ratification by two-thirds of the states, the battleground moved from the federal to state houses. By Spring 1920, 35 states voted for the amendment and 8 against. Of the remaining holdouts, Tennessee seemed the most likely to secure the final affirmative vote. The Tennessee Senate supported the amendment with a 25 to 4 vote. The initial vote in the State House came in at a dead heat: 48 to 48. After intense debate, Harry Burn, a 24-year representative from East Tennessee, changed his vote to the affirmative citing his moral rectitude and the influence of his mother.

It took seventy-two years, 480 campaigns, 56 state referendums, 47 attempts to add suffrage to state constitutions, and 19 biannual campaigns to 19 Congresses to walked the distance between the 1948 Seneca Falls convention to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. As Carrie Chapman Catt said:

“Young suffragettes who helped forge the last links of that chain were not born when it began. Old suffragettes who forged the first links were dead when it ended.”

Charlotte Woodward Pierce was the lone signatory of the original Declaration of Sentiment to witness the ratification of the 19th Amendment. She was 91 years old when first eligible to vote but was too sick to go to the polls. Though a devoted suffragette her entire life, she never was able to cast a vote.

We’ve made progress in the last 100 years with a gaggle of social, legislative, and economic reform. Pew Research reports that women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, up from 65 cents in 1982. Four out of nine Supreme Court Justices are women. We have our first female Vice President, a record 128 serving in the House of Representatives (29% of the chamber’s total), and 25 serving in the Senate (25% of the chamber’s total). That’s good, but not great considering that slightly more than half of the U.S. population is female. But here’s the rub: Only 68% of women eligible to vote actually exercised that right in the last Presidential election. Moreover, only three-quarters of eligible women are registered to vote.

The country has issues that threaten our future security, livelihoods, and cohesion. Big money interests exercise a disproportionate influence in the affairs of State. But for democracy to work, it asks all of us to take our responsibilities as citizens seriously – to become informed participants in democracy and exercise our right to vote.

Please take time to separate the wheat from the chaff in media reports to discern the truth. Understand the issues put before you. Do some research on candidates for office – their character, skills, experience, and positions on policy matters. And then vote your conscience at every election.

If this post has piqued your interest, consider reading Votes for Women: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling.


bono surrenderA good friend of mine regularly opens up her personal library to feed my reading habit. This week, she shared Bono’s memoir entitled Surrender: 40 Sings, One Story.

Unlike my friend, my interest in the group U2 and its front man Bono has been rather casual over the years. A couple of songs resonated with me – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, A Beautiful Day – and I was aware of Bono’s humanitarian efforts. But I wasn’t part of their orbit. Nonetheless, my friend thought I’d enjoy the book.

Wow – did I ever!

First – it’s hard not to be impressed with the band’s accomplishments – 170 million in record sales, 22 Grammy Awards, and the Kennedy Center honors among a gaggle of other accolades. What I hadn’t realized was that these four guys grew up in a rather rough part of Dublin and formed the group when they were in secondary school. That they’ve remained close friends and colleagues after four decades of working together bears witness to something truly special about their union.

Bono’s origin story includes the loss of his mother Iris to an aneurysm when he was just fourteen. His father was left to raise two boys on his own. No one processed their grief aloud though all felt it keenly. “After Iris died, 10 Cedarwood Road stopped being a home. It was just a house.” They simply existed amidst a sea of testosterone and simmering anger.

Bono’s father had a stunning tenor voice with which he mesmerized the town. “For years after Iris died, he would reduce a room of relations to a puddle by breaking into Kris Kristofferson’s For the Good Times.” He never took note of his son’s burgeoning interest in music. Bono had to nurture his own dreams with encouragement from a beautiful girl who crossed his path in September 1973 – Alison Stewart, his future wife.

Bono does not describe himself as being especially gifted at singing, writing, or musicianship, but lays claim to stirring melodies in his head that await expression. In point of fact, he is an exceptional artist who mines life’s experiences for the universal truths that strikes chords in his audience’s hearts. As I read the backstories for his creations, I kept wishing I’d been a fan all these years and could hear the associated melodies. His writing is as authentic and captivating as his poetry. I had to force myself to put the book down when other pressing matters decided to intrude.

Bono became as adept at the business of music as he was making music. The band hired an exceptional manager who deftly navigated the terrain in the band’s favor. They assembled a team of folks to manage their studio recordings and tours; they’ve stayed with the group for years. Of note is the fact that the band remained true to their artistic vision in the face of tremendous pressure to sell out or catch the wave of popular demand. They wanted their music to mean something and to break new ground in the creation of it. Perhaps that’s why they’ve stayed relevant (and together) all these years.

Bono has been front and center on several major campaigns to provide relief and succor to “the least of these.” He lobbied heads of state to grant debt relief to African nations at the start of the new Millennium. He has worked with governments and megadonors to provide solutions for the AIDS crisis in African as well as eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. He and his wife have lived an worked among the poorest of the poor in places like Ethiopia and El Salvador. He is passionate and determined.

Bono is a man of faith. He stands in awe of the scripture for their capacity to navigate the world beyond the physical. He is wary of religion and its various sects and denominations. For Bono, faith is “more like a daily discipline, a daily surrender and rebirth. It’s more likely that church is not a place but a practice, and the practice becomes the place.” For those who wish to experience the divine, Bono says: “God is with the poor and vulnerable, and God is with us if we are with them.”

Finally, Bono is a committed family man. His memoir is as much an enduring love story to his wife as it is a journey through his life’s experiences and reflections. In reading about the family, I found myself wishing I could meet this remarkable woman and the four children that they brought into this world.

I’ve become a fan and will likely get around to enjoying all of U2’s music. Meanwhile, I encourage my readers to make a date with Surrender.

Patsy Takemoto Mink

I haven’t placed a spotlight on an inspirational person for quite a while and decided to remedy that situation with a short bio on the first woman of color to be elected to serve in the United States Congress.

Patsy MinkPatsy Matsu Takemoto was born on December 6, 1928 at a sugar plantation camp on the island of Maui. Her mother, Mitama Tateyama Takemoto, was a homemaker who raised Patsy and her older brother, Eugene. Her father, Suematsu Takemoto, was the first Japanese-American to graduate from the University of Hawaii and worked as a land surveyor for the East Maui Irrigation Company. The family moved to Honolulu after World War II when Suematsu established his own land surveying company.

Patsy enrolled at the University of Hawaii with the intention of pursuing a career in medicine. Having earned bachelor degrees in zoology and chemistry in 1948, she secured placement as one of two women admitted to the University of Chicago Law School. While playing bridge one evening, she met a former U.S. Air Force navigator named John Francis Mink. The two fell in love and married in January 1951. That Spring, Patsy graduated with her Juris Doctor degree, and John received his Master’s Degree in geophysics.

Despite impressive credentials, Patsy faced employment discrimination as a female, married, Asian-American. She stayed on in her “student job” at the University of Chicago Law School library while her husband worked for U.S. Steel. The couple welcomed a baby daughter, Gwendolyn (Wendy), to the family in 1952. Having grown weary of Chicago winters, the family relocated to Hawaii. John found work with the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, and Patsy became the first Japanese-American woman licensed to practice law in the Territory of Hawaii.

Patsy had never taken much interest in politics beyond a resonance with the ideals espoused by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Territory of Hawaii had long been the province of Republican white businessmen who controlled the economic life of the islands. Weak leadership and internal dissention prevented the Democratic party from mounting a substantive challenge. In response to her participation in a series of meetings on Democratic platform reform, Patsy founded the Everyman Organization to give voice to a younger generation of voters.

With the advent of statehood, Hawaii held a special election to fill 3 seats in Congress (2 senate and 1 representative). Patsy hoped to secure the post as Hawaii’s representative but was defeated in the Democratic primary by the party’s preferred candidate, Daniel K. Inouye. When a second representative seat opened up for the United States Congress, Patsy tossed her hat into the ring and mounted a grassroots campaign with her husband as campaign manager. Though lacking support from the Democratic Party leadership, she eked out victories in the primary and general elections. On January 4, 1965, she was sworn into office by the Speaker of the House as the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress.

As a trailblazer in high political office, Patsy pursued her work with seriousness of purpose while being cognizant of stereotypes that anticipated quiet, self-effacing, acquiescent behavior. The media made things all the more difficult by referring to her as “the hula princess from Hawaii,” “the girl in the grass skirt, “and the “diminutive Patsy Mink.” She took such characterizations in stride and got about the business of governing.

Patsy’s appointment to the Education and Labor Committee gave her the opportunity to work on issues that mattered a great deal to her. She introduced legislation that would provide custodial care and educational development for pre-school children. Though opponents expressed concern about creating incentives for women to work outside the home, Patsy continued to work tirelessly in behalf of the working poor for whom work outside the home was an economic necessity.

A second term appointment to the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee gave Patsy the chance to support economic and political development of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. She joined her fellow members of the Subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation on a visit to Hawaii’s Big Island where they discussed bills she’d sponsor to safeguard sacred Native Hawaiian sites. She thwarted the Corps of Engineers’ attempt to demolish the seawall of Kaloko, thereby preserving an important wetlands for native birds and presumed burial site of King Kamehameha. That site became the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park in 1978.

Patsy’s appointment to the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee also rekindled the fight to end nuclear testing in the Aleutian Islands. When denied access to documents believed to demonstrate government agency recommendations to cancel testing, she and 32 other members of Congress filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency to compel disclosure. Though defeated in court, the case provided the impetus to strengthen key provisions in the Freedom of Information Act. This legislation set precedents that subsequently called for the release of President Nixon’s White House tapes during the Watergate inquiry.

Patsy was an early and vocal opponent to the Vietnam War. She objected to our involvement on moral grounds and found the secrecy surrounding our engagement unacceptable. She disturbed party leaders when voting against President Johnson’s military appropriations, believing the money would be better spent on domestic programs. She tossed her hat briefly into the 1972 Presidential election to provide a national forum for challenging Nixon’s lack of moral leadership and drive Democratic front-runner George McGovern toward an antiwar stance. She felt that she had to do everything possible to promote peace in Southeast Asia.

Patsy is perhaps best known as the co-author of Title IX of the Education Act Amendments of 1972. It prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender by educational institutions that receive federal funding. It covered areas such as recruitment and admission policies, financial aid, pregnancy, housing, and athletics. Though signed into law, controversy erupted when athletic departments at major universities came to terms with the reality of funding men’s and women’s programs equally. For the next three years, Patsy had to work doggedly to ensure that the provisions of Title IX would not be watered down by Congressional amendment or regulations issued by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). Her efforts paid off. In 1975, the final HEW regulations set forth the requirement that female athletes receive the same privileges and benefits that male athletes enjoyed.

In five re-election campaigns, Patsy faced tough primaries during which the local Democratic Party tried to oust her. She had strong opinions about her political agenda and would not be deterred from its pursuit by the party’s influence. She relied heavily on her supportive family and volunteers and mounted grassroots campaigns financed largely through small contributions.

In 1976, Patsy gave up a “sure bet” of a seventh Congressional term to pursue an open Senate seat. The old boy political network supported fellow House member Spark Matsunaga with financing, media coverage, and volunteers. This time, the party machinery proved too much, and Patsy was defeated.

With the untimely death of Senator Spark Matsunaga in 1990 and the appointment of Representative Danial Akaka to that seat, Patsy saw an opportunity to return to Congress. Though not the party’s preferred candidate, her “Experience of a Lifetime” campaign and impassioned belief in Democratic ideals won favor in the primary and general election.

Upon her return to Congress, Patsy found significant retrenchment in the legislation on which she’d labored years earlier. Where she’d once found her political ideals in the majority, she now fought uphill battles to gain traction for programs about which she was passionate. She advocated for universal health care long before it was passed into law by the Obama administration. She was an outspoken critic of the Republican-led welfare reform and fought to preserve safety nets for families and children. She authored the Family Stability and Work Act as an alternative welfare reform measure but was unable to secure the requisite support. She joined colleagues in successfully pressuring President Clinton to veto welfare bills in December 1995 and January 1996.

Late in her twelfth term as a United States Congresswoman, Patsy fell gravely ill with pneumonia. After a month’s hospitalization, she died on September 28, 2002 in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was re-elected by a wide margin in the November ballot. Democrat Ed Case went on to fill her seat following a special election. Colleague Norman Y. Mineta remembered her as “an American hero, a leader, and a trailblazer who made an irreplaceable mark in the fabric of our country.”

Emilio Estefan

emilio estefanWith all the rhetoric surrounding immigration in recent years, I found myself drawn to a story of one of the most successful immigrants of my generation – Emilio Estefan. Founder of the Miami Sound Machine, he and his wife Gloria orchestrated the group’s ascent to the top of popular music while establishing themselves as icons in the entertainment industry. He captures his impressive journey from rags-to-riches in The Rhythm of Success: How an Immigrant Produced His Own American Dream.

Here are aspects of his life that I found inspiring.

He left Cuba with his father at age 11 with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Emilio and his father hoped to reach America and establish a base from which they could send for the rest of their family. However, in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, Cubans could not travel to the United States directly. Emilio and his father had to spend 18 months in Spain before gaining admission to this country. They were unable to secure employment and lived on meager resources supplied by relatives who’d escaped Cuba.

He took responsibility to secure freedom for his family. That desire fueled a stellar work ethic and ferocious desire to succeed. He learned the language, excelled at school, and worked multiple jobs to support the family. Throughout his teens and twenties, Emilio’s “north star” was getting his extended family out of Cuba – a goal he reached 15 years after his arrival in Miami.

He built a career doing work that he truly loved. Music was Emlio’s passion from an early age. He found the Latin beat contagious and took solace in making music with others. He formed the Miami Latin Boys as a teenager and booked gigs in the area to feed his passion and generate supplemental income. With the addition of a female lead singer, Gloria Fajardo (Emilio’s future wife), the group changed its name to the Miami Sound Machine. Emilio eventually stopped performing and took over the group’s business affairs.

Emilio, Gloria, and the Miami Sound Machine changed the face of popular music with their distinctive fusion of Latin, pop, salsa, and disco. Emilio branched out into music publishing, producing, and recording. His Crescent Moon studios became the center of Miami’s “Motown.” Their success paved the way for the artistry of Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, and Shakira, among others.

He is a visionary entrepreneur with a lengthy track record of successful ventures. Emilio formed Estefan Enterprises in May 1986 through which he managed a music publishing company, a recording studio, restaurants, hotels, and commercial property investments. He has collaborated with some of the giants in the recording industry (Quincy Jones, Tommy Motolla, Sean Coombs). He and his wife are part owners in the Miami Dolphins.

He commits himself to being a great boss. Emilio speaks to the importance of working shoulder-to-shoulder with his employees and treating them with respect. He takes responsibility for their livelihoods and provides opportunities for them to grow personally and professionally. He challenges them to do their best work and feel a sense of ownership to the business and clientele they support. He is loyal to his co-workers and values loyalty in return.

He adopted a conservative approach to fiscal management. From the moment he arrived in America, he never spent money he didn’t have or wasted it on things he didn’t need. He kept his “day job” during the Miami Sound Machine’s early years to ensure a steady source of income. He leaned heavily on his own resources to finance new business ventures rather than go into debt. He manages all of his business enterprises frugally, thereby promoting their longevity even when unforeseen disasters strike.

He’s an optimist. He makes a habit of finding the positive in any given situation. He works toward his goals tenaciously even when faced with sizable headwinds. He sees opportunity amidst adversity and has proven time and again that he can achieve what he sets out to accomplish.

He remains a committed family man. He and wife Gloria have been married for over 40 years and have raised two exceptional children. They live and work with their extended family. Despite a very public lifestyle, their names have never been associated with scandal. They’ve maintained humility and grace in the wake of astonishing success and a heap of international accolades.

Gloria Steinem

With this week marking the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, it seems fitting to pay tribute to a modern day feminist icon.

Gloria Steinem was born on March 25, 1934 to Leo and Ruth Steinem. Along with an older sister (Susanna), the family lived an itinerant life during Gloria’s early childhood. They spent summers at a lakeside Michigan resort operating a dance hall, and passed the remainder of the year buying, selling, and bartering antiques from coast-to-coast. Both girls were home-schooled and developed a love of reading.

gloria steinemAfter her parents’ divorce in 1944, Gloria moved with her Mom to Amherst, MA to be close to her older sister during Susanna’s last year of college. Thereafter, they returned to Toledo where Gloria completed elementary school, junior high school, and her first 3 years of high school. She joined her sister in Washington DC to finish high school at a college prep institution.

In Fall 1952, Gloria enrolled at Smith College where she focused on her academic studies. She spend her junior year at the University of Geneva and studied at Oxford University that summer. Upon graduation, she secured a two-year fellowship to study in India. She immersed herself in the culture and was influenced powerfully by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. She marched in protest of the caste system and visited villages torn by violence. She also learned a powerful lesson in community organizing from an Indian teacher:

If you want people to listen to you, you must listen to them.
If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live.
If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye.

Upon her return to the United States, Gloria had difficulty finding a job. She worked briefly for the Independent Research Service in Washington DC before deciding to become a freelance writer in New York City. The available writing assignments for “girl reporters” in the early 1960s centered around celebrity profiles and style pieces. Though she felt little emotional connection to the subject matter, Gloria was content to do the work and pay her bills.

A novel opportunity arose in 1963 when she was asked to go undercover as a Playboy Bunny. The resulting piece revealed a work environment that was grueling, demeaning, and poorly compensated – jobs that no man would consent to do were the roles reversed. While the assignment should have drawn praise for the insightful exposé, it became a noose around Gloria’s neck. She was derided for “not being a serious journalist.”

Meanwhile, Gloria remained attentive to the issues of the day. In August 1963, she participated in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington and was struck by the absence of African American women on the podium. As with the civil rights movement in India, the leadership muted the female voice. She wrote: “More than ever, I found myself wanting to report on this new view of the world as if everyone mattered.”

With the founding of New York Magazine in 1968, Gloria gained the opportunity to cover important stories as a featured columnist. Her investigative reporting on women’s issues elevated her awareness of the depth and breadth of gender inequality. A feature story on the nascent feminist group Redstockings garnered the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award.

Though never aspiring to be a public speaker, Gloria shared the stage with African American feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes at the Women’s National Democratic Club in 1969. The two hit it off and made regular appearances together as community organizers. For Gloria, sexism and racism were intertwined, and the feminist tent needed to be big enough for women of all creeds and colors to find a home.

Now firmly entrenched in the movement, Gloria founded MS Magazine in 1972 as a place for women to read about women’s issues. As with most publications, she bolstered subscription funding with advertising revenue. Nonetheless, she would not countenance print ads that would exclude women who were not thin, young, pretty, able-bodied, well-to-do, or heterosexual. She courted gender-neutral advertisers – e.g., car companies, financial institutions, insurance carriers – and convinced them that women were prime decision makers in these product and service selections. Over time, she changed the advertising industry’s imagery, positioning, and understanding of the female half of the country.

Gloria was a delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention and was invited to serve as its feminist spokesperson. In 1977, she served a pivotal role in the inaugural National Women’s Conference in Houston, a product of 56 “massively oversubscribed” regional conferences. This convocation developed planks on a broad range of women’s issues to which Gloria lent her listening, mediating, and writing skills to the “Minority Women’s Plank.” It was a life-changing experience, brimming with issues, possibilities, and a new sense of connection. In the words of Coretta Scott King: “There is a new force, a new understanding, a new sisterhood against all injustice that has been born here. We will not be divided and defeated again.”

Beyond her work with MS Magazine and the MS Foundation for Women, Gloria has traveled extensively as a guest lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer. She particularly relishes opportunities to speak on college campuses where she never fails to learn something new. She also remains a prolific author having realized the power of the written word to shape the public discourse.


  • Sarah Fabriny, Who is Gloria Steinem?, New York: Grosset & Dunlap, ©2014
  • Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road, New York: Random House, ©2015, 2016
  • Gloria Steinem, Passion, Politics, and Everyday Activism, New York: Open Road Integrated Media, ©2017

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader GinsburgTwenty-seven years ago this week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as the 107th U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Her candidacy came on the heels of a stellar legal career as an academic proceduralist, a proven litigator and advocate for gender equality, and a thoughtful federal appellate judge.

Joan Ruth Bader was born on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn Heights to hard-working immigrant parents, Nathan and Celia. Older sister Marilyn dubbed her “Kiki” for being such a kicky baby, and the nickname stuck. Kiki never got the chance to know her only sibling. Marilyn died of spinal meningitis in June 1934.

Given an abundance of Joans in Brooklyn Public School 238, Kiki started using her middle name, Ruth, to avoid confusion. She earned straight As at PS238 while also attending Hebrew school, taking piano lessons, and feeding a voracious literary appetite. At James Madison High School, Ruth was an honor student, played cello in the school orchestra, and twirled baton.

Ruth entered Cornell University in Fall 1950 on a full scholarship. She was a dedicated student who aspired to achieve good grades and become successful upon graduation. Having excelled in a constitutional law class, her professor encouraged her to pursue law school and legal activism as a means of making the world better.

After graduation, Ruth married her college sweetheart, Marty Ginsburg. The couple spent two years in Oklahoma while Marty dispatched his military service obligation before both went to the Harvard Law School. As one of 8 women in a class of 552, Ruth stood out in the male-dominated culture and committed herself to a high standard of preparation and excellence.

After Marty’s graduation, the couple moved to New York City where he established a practice as a tax attorney. Ruth transferred to Columbia University as one of 12 women in a class of 341. She earned a place on the Columbia Law Review and tied for first in class upon graduation.

Post-graduation, Ruth secured a position as a law clerk for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri. While there, she accepted an assignment to research Swedish jurisprudence as part of a larger project on international procedures. Mentor Hans Smit bolstered her confidence and helped her establish a name for herself.

In September 1963, Ruth took on a teaching position at Rutgers University in civil procedure and comparative law. She also taught courses at New York University and volunteered her time at the New Jersey branch of the ACLU. The latter fueled her desire to participate actively in the civil rights movement and accorded her the opportunity to gain litigation experience. Rutgers made her a full tenured professor in 1969.

At the dawn of a new decade, Ruth was invited to teach a symposium on Women and the Law at Yale University. She researched the subject thoroughly and was disturbed by the law’s pervasive gender discrimination. It reflected the “separate spheres” mentality that assigned the roles of breadwinning and decision making to males and homemaking and child rearing to females. This construct was clearly out of step with increased participation of women in the workforce and a changing social consciousness toward the sexes. She decided to make sex-based discrimination her research specialty.

As the soon-to-be foremost litigator for gender equality, Ruth devised a strategy for presenting cases that would move the character of the prevailing courts. She used individual victories to set up favorable precedents. She was careful not to leap too far ahead of the political process and to align her cases with the weight of public opinion. Examples of cases that bear her fingerprints:

  • Reed v. Reed overturned an Idaho statute that privileged fathers as the executors of their children’s estates.
  • Frontiero v. Richardson determined that housing and medical benefits apportioned by the United States military could not be denied to the male dependent of a female officer.
  • Struck v. Secretary of Defense challenged the military’s right to discharge a member of the armed services due to pregnancy.

During the 1970s, Ruth co-authored a book entitled Sex-Based Discrimination: Texts, Cases, and Materials and published 25 legal articles. She crafted 24 briefs in Supreme Court cases (9 for litigants and 15 as a friend of the court) and presented 6 oral arguments.

Upon the recommendation of President Jimmy Carter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as a Judge of DC Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980. Deemed a “paragon of judicial restraint,” she was a moderating influence on a fractious court and garnered respect for her intellectual rigor, caution, and collegiality.

With the retirement of Associate Justice Byron White in 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to serve as the 107th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Senate endorsed her candidacy in a 96-3 vote, and she was sworn in as an Associate Justice on August 10, 1993.

In recent years, Justice Ginsburg has been cast in the role of the chief dissenter. Her opinions frequently land in the minority on civil rights, immigration, wage equality, women’s reproductive rights, faith-based programs, campaign finances, gun control, and the death penalty. Yet she soldiers on and lets her meticulously crafted dissents spur legislative action or appeal “to the intelligence of a future day.”


  • Jane Sherron DeHart, Ruth Bader Ginsberg: A Life, New York: Vintage Books, ©2018
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, My Own Words, New York: Simon & Shuster, ©2016
  • Jeffrey Rosen, Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law, New York: Henry Hilt and Company, ©2019

Wife, Mother, Professional

During the past few weeks, millions of workers lost their jobs and applied for benefits. Economists from the University of Michigan expect unemployment rates to top 15% amid a sharply declining domestic gross national product. It’s hard to draw inspiration at times like these, but I’ve found some by reflecting on my mother’s life and how she soldiered on during trying times.

Mom spent her formative years in a country wracked by the Great Depression. Her parents earned a subsistence living as officers in The Salvation Army, and the family moved frequently to serve missions around the country. It was a difficult life, and the lack of constancy contributed to a lifelong tendency toward shyness.

jean murrayEconomic necessity compelled Mom to join the work force as soon as she graduated from high school. She was sharp as a tack, a superb communicator, and a phenom with typing and shorthand. Even so, she faced substantive competition at every turn from folks who had far more work experience.

Late on a Friday afternoon, she submitted a job application along with a couple dozen other women. She was told that they’d get back to her the following week and schedule an interview should her candidacy merit consideration. She decided not to wait. Come Monday morning, Mom showed up at the company’s front door ready to go to work. She got the job and never gave them pause to regret it.

She met the love of her life at Sutro’s Ice Skating Rink in San Francisco. They married in a private ceremony at the family home and settled into a one-bedroom apartment. They lived on my father’s salary to provide flexibility for Mom to stay home once the children arrived. They didn’t buy a car until they were able to pay for it with cash.

Mom turned her attention to full-time parenting while my older brother and I were pre-schoolers. Shortly after I entered kindergarten, she returned to work to help us maintain a home in the area’s premier school district. She also began taking courses at the local junior college to fulfill a life-long dream of attaining her baccalaureate degree.

In the late 1960s, Mom took the opportunity to become a full-time student at San Francisco State University. Then in her mid-forties, she found herself front-and-center amidst the counter-cultural revolution and anti-war protests that characterized the era. Despite a rough commute, student strikes, and on-campus violence, she stayed the course and graduated summa cum laude in 1970.

Mom spent the balance of her career as an eligibility worker with the County of San Mateo. In this capacity, she helped the less fortunate identify opportunities for governmental aide and provided fiscal oversight for selected programs within the county hospital system. Her coworkers and clientele had nothing but high praise for her dedication and efforts.

No matter how busy she was with school or work, Mom never missed a beat on the home front. She took excellent care of the house and its inhabitants, volunteered at school, church, and civic functions, helped with homework, and participated actively in our musical, athletic, and social activities. She was also Dad’s sounding board professionally and his partner in life, parenting, home renovation, and landscaping. One wonders how she got it all done!

Beyond her prodigious accomplishments, I stand in awe of the determination that got her through the tough times and kept her moving forward. She mustered the courage to do things that were decidedly uncomfortable for her. She took on unpleasant work assignments to be responsive to her family’s fiscal needs. She never backed away from a challenge and spent a lifetime learning new things and honing her skills. Moreover, she was committed to putting forth her best work no matter what was asked of her.

Having lived an exemplary life, Mom finished her earthly journey three months ago today. Her final years were difficult, but she did her best to put on a brave face and carry on. May she rest in peace.