If you’re like me, at some point in your life, you watched Thelma and Louise, Lucy and Ethel, Kim and Whitley, or the Golden Girls on screen. You witnessed their fierce commitment to each other through highs and lows, wins and losses, marriage and singlehood. You laughed with them, cried with them, shook your head at their antics, and held your breath while they stumbled their way through new (and often repeated!) adventures.
I wasn’t gifted with birth sisters. As a girl, I had a handful of close friends in my neighborhood and a few female cousins. In the early days, friendship was simpler. We played games, talked about boys, watched our favorite TV shows together, and rode the “silly train” regularly. We fussed occasionally about typical tween girl things – he said, she said, so-and-so didn’t invite what’s-her-name to the party, etcetera. Our most serious shared occurrence was the tragic death of a high school classmate. At the time, we had little life experience in which to contextualize such an untimely death. We only knew we were sad, and that it didn’t seem fair.
Enter Spelman College, a historically black women’s institution in Atlanta, Georgia made popular by the emergence of A Different World – a spinoff of The Cosby Show – in the late 1980’s. Spelman was used as a prototype for the show’s historically Black college setting, and many students who watched wanted nothing more than to be part of the knowledge-dropping, fun-having, lesson-teaching, inspirational mission brought to life on our television screens. This was so true for me that Spelman was the only college application I (willingly) completed. In 1992, I left my home and family in New Bedford, Massachusetts to attend Spelman, where I began a journey of discovery that would change everything.
That was in 1992. It’s 2016, and I’ve recently returned from celebrating my 20th college reunion. Thanks to meticulous planning, over 200 classmates and I shared a magical four days of reconnection, tradition, insight, and more hugs than can be counted. My soul is saturated with love and gratitude. Twenty years of life and living seem to have erased any semblance of separation between us. What was once several groups of women who were cordial with all, but tight with a few, has evolved into something much more powerful – one uninterrupted force of sisterly devotion. No boundaries. No judgment. Just open minds, open hearts, and open hands.
Spelman trained us to be sisterly; it didn’t happen by accident. Most of us didn’t walk through Spelman’s gates predisposed to sisterhood. Through intentional messaging, regular activity, and required commitments to forums and traditions, we got a lesson in sisterly love every day. From the moment we stepped foot on campus until the day we graduated, we were taught that our bond is our greatest asset – a living, breathing entity that would continue to fortify us as long as we maintained our respect for it.
Our reunion reinforced this truth for us. But here’s the best part: I realized over the course of four days that Spelman taught me much more than how to love my Spelman sisters. My sisterhood training is the energy that fuels my work today.
Here are three truths my reunion weekend have brought to the forefront as I reflect on a whirlwind love-fest I won’t soon forget.
Women are stronger together.
Every year, Spelman hosts the Blue Note Gala – a signature event celebrating the gift Spelman is to us, and highlighting our alumnae gifts to Spelman. Our 1996 graduating class was recognized for the largest reunion gift this year. Over 40% of our class donated to Spelman, resulting in a gift greater than any of us has the ability to generate on our own. For me, it was one of those proud moments that was not about money at all, but about working together toward a common purpose, rooted in a shared belief system. There are so many other efforts we can and should join together to advance. There is work to do, and we are the ones to do it.
We are enough.
Our classmates are at very different points in our lives from a family and professional standpoint. We are deep with doctors, lawyers, judges, executives, business owners, professors, board members, home-schoolers, government leaders, civic leaders, philanthropists and more. And yet, with all that we’ve accomplished, our conversations were not about our work. We talked about our Spelman memories and made new ones. We asked “how are you?” and actually waited to hear the answer. We helped each other throughout the weekend by offering everything from advice and inspiration to rides. During our four-day celebration, conscious presence was each sister’s greatest contribution, and we were all enriched by it.
Love is the great amplifier.
There is considerable competition in the world. Competition is healthy, and it definitely has its place, but that place is not within your team. Love magnifies – it strengthens, supports, and forgives. It enables collaboration, resilience, and recovery. It offers a safe space within which to learn and grow, and frees us to be authentic…even as we strive to become better versions of ourselves. One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou captures it best: “Love builds up the broken wall and straightens the crooked path: Each of us if created of it and I suspect each of us was created for it.” (Mic dropped.)
I didn’t write this piece as an advertisement for Spelman College, although it might read as one. What I really want to convey is this: As women, we are our greatest allies. We best understand each other’s struggles and dreams. We absolutely need men engaged in our journey toward equal opportunity, but male advocacy should supplement the encouragement and insight we freely offer each other. I will never begrudge another sister’s success. I hope we all win, and win gloriously! When more women see sisterhood as an opportunity for collective growth and impact, I believe we will rapidly accelerate our progress.
My bottom line: Sisterhood is my super power.
What’s yours? Whatever it is, use it! I guarantee you someone needs exactly what you have to give.
Tara Jaye Frank is Corporate Culture Advisor for Hallmark Cards, Inc. and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career course they can believe in and achieve. Tara also consults and speaks on women’s leadership and diversity and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter @tarajfrank, Instagram @tarajayefrank, Facebook at Facebook/tarajayefrank, or visit her at tarajayefrank.com.