Some girls rock at one thing – and other rocks at lots of them.
Rosie Molinary rocks at many. Where do I start? She’s an author and speaker, but she’s also a teacher. Always a teacher. She teaches at my alma mater, UNC Charlotte, and also taught at my old high school, Garinger. She advocates for one of the groups closest to my heart:
Girls and women. (#GirlsRock)
She’ll tell you way more about her work and her visions in her words than I can tell you in mine. She’s also a voice in the Latin American community and speaks on intentional living, among other things.
Please give her a warm CD welcome.
RM: When I was really little, I wanted to either be a writer or an architect when I grew up. Creativity was something that really moved me, and I was passionate about finding ways to uniquely express myself. By early high school, I wanted to be a civil rights attorney (with a focus on issues that affected marginalized teens). By the time I graduated, I knew that I wanted to be a high school teacher.
One of the greatest civil rights issues on my mind was access to quality education, and it had become apparent to me that not every kid gets the same education. There were all sorts of ways that one could tackle that issue but what I felt called to do was to tackle that issue in the classroom— being the best possible teacher that I could be in a school that was under-resourced. I went into college feeling a real clarity that teaching was my purpose.
CD: How did your focus on female development develop?
While in college, I regularly volunteered at alternative schools in Charlotte. One was a school for violent offenders and another was set up for students for whom a more traditional high school setting didn’t work. I really loved both settings, and I developed a deep interest and ability in working with young men who were gang-affiliated. Meanwhile, I was focusing on what I wanted to major in at Davidson.
I had gone into college thinking I would be an English major with a focus on creative writing (and that I would ultimately be an English teacher) but the writing program was on a bit of a hiatus when I arrived at Davidson and I found that the classes that were most interesting to me looked at the African-American experience.
I ultimately designed a major in African-American Studies and Urban Education issues through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and my thesis looked specifically at best practice models around the country for working with gang-affiliated young men and what public schools could learn from these efforts. I also completed my high school Social Studies teaching certification while at Davidson.
I student taught at Garinger High School and was ultimately hired there for my first job.
As a high school teacher, I was struck by how few of my students had a voice that was their own I wanted so much to hear what they had to say but, often, students shared what they thought the adults around them wanted to hear. I started thinking about whether or not my expectation was realistic- had I had a voice at 16?- and I remembered that I did have a voice but it was a voice that I developed because I routinely journaled.
I am Puerto Rican, and my family moved to the US when I was 2. My dad retired from the US Army when I was in elementary school and my parents were eager to move back to Puerto Rico. At that point, though, because of our frequent travels to Puerto Rico to see family, I had become keenly aware of the differences in opportunity for girls and women in the US vs. Puerto Rico.
I decided that I had to do whatever I could to make sure that I was raised and educated in the U.S., so I took the difficult things that I experienced — racism and sexism — and I spilled them on the page rather than confessing them to my parents. My journal was my refuge when I was in high school and so I decided to use personal writing in my classroom to really help my students discover their voices.
Ultimately, a confluence of things led me to get my MFA in Creative Writing after my third year at Garinger and the manuscript I wrote as my Masters thesis was a series of linked essays and poems that explored my coming of age experience through the lens of ethnic identity, body image, and beauty standards. I pursued my MFA because of how it could help my teaching, but I became curious as to what other Latinas’ experienced as they came of age.
I explored that question in my first book, Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina (Seal Press). As I traveled to various colleges on book tour, I would often go visit high schools in the community during my down time. Often, the schools would assemble a small group of Latina girls to talk with me. In those candid conversations, I would hear their hopes and dreams and challenges.
Their dreams always required a college education and, yet, at the time, only 10% of Latinos had a degree past high school. Moreover, I knew that there were special challenges that young Latinas faced for a variety of reasons— language barriers, racism, sexism, etc. It was in conversations about these issues with women around Charlotte that the idea for Circle de Luz was born. Ultimately, Circle de Luz was founded in 2008 to radically empower young Latinas by supporting their transformation through extensive mentoring, holistic programming and scholarship funds for further education. I serve as the Board Chair.
Professionally, what I had to say about body image in Hijas Americanas really resonated with people and so I developed my thoughts and experience in that space. Ultimately, I am driven by the idea that the world is filed with so much need and that each one of us is one part of the solution this world needs. We are each here on purpose. But, ultimately, if our relationships with ourselves are not healthy, it is really hard to live our purpose.
And so much of my professional work is driven by a desire to help people reconcile their relationships with themselves, connect with what their talents and passions are, and create systems and plans that allow them to live that purpose.
While my volunteer work now is very female empowerment focused, my professional work as a speaker, educator and writer is done with anyone who is looking to live authentically and intentionally. I work with medical students, doctors, non-profit leaders, college students, and individuals on self-awareness, self-acceptance, and intentional, purposeful living in the hopes that all of our efforts can bring collective change.
What’s funny is that my college friends who remember me working with young men in the Crips and Bloods in the 1990s are fascinated by the work that I have done with body image which is seen as such a female issue (though it is not).
But what I have found is that feeling the urge to be violent or aggressive outside of yourself is really no different from feeling the urge to be violent or abusive to yourself. I would dare say that the young men that I worked with in the 1990s feel the same pain, are fighting the same emotions as a young woman that I may have worked with more recently.
It is all born from an inner discomfort, a lack, a belief that something is fundamentally wrong or missing, a denial that we, just as we are, are enough. In many ways, I think everything that I do comes back to a very simple thing: If we can find our voice and believe in it, we can thrive and, if we thrive, the world heals.
CD: Finding our voice is a sometimes a lifelong journey, but so much can be accomplished along the way. What advice would you give young girls to find their voice?
RM: When we are young, we can be crippled by self-consciousness. In that lack of confidence, we sometimes try to make ourselves as ordinary as possible so that we don’t stick out because of our fear of being judged. Then, when we reach adulthood, we realize that the most valuable thing we have to offer the world is our own uniqueness. We spend our adulthood saying in various ways, “this is what I have to offer. This is how I can help. This is what I bring to the table.”
I try to impress upon all young people that we would make our lives so much easier and our hearts so much happier if we just embraced our uniqueness from the start. But it is hard to do that if we are afraid of being judged. And so I think there are really two areas where I would like young people to focus in order to find their voices.
The first is to make their worlds safe for all kinds of voices. Don’t accept intolerance (or in the language of their worlds- bullying). Make everyone feel wanted and validated. Become a safe space for all those around you. Because when we operate as a safe space for other peoples’ voices, we promote peace and happiness, and we also give ourselves the world that we most want to have (and one that is also safe for our own voice).
But then there is the issue of knowing who you are well enough to begin to develop your own voice. There are all sorts of ways to find your voice, but the basic formula is that you need to get quiet enough to discover yourself and what you think and you need to be open to hearing what others think so that it can inform your own world. Writing, for me, is still the gold standard for finding your own voice.
When we write, we discover what we know and believe deep down inside. Our subconscious gets to speak up and share everything that it has been working on while we were doing our homework or chores. And those thoughts come to us completely unfiltered. Conversation is also good. I love encouraging young people to answer contemplative lists of questions together (what person from history would you invite to dinner, what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen, when was the last time you cried and why).
In moments of shared vulnerability, we build profound self-understanding and connection. Reading (everything from books to news stories) and deeply listening to music (writing a song is a powerful example of someone finding their voice) can really help us access our own voices. When we discover and embrace our own voices, profound things happen. We become more confident and less vulnerable; we become more compassionate and less afraid; and we begin to live on purpose which might very well be the thing that we and the world most need in order to heal and thrive.