It’s Women’s History Month! Creative Loafing loves to celebrate wonderful women all year round, but this month we’re spending a little extra time highlighting a few Charlotte fe-noms whose work uplifts other women and girls. We did hear a rumor they run the world …
What comes to mind when you hear the term “tragedy of ease”?
For Carrie Cook, it is a disconnect from the history of women’s struggles and sacrifice. Seeing this lack of awareness as a detriment to women and girls alike, she decided to bridge the gap.
“Get a woman to love and lead genuinely, and that woman is the most contagious force in the world,” Cook says, smacking her palms on a table we sit at together during a recent chat.
Cook’s contagious herself. Successful Senate staffer and Charlotte native to boot, she’s poised, accomplished and articulate, yet open; she’s outgoing and off the cuff. What Cook recognizes more than anything, though, is that her personal and professional rise weren’t accomplished single-handedly.
Cook’s always had mentors: individuals who play roles of encouragement, reassurance, support and dissuasion. Her mother set a strong precedent with a life of servant leadership. Cook strove to follow suit. In 2011, she realized the need to ramp up commitment to building relationships between women leaders in Charlotte and girls growing up in neighborhoods where she spent her youth.
No stranger to mentor programs, Cook still did her research. She noticed most organizations solely emphasize value added for girls. “While we [women] have something to offer to them, they also have something to offer us,” Cook explains. Her focus on reciprocal value became the centerpiece of EmpowHERment, a “hybrid (program) focused on a continuum of development.”
While committed EmpowHERment mentor/mentee pairings hover around 30, its annual summit reaches 200 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students and at least as many women from Charlotte-Mecklenburg communities. Cook keeps EmpowHERment’s leadership team and goals for the program focused on quality and sustainability; while measuring impacts to further their model, 2015-16 is their goal year for expansion.
“It’s a really powerful thing, seeing women and girls own their own stuff – both helping each other unpack junk that’s built up and find the genuine, authentic leader within,” Cook shares. “When perception is changed, that’s a powerful moment – for all of us.”
In light of this focus on paradigm shifts, Cook notes that EmpowHERment also puts emphasis on fostering diversity in relationships. The YWCA, which honored Cook last year with its Emerging Leader award, “has done some work on race relations,” Cook notes, “but we need to evolve toward dialogue between women of all races, with real conversations around meaningful connections. When you’re a woman,you’re a woman, and there’s more we have in common than is different.”
Mentors move on and up to start their own businesses (Jenifer Daniels of PR for Social Good is an EmpowHERment alum) while mentees hone and develop abilities they’ve never exhibited before. “I had a mentee for two years who just moved to Durham to attend the NC School of Science and Math,” Cook shares. “When we first met, I couldn’t get five words out of her. Now, her family’s a second family to me. And as we were unpacking our mess,” she says with a smile, “we both learned a lot. We grew.”