A Tale of Two Cities and Their Mayors

2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Minnah Stein with Shelli Freeland Eddie, mayor of Sarasota, Florida.

Getting to intern with the mayor of Sarasota, Shelli Freeland Eddie, has been one of the best experiences of my life. I want to have a career that allows me to help people, and working with the mayor has enabled me to learn from the best. I’m so proud that our city has a strong woman as mayor who young girls in my community can look up to.

I’ve learned so much from all of the experiences my internship has offered me, but my favorite internship days are the days when after the City Council meetings are over, I trade my notepad and flats for a Girls Inc. t-shirt and sneakers. I leave the City of Sarasota and go to Dream Harbor, the mock city run by the girls at Girls Inc.

Girls Inc. is an afterschool program for girls in grades K-8. Here, girls are empowered to be strong, smart, and bold; through life-changing education and experiential learning in a girl-run city called "Dream Harbor." At Girls Inc. I’m a tutor and mentor, but really, the girls there are my mentors. They’re all so inspiring; you can’t help but leave feeling empowered to be as strong as they are.

Last year on November 28, my worlds collided. The Mayor and I attended a swearing-in ceremony for the incoming Mayor of Dream Harbor, 5th grader Kiley. As I sat in the crowd watching Sarasota’s mayor swear in Dream Harbor’s mayor, I realized just how lucky I was to have the mayor as a mentor and to be able to pay what I’ve learned from her forward in my work with Kiley and the other girls at Girls Inc. Seeing powerful women in leadership positions is important for young girls as they develop. It changes the way girls see society and their roles in it, positively influencing their future career choices and giving them confidence they may not have otherwise developed. It also has the benefit of changing the way society views girls, removing long-standing stereotypes and limitations.

Women are severely underrepresented in politics and in many positions of power. Invisible barriers have been created that prevent women from climbing the career ladder, and some of those barriers are psychological. Recent research finds that women rely on and benefit from same-gender role models more so than men do. When girls grow up not seeing women in positions of power, it makes them feel like they can’t be powerful themselves. But when I see powerful women in charge working day in and day out to make my city a better place, I feel like I can do anything and achieve any goal.

This is known as the “role model effect,” and it is key to shaping the next generation of girls. A study done by MIT showed that in areas with long-serving female leaders in local government, the gender gap in teen education goals disappeared because girls had set higher goals for themselves. They believe, like me, that they can do anything because they see powerful women like Mayor Eddie doing the things they thought they couldn’t.

When Mayor Eddie swore in Kiley as Dream Harbor’s new mayor, she said something that really resonated with me: “As an elected official you are no more important than anyone else in Dream Harbor. Everyone matters. Everyone deserves respect." Mayor Eddie is teaching these girls what being a leader is truly about. Being a leader is about being a part of the community, not being above it. And everyone, no matter race, gender, or religion, deserves to be treated equally and given a chance to pursue her dreams. And this is a lesson that is crucial because today’s media so often tells girls that they can’t do things and that they aren’t good enough.

I am fortunate to have seen first-hand the benefits Dream Harbor has had on these young girls. I am proud that I get to witness a generation of girls who think women running for president and holding high positions in politics and in business is normal. Girls Inc. teaches girls through their slogan: “strong, smart, and bold” that no dream is too big, and no goal is unachievable. Young girls like Kiley are given the opportunity to hold positions of power, teaching girls from an early age that they can contribute to their communities and take on leadership roles.

Mayor Eddie is someone I hope I can be like when I am older. Her work has been an excellent model for me, illustrating how a woman can be a strong leader, make tough decisions, and work in a bipartisan manner to achieve the greater good.

Thanks to women like Mayor Eddie and all the women across the country who are running for political office this upcoming election and those leading the way in business, this new generation of girls has many positive models of what female leadership can and should look like, which will hopefully inspire even more women to pursue positions of power. I am hopeful that together and in short time, we will shatter that proverbial glass ceiling. As Hillary Clinton said as she became the first woman to win the presidential nomination, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Stein, Minnah. "A Tale of Two Cities and Their Mayors ." 29 June 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 18, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/tale-of-two-cities-and-their-mayors>.