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Raising Up The Next Generation

By Fatimah Simmons (MPP â€˜11)

New York City was abuzz with anticipation for Fashion Week. Everyone was excited -- except for me. In August 2008, I had heard then-Senator Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention and realized that I wanted to be a part of a new generation of leaders who can deliver creative public policy.

That is an excerpt from the statement of purpose I wrote in my Goldman School application. I often get asked what made me want to leave the glamour of New York City’s fashion industry. I absolutely loved fashion (and I still do), but Senator Obama’s speech had become a catalyst that compelled me to commit my life to public service. He boldly declared, “Change happens because the American people demand it.” Frankly, fashion seemed boring compared to the thrill of working for social and political change.

The Goldman School now has an impressive array of outstanding female faculty, but when I was at GSPP just three years ago, Professor Jane Mauldin was the sole woman faculty mentor that I could claim. She gave me what would turn out to be a life-changing suggestion. I still remember the late afternoon of 2010 when she called me into her office.

“Fatimah, there is a ‘Women in Politics’ course being offered at Mills College that you should strongly consider,” she said firmly.

I whined and rattled off a list of excuses: it’s too far, it’s too complicated to cross-register, and I already have all the credits I need. But Jane persisted and ultimately I took her advice. The founder and president of IGNITE, who would go on to hire me as Director of Programs was the professor of that class. I owe Professor Mauldin a great deal!

It was hard to leave a job and an industry I loved. I miss Fashion Week shows and invitation-only sample sales but what GSPP and my time at IGNITE have given me is so much greater. Now I am in a position to educate, motivate and empower young women to achieve their dreams of leadership. No fashion show in the world can top that.

Fatimah Simmons (MPP ‘11) is the program director for IGNITE, which helps young women from low-income communities to become civically engaged and politically involved. You can reach her at fatimah@ignite.org.