In the most polarized and passionate, the most angry and aggressive news environment in recent memory, my job as a journalist requires me — often — to push back in live interviews against comments that are unfair, untrue or leave me thinking, "Is this seriously happening right now?"
I have to use my voice. I must speak up.
Throughout the 2016 presidential election, I listened. At debates and rallies, I heard their voices clearly and felt compelled to do something more. Thousands and thousands of women spoke with confidence and conviction. They were women of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities — all political persuasions. Yes, so many of them were hoping for history to be made: a first female president. But when that didn't happen, I asked myself, "Where will all these women go?" I had a hunch something significant was about to happen as women were speaking out and showing up in record numbers. From the stage at the Women's March in Washington D.C. last January, where I witnessed the collective strength of those who traveled great distances to be seen and heard, it was overwhelming. And, personally, it was crystal clear: the next chapter of my career would focus on women.
Ava DuVernay, Sheryl Crow, Diane von Furstenberg, Ashley Graham, Tracy Reese, Pat Benatar, Issa Rae, Betty White — they've all shattered glass ceilings, whether in music, fashion or film. Watch the pieces in this series and you'll see why I selected each of them. These are trailblazing women who shared with me very personal stories of success and failure; who aren't afraid to talk politics, frustration and hope. And, perhaps, most importantly, these are women who "don't want to be at the party alone." That's how Ava put it so selflessly as we talked on the set of her hit series, "Queen Sugar." In the end, these are leaders who want to help other women realize their dreams.
I genuinely love each of them, but the woman closest to my heart is my mother. Not long ago, I gave her a sneak peek at the project that's consumed me for the past 12 months. Together, we watched the episode on Diane von Furstenberg. It begins with my mother giving me my first DVF wrap dress (a dress my mom couldn't afford at my age on her school teacher salary). Diane talks about the strength and encouragement her mother gave her and how those things became the platform for her success and influence in the world of fashion, feminism and beyond.
This piece brought my sweet, Southern-bred mother to tears. "Growing up, I wasn't encouraged to speak up or speak out," she recalled. And as I threw my arm around her, it brought me an important revelation, a clear view of the critical change wrought in a single generation of women: my mother and millions like her felt they couldn't use their voices, but they taught their daughters they MUST. Their sacrifices, strength and courage opened voting booths, knocked down boardroom doors, paved paths to directing chairs and set the stage -– or in my case, the anchor desk -– for the rest of us. I dedicate my work on this series to my mom.
How about you? Creating this series has had a profound effect on me. I hope in some way, it influences you, too. Your voice matters, and I'd love to hear from you. Please upload a short video of you on Instagram telling me your "American Woman" story in less than a minute to @BrookeBCNN. ("I'm [your name], and I'm an 'American Woman' because…"). Don't forget to use the hashtag #AmericanWoman.
2017 was the year of #MeToo. Fairness and consequence — in some cases — are beginning to land because people like you are speaking up. In order for this movement to continue, for equality to exist, we must never forget the great changes of history have always come through persistence and belief.
For my part, I created "American Woman."
As for my mom, her biggest gift to me was teaching me I can and I must use my voice. I owe her a debt of gratitude… and a wrap dress from DVF.