Thayer Global Speaker Series: Forum urges women to ‘live out loud’

Thayer Global Speaker Series: Forum urges women to ‘live out loud’

Linda Champion

As president of the Korean-American Citizens League of New England, attorney Linda Champion is well-versed in advocating for others, but she can also recall times when she was the only person available to advocate for herself. 

Her self-advocacy began in childhood: Champion, who grew up in East Texas as the daughter of an African-American father and a Korean mother who did not speak English, recalls feeling ostracized from both identities by her peers as a child. The work continues in her adulthood: at, for example, a job interview when the interviewer took one look at Champion and promptly left – or the time when she went to great lengths in court to make a legal point only to have the judge ignore what she said, then turn and agree with a white male attorney as he made the exact same argument.. 

But, as she told audience members gathered at Thayer Academy’s Middle School Forum on April 4, through it all, she kept claiming her space in the worlds she wanted to enter. 

“I’m going to show up the way I want to show up,” Champion told her audience, a former lecturer at Suffolk University Law School. “I just stopped feeling scared to show up in spaces where I knew that I belonged.” 

Beth Chandler and Linda Champion
Watch the full discussion                                      

Champion was one of three panelists, all leaders in the Boston community, for “A Women’s Leadership Forum: DEI, Power, and Progress,” an installment of the Thayer Global Speaker Series. Joining Champion that night were Beth Chandler, president and CEO of YW Boston; and Annissa Essaibi George, a former Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate who currently serves as president and CEO of Big Sister Boston. Sabrina Zeoli ‘24, founder and president of the student-led Women’s Empowerment Club at Thayer, not only conceived of the forum but moderated the evening’s discussion. 

For Essaibi George, a Dorchester native and first-generation American, it’s about charting her own course in spite of, and sometimes even because of, the obstacles ahead. She recalled her immigrant parents — a mother born in Germany to Polish parents in a Displaced Persons’ Camp after World War II and a Tunisian father who was an Arab Muslim — and how she often pushed back against some of their cultural restraints, which she emphasized came from a place of love but also of fear and worry. Around the eighth or ninth grade, she said, she told the family of her interest in politics, only for her father to tell her that she’d make a great vice president. 

Annissa Essaibi George

“I remember thinking, ‘Why didn’t he just say president?’” said Essaibi George. “Who decides whether or not I get to do something?” 

Chandler explained that as a Black woman of color who is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she lives her daily life within those three traditionally marginalized identities. “I live with the body that I live with,” she said. She acknowledged the power that shame has to make people feel small, as if they don’t fit in, but urged her listeners to reject that lie. 

“I’ve thrived wherever I felt I belonged,” said Chandler, who added that she feels that way at YW Boston, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate racism and empower women by encouraging systematic change and providing DEI leadership development services. 

The reality, Chandler said, is that systems that seek to marginalize certain identities and voices do exist. The good news, she added, is that these systems can change through the resilience and hard work of individuals and groups. 

“We created the system as human beings,” Chandler said. “We can dismantle it as human beings.” 

Chandler emphasized the importance of having tough conversations with one another but said the goal of such conversations should not be to convince but rather to share. 

“We all make mistakes,” said Chandler. “We need to have a little grace.” 

Sabrina Zeoli '24 moderated
​​​​the panel discussion                      

Zeoli did yeoman’s work facilitating a wide-ranging discussion that touched upon everything from salary inequality to women’s health issues to the role of men as allies in creating meaningful change. Assistant Head of School for Academics Peter Brooks, who welcomed guests to the series event that night, praised Zeoli for her persistence in making the forum a reality. 

“She was in my office on the second day of school,” said Brooks, who called the Thayer Global Speaker Series event “a unique opportunity to grow and learn together.” 

A Q&A session followed the discussion where panelists encouraged women to build a strong network, support fellow women who are already working to make a difference, and make their own health and well-being a priority and not an afterthought. 

And, said Essaibi George, don’t forget to show up for one another. 

“For me, it’s really about modeling behaviors,” she said. “It’s about living out loud.” 

Thayer Global Speaker Series

The Thayer Global Speaker Series brings thought leaders, innovators, and difference-makers to the Thayer campus to engage the community in issues that matter to the world. 

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