2016 Regions Riding Forward® Scholarship Essay Contest Winning Essay by Kathryn D.

2016 Regions Riding Forward® Scholarship Essay Contest Winning Essay by Kathryn D.
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Some people might say that a woman best known for her flamboyant dance in a banana skirt is hardly a good choice as a role model for a young girl.  Those people are wrong.  African American turned French citizen, Josephine Baker, was a complex and inspiring woman who rose from poverty to become the world’s first “superstar”.  She was also a brave woman who put herself at risk to spy for the Allies during World War 2(WWII) and a dedicated Civil Rights activist.  As a dancer throughout my childhood, I was initially drawn to Josephine Baker because of her fame as an entertainer, but as I learned more about her, the more I came to admire her inspiring strength, perseverance, and dedication.

Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis in 1906 to an impoverished family. Suffering abuse by her employer and experiencing the East St. Louis Race Riots of 1917, she vowed to find a way out of her bleak existence. At 14 she joined a traveling dance act and eventually found her way to New York where she gained popularity on Broadway.   Despite her growing fame she experienced racial discrimination and when offered the opportunity to perform in Europe, she jumped at the chance to escape the prejudice she experienced in the US.  In France, Josephine rose to stardom.

Josephine was the “It Girl” of Europe when Germany invaded France in 1940.  She quickly volunteered for the Free French Army where she was subsequently recruited to spy for the French Underground and the Allies.  She set up a theater and used it as a cover for a large espionage and sabotage organization.  She remained active as a spy until the end of the war and received medals for her efforts.

In addition to her contributions to the Allies in WWII, Josephine Baker also dedicated herself to working towards equality for all people.  She even adopted 12 children of different races, religions and cultures and dubbed them her “Rainbow Tribe”.  She wanted to show the world that all people could live together in harmony.  Although she found a new home in France, she never forgot her birth country. During the Civil Rights movement Josephine refused to entertain segregated audiences.  This led to performances becoming fully integrated in the 1950’s.  She continued in her activism and was the only woman officially invited to speak alongside Martin Luther King in the “March on Washington” in 1963.

Young woman need strong role models.  For me, Josephine Baker is that role model. Faced with unimaginable obstacles in her life, through hard work and perseverance, Josephine pulled herself out of poverty and changed her destiny.  Once famous, she gave back selflessly and never abandoned her goal of uniting all people.  Such strength, courage, conviction, and spirit resonate with me. As a student studying to become a lawyer and an Air Force officer, I am inspired by story and I am confident that if I work hard and meet challenges with courage I can achieve anything!

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