As a young African American woman, Antoinette Frazier was told over and over again that she wouldn’t amount to anything.
“A lot of things got slapped in my face,” Frazier told Julian Middle School seventh-graders during a March 25 Women’s History Month assembly. “Oh, you’ll never be anything. Oh, you come from this background. Oh, you used to fight a lot.”
Frazier’s story was one of many shared during three grade-level assemblies, where panels of local women participated in Q&A sessions. A program coordinator for a girls mentoring program and permanent substitute at Julian, Frazier encouraged students who face similar challenges to keep going and keep their heads up.
“Those of you who think because you’ve got this background where you’ve been fighting your whole life, you can come up out of that fight and still make it to be somebody,” Frazier said.
Students helped plan the event, which was spearheaded by Julian’s culture and climate coach Katie Trathen, by brainstorming questions for the panelists, finalizing the slideshow presentation, and working as emcees and moderators. Eighteen panelists participated throughout the day, from District 97 parents, staff and board members to Village of Oak Park staff, board members and community organizations.
Diverse in age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability and occupation, panelists answered questions such as: What have been some barriers you've encountered and how did you overcome them? Who have been your allies and how have they supported you? Who is the most influential woman you know?
“I hope that events like this provide students with opportunities to see themselves represented, as well as to learn about and appreciate the perspective of those who have an identity that is different from their own,” Trathen said.
The women shared messages of empowerment, touching on some of the obstacles and challenges they have overcome and the people who have helped them along the way. The event provided an opportunity to educate, motivate and inspire middle schoolers with personal stories shared by women from their own community.
In the end, Frazier challenged students to listen to their inner voice, not their outer critics.
“You need to lay claim to what you see as impossible,” Frazier said, as students broke into applause. “Don’t forget to include that which is attainable. Speak to it by saying it out loud to yourself daily. Put it in the atmosphere.”
Grade 6: Quinn Barr, Audrey Bell, Maia Merrill, Lauren Nelson and Sophia Ott
Grade 7: Tegan Smith, Aahna Reddy and Lily Hong
Grade 8: Sheila Johnson and Lariyah Apollo
Dana Aviles, Administrative Assistant, District 97
Val Brown, District 97 Science Teacher
Dr. Susan Buchanan, Physician and Oak Park Village Trustee
Chemaine Carr, District 97 Assistant Principal
Antoinette Frazier, Permanent Substitute Teacher & Girls Mentorship Program Coordinator
Nancy Guarino, District 97 Math Teacher and Financial Literacy Consultant
Gina Harris, District 97 Culture and Climate Coach, District 200 School Board Member and National Education Association Board Member
Caitlyn Kasper, District 97 Spanish Teacher
Dr. Eboney Lofton, District 97 Chief Academic and Accountability Officer
Cheree Moore, People Operations/Researcher and District 97 Board Member
Vicki Scaman, Oak Park Village President
Libby Scott, Attorney
Holly Spurlock, Director Strategic Claims (Attorney) and District 97 Board Member
Dr. Megan Stewart, District 97 Teacher Mentor
Dr. Felicia Starks Turner, District 97 Associate Superintendent of Education
Megan Traficano, Youth Services Director at Oak Park Township (Social Worker)
Christina Waters, Oak Park Village Clerk