Donna Byrd, the publisher of online magazine TheRoot.com, credited America’s armed forces Tuesday for making the country a model worldwide for women’s rights.
Her remarks at Fort Gordon’s recognition of Women’s History Month came with a challenge, though, to continue serving as cheerleaders for the next generation of young women.
“We are the ideal of what many countries want to become ... but we have work to do,” Byrd said.
Byrd outlined the progress made by women over several generations and described the challenges that lie ahead. To illustrate the progress, she told the story of her grandmother, who worked hard to become valedictorian of her graduating class, only to have that honor taken from her days before graduation.
The principal told her that if she walked the stage as valedictorian, her school would be the laughingstock of the city, Byrd said.
“She told me that story when she was in her 70s, but her words were still heavy with the disappointment of a teenage girl,” she said.
Byrd used her education to get marketing jobs at Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble before achieving her position at the daily magazine, which focuses on black perspectives. She draws on the example of her mother, who was discouraged from becoming a doctor after graduating with a degree in biology.
“They told her it would ‘ruin her life’ and that no one would marry her,” Byrd said, but she pursued her dream anyway.
She concluded her speech with a challenge to encourage future generations of girls and young women. She said the military serves as a beacon in the fight for the rights of all citizens.
“I know you are out there fighting for our rights as women and Americans,” Byrd said.