Brook Raney is an educator and a fire starter. She is the Dean of Students at Kimball Union Academy, in New Hampshire, and runs the Girls' Leadership Camp for middle schoolers in the summer.
Recently, Brook came to speak to the faculty here at Fountain Valley School. She spoke about empowering and encouraging the girls at our school and in our lives. In doing so, she inspired many of us. And for Avery and I, she ignited a new business partnership, and a new endeavor, Valley Girls Photography, and the workshops soon coming to empower girls of all ages through photography.
Since Brook was the spark which ignited us, I wanted to share a little bit with you today about what makes Brook so… well, sparky! So here's a little Q&A with this amazing and empowering woman.
Like all great inspiration and focus, GLC and empowering young women came to me out of the beautiful crashing of multiple events and moments in my life. I was nannying a girl who was experiencing body image issues, bullying, and all kinds of mean girl business at school. The Dove campaign had come out, and there were billboards blasted all over NYC with full-figured gorgeous women rocking their underwear like champions. I was in graduate school for Educational Theatre and searching for my passion and cause- I was learning incredible facilitation and teaching skills, but had no idea what I wanted to teach! When I presented the idea of teaching leadership as a way to empower young women, my professor at NYU was ALL OVER IT! Her support and belief in my vision launched me forward, and before i knew it, a curriculum was born. That's what got me started. What keeps me going is when I hear about girls who have been in my workshops who are now leading their own. Spreading the love and the leadership!
There are so many things dampening the fire in girls today: social media, hook up culture, body image, the Kardashians (don't get me started!). But one thing that stands out to me as totally detrimental to a girl's ability to thrive is what I call "supposed to…" syndrome. Many girls want to do right by those around them. We are pleasers by nature. When we allow those around us- parents, teachers, peers, coaches, pop culture, social media- to tell us what we are "supposed to do", we lose sight of what we want and need to do. We allow the expectation of others to dictate our choices and actions. Sometimes the intentions of these people are positive and in our best interest, but other times they are not. Sorting this out is especially difficult at age 11, 12, and 13, before we have developed strong and consistent conviction, values, goals, and identity.
Model it! We have to do the work on ourselves first to develop our own strong and consistent conviction, values, goals, and identity. No easy task. I always say that if I could wave a magic wand and bless all of the young women I encounter with one thing, it would be self-acceptance. I recognize, however, that YOUNG women are not the only women constantly questioning themselves. If we are going to teach and preach it, we must practice and live it. More important than anything is asking questions and listening. Do not try to fix any situations for the young people you mentor. Work with them to brainstorm solutions. They need to be heard, empowered and set on fire to solve their own issues, declare their own goals, define their own success, and navigate their own path. I encourage everyone to practice the GLC camp motto. If you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and with pride recite the motto "I AM WHO I AM" with confidence and conviction, then you will know you are doing your best for yourself and those around you.
I hope you enjoyed this little "snapshot" into this inspiring fire starter. I am encouraged and inspired by what Brook is doing, and it speaks to me as a photographer, as a mother to my own daughter, and as a woman myself. There is tremendous purpose in what Brook is setting out to do, and I feel lucky to have had her spark ignite me, too.
Brook, thank you for taking time to share your passion with us today. I cannot wait to bring my own Brady girl to the Girls' Leadership Camp, and cannot wait to see how you continue to set all of us girls on fire.
You can find Brook at BROOKLYNRANEY.COM or register your own daughter for the Girls' Leadership Camp by clicking HERE.