On Wednesday, March 28, Leslie Foster was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame for her dedication to our community and for helping women, children, and transgender people experiencing poverty. Her acceptance speech wowed attendees. Here it is in full for everyone to read, enjoy, and share.
"Thank you so much for this most meaningful honor.
As I began to prepare my remarks for tonight, I glanced at a small gold frame that has been sitting on my desk for a number of years to remind me of a lesson on brevity from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. This made me think of one of Ms. Lamott’s books, which is about three essential prayers: Help, Thanks, and Wow, which I think sums up most of life. So with Anne Lamott’s inspiration, here is what I think you should know about me, and what matters to me, by theme.
Theme 1: Help
On Monday mornings at 9:30 a.m., a list of ten names are read over the loud speaker at The Gathering Place. These ten women have won the lottery and their prize is a bed in the Delores Project shelter for one week. Each week I witness two competing sights. In one, ten women cheer, fist bump, and sometimes tear up because, they believe their luck is good. Frequently, they praise god, or express amazement because today was their birthday, or their mother’s birthday, or some other notable coincidence has occurred that is surely an indicator of good luck.
In the other sight, many more women – often more than 20 - bravely accept their fate, and move quickly to adjust to take the next right steps to find shelter for the night. Interestingly, I have noticed that people in this group seldom cry. Tears are a luxury for these women, who must simply move forward with resolve.
I am in awe of all of these women who demonstrate the kind of courage that comes from adversity and necessity. Courage that is equal to grace. And, I think two things.
First, I think that these women - who I am so privileged to witness in vulnerability - are in my personal hall of fame. And second, I think that after all these years, and all the work that so many of us have put into women’s rights, affordable housing, domestic violence, addiction, and poverty, surely we can do better than to allow luck to decide who will be safe for the night.
Help. There is so much work to be done. Women, children, and people who are transgender are really struggling. We still have a very long way to go. Every day about 220 people come to The Gathering Place to receive essential survival services. One-hundred percent are experiencing poverty, half are homeless; they range in age from birth to over 80. We can assume that all have experienced some kind of trauma in their lives. They need critical resources, such as food, education, jobs, and access to medical and mental health care. They need relationships – people who care about them, people who love them, and who don’t judge, but rather provide a listening ear, and maybe reflect back encouraging words. They need hope. Without hope, there is no inspiration for change.
Theme 2: Thanks
I have learned that there are people who sustain us, and people who inspire and give us hope. I am blessed to have had many of both. At my table, I have sustainers – my wife, Jane; my best friends Bonnie, Russ, and Betsy; my Board Chair, Christina. And I have those who inspire me: my sister of choice, BJ. And my niece LaRissa, who brings my two great nieces, Ella, and Amelia - who I think and I hope will loom large in the next generation of women who contribute to the world.
Also here tonight are colleagues, and volunteers who I love. I’m sorry to not be mentioning your names, because you all deserve to be mentioned. The best part about being in the nonprofit sector is working alongside people who have made a commitment to fulfill a mission. I am grateful to be part of this community where I am challenged, and rewarded with thoughtful people, ideas, and vision about how life can be better for us all.
I believe that the most successful people in service are here because we are surrounded by sustainers who keep our foundations strong, and we are lifted by those who inspire us to dream and imagine a better, and more equitable world.
Theme 3: Wow
One sleepless night I woke up and I realized that in all the interviews and conversations I have had about the Hall of Fame, I forgot to mention that I am related to a witch. Ann Foster, back in 1692, during the Salem witch trials, confessed to being a witch, after several days of torture and, importantly, because it was the only way to save her daughter and granddaughter who had also been accused of witchcraft. Remembering Ann made me realize that I am deeply, genetically connected to a long line of courageous women who do whatever they have to do to make the world safer, and more equitable for women. And I will tell you that this is true of my sisters, my mother, and my grandmothers. It is true of my nieces, and I believe it will be true of my great nieces, and those who follow for generations.
I believe that our capacity and willingness to love, and to behave with integrity and compassion, is our greatest power. It is witchcraft – complex in its simplicity, and mystifying. It both grounds and inspires us through these most challenging times, because in the end we will love, and be kind, and hold hope. We will do whatever it takes to bring forth kindness, equity, and love.