In 2009, I was an intern for a medium sized NGO, based in Cape Town, South Africa. I was working directly with their youth programs, teaching dance aerobics after school, English lessons, and “life skills” sessions in classes. During the school hours I worked on indirect service projects, doing policy work and administration tasks for youth programs. My days were long but I was curious and driven that summer.
Two weeks before my internship concluded, preparing a return to America, I looked for cheap books on Amazon for fall courses. All the other staff was focused on a big project before the internship season (South Africa winter break/US summer break), concluded, which was an Ireland youth soccer exchange program. That year was our turn to host, a full youth soccer camp ranging from elementary-high school aged kids and their coaches, coming to Cape Town for 10 days of soccer-bonding with our youth. The foundation does amazing work but there’s only so much excitement I can show when it comes to sports. I did help with some logistics, but the project wasn’t my favorite. Maybe I was bummed my dance aerobics class in Guguletu Township was wrapping up and I didn’t have a final piece to teach the girls yet.
Then something bigger happened. America’s Secretary of State, at that time Hillary Clinton, was coming to Cape Town, to see us. The foundation I worked for was selected as a nonprofit vendor to set up shop at her hotel, and tell our story through the merchandise our youths made to showcase local initiatives supporting the township communities. This assignment just dropped on my desk. I figured being the American intern—black, gay, highly energized, well-spoken, and a flamboyant dance teacher who studies Criminal Justice policy—had something to do with it. For whatever reason, the staff thought: “Chaz should do,” and I was ready. A chance to sell handmade merchandise to one of the most powerful women in the world. I was glowing, ready to meet a woman of power.
She walked in the room and owned it. Demanded attention, made direct eye contact with everyone, and delegated tasks to her enormous team so smoothly. She was personable and intelligent. I told her about my university, hometown, and major in what felt like a 30-second conversation, trying so hard to keep her talking to me. I felt like I’d just made a new friend when she moved on to the next table.
As a college sophomore, meeting Clinton the way I did (abroad) made me reflect about why we don’t have more female leaders like her in this world, why they don’t make as much as male peers, and why our society devalues them. It’s strange because often women are the ones who do it all, as wives, mothers, holding leading positions, and making an impact in their community. As a twentysomething college student, I had no idea about feminism—and don’t claim to be an expert today. I do know that we should all use our platforms and privilege to bring forth true equality in our communities that deeply considers social equity and inclusion.
What does it take for more girls to have access to making it like Hillary Clinton did and what are the systematic constructs blocking them? Clinton’s power shouldn’t awe boys like me because a forceful woman ought to be the norm. Whatever your political thoughts this election year, let Clinton be an educational reminder that there’s work that remains undone in this world.