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Barbie Izquierdo: I See You, Mujer Poderosa!

For Women's History Month, anti-hunger champion Barbie Izquierdo sends a love letter to all the women she grew up with in North Philly who inspired her to stand up for her community.

March 24, 2022 | By Barbie Izquierdo, Consultant, Community Empowerment Manager at Hunger Free America

This blog is a love letter from Barbie to all the women she grew up in North Philly who inspired her to stand up for her community. This led her to pursue food justice and anti-hunger advocacy rooted in sharing, uplifting, and celebrating stories of lived and living expertise. 

Barbie, a public speaker, advocate, and blogger, works to put an end to hunger and poverty by putting a face to those issues and leading in the lived experience movement through community engagement. She has been featured in the documentary “A Place at the Table.” Barbie has spoken alongside Maria Shriver and President Joe Biden, and she has had her work elevated by BBC World News, CNN, Associated Press, Washington Post, People Magazine, and more. 

A Spanish version of this blog is here. 

Dear Mujer Poderosa, Doña del Bloque, La Líder del Impacto, This is for YOU!

To the women who recognize that they are monumental, who know they have an inexplicable power and force within them. Women who see beauty in themselves and in others, and who nurture the world through acts of service, compassion, and empathy without hesitation — even if it is the unpopular thing to do. Women grounded in culture, heritage, morals, strength, grace, and the ability to be themselves while finding their place and standing firm in the world. 

Growing up in North Philly, I always understood the power of women like you all. I watched my mother struggle with supporting my family, and I appreciated how the other mothers in my neighborhood made sure, every day, everyone was okay. Witnessing those women at a very young age taught me I had a responsibility to help those around me. Through those women, I came to know what my life’s role is: to take care of my family and community. What I didn’t know back then was that living in a neighborhood where neighbors provided resources for you meant that I grew up in poverty — and that the resources given out were coming from those facing similar circumstances. 

A girl from North Philly

My community helped create an internal foundation that urged me to become a supportive community member, like those I grew up with. I also wanted other girls that looked like me to feel like they could do that, too, and know we can lead together. That was reinforced as I started to realize the lack of representation for girls like me: I noticed how I was treated as the daughter of a Cuban immigrant who only spoke Spanish, my skin was darker than the other Hispanic girls in the neighborhood, and the texture of my curls became glaring in comparison to the hair texture of others. Those experiences inspired me to take on the role of the community leaders that I watched and admired so much (even though I didn’t know how they were able to do so much). They, particularly the women, were the sheroes that I never knew I needed, and, so, I write this as an homage to all women struggling to take care of their families. The ones who may be living in circumstances that they feel they don’t deserve. Those who feel stuck or trapped in a cycle, no matter how hard they work, and yet still provide resources, meals, encouragement, and a smile to all who need them, even when they may be struggling to find a genuine smile for themselves. 

Mujer Poderosa, Doña del Bloque, La Líder del Impacto: Again, I dedicate this letter to you, and in part to myself, due to all the years I spent lost, thinking that I was alone, and thinking that I had to hide parts of myself to be accepted.

Even worse, due to years of thinking that I could never show vulnerability and giving in to the silence that society seems to encourage — only to realize years later that vulnerability is what saved my life. 

I’ve spent many days listening to the stories of the women who carry the strength and burdens of their communities — stories that are reminiscent of my childhood and lived experience as an adult. Those stories helped me find the courage to tell my own story. So, I transformed the world into my stage and, ever since, have spoken to anyone who is willing to listen — but that hasn’t been easy.

Often when you’re nervous and must speak to a crowd of blurred, maybe unfamiliar faces, common advice is to picture the crowd naked. I would challenge that advice by noting that the speaker is the one who is exposed and bare for the world to see — especially when speaking on personal experiences that may be thought of as demeaning. Despite that, I have reclaimed the power in my story by being vulnerable in very public settings and using my voice to uplift the financial tragedies, lack of resources, lack of accessibility to effective professional development opportunities, and more that people in low-income communities face every day. 

Especially during Women’s History Month, I can’t help but remember the little girl — me — who wanted to change the world and be a part of solutions, while battling stereotypes and trying to just survive. Whether through advocacy, a criminal justice lens, through dance and writing, or through voicing my opinion, I’ve always known that I have something to say and want to make a change. I’ve always known that I want to help my community; no matter how dangerous it was, something about it always felt safe – especially because of the women. Women who were the head of their households and always found a way to make ends meet. Women who are still leading their families today while being underpaid and in need of assistance.

Mujer Poderosa, La Doña del Bloque, La Líder del Impacto: If it was just me and you all in a room, I would say, You can keep pushing!

The strongest woman in my life, my mom, Norma Iris Tirado

No matter how misunderstood, undervalued, or unappreciated you feel. The shame starts to fade when you accept your pain as your strength. When you understand that the moments during which you felt like everything around you was trying to break you happened so that you could be a source of strength — for yourself, those around you, or for a stranger. I am still searching for my tribe of sheroes to build this sisterhood and help support and empower each other through this work that is so vital right now. 

So, if you are reading this and it resonates with you and you feel something, or if you have always wanted to speak out and just don’t know who to trust or where to go, I’m reaching out via this letter to say I am here, and connected to a network of anti-hunger organizations and advocates that need our input to implement the changes America needs to end hunger. I need you! Because I, too, sometimes feel alone.

You can be a beacon of light when someone else is lost in a sea of darkness and doubt. You are not alone in your feelings of wanting to be saved, but I want to remind you that, ultimately, you have the power to know, I am capable. Yo soy Poderosa! You carry the legacy of your family, who has made it this far, and we are all inspired by you!



✨ For #WomensHistoryMonth, anti-hunger champion @BarbieIzquierdo sends a love letter to the women who have shaped her life and advocacy for @hunger.