Follow Your Dream

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If I could share 500 words to inspire, this is the important wisdom I'd want to pass along to others...

  • First and foremost, follow your dream.

    When I began work in July 1965 at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel, interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, prohibits sex discrimination by covered employers, employment agencies, and labor unions, I found I had a passion for women’s rights.

    As a Jew who had to leave Berlin, Germany, in 1933 with my immediate family to save our lives when I was five years old, I early learned of the evils of discrimination based on religion. When I rode through the South with my family en route to spending the winter in Miami Beach, Florida, when I was a teenager, and saw the racist headlines in the newspapers and the racist signs on benches, busses, water fountains and restrooms, I saw the evils of discrimination based on race.

    And when I joined the EEOC, I became aware of the evils of discrimination based on gender. It’s all of a piece – mistreatment of people not because of who they are but because of the group into which they were born or belong. It also includes, of course, discrimination based on ethnic origin, color, age, marital status, mental or physical disability, and sexual orientation.

    I have been engaged in the struggle against such discrimination ever since. While at the EEOC, people told me from time to time to leave the field of women’s rights as the lucrative work lay in corporate law and other areas. I never gave that a thought but instead followed my passion. And that has brought meaning to my life and given me a most rewarding life.

    Second is the importance of networking. I try to make friends wherever I go and to keep those I have made. I stay in touch with my friends by that invaluable form of communication: e-mail, but also by snail mail, telephone calls, and personal visits. The benefits of friendship are endless. My friends provide me with emotional support, company, fun, information, joy, and love—in short, all the reasons to keep living. I hope I do the same for them.

    Third, do what you can to keep your mind and body in the best possible health so you can continue to enjoy this wonderful life we’ve all been given as much as possible and for as long as possible. As the Roman poet Juvenal said: “Mens sana in corpore sano,” or “A sound mind in a sound body.” This means regular exercise, having regular medical checkups, and eating a plant-based heart-healthy diet.

    Fourth, keep your sense of humor. Much of what happens in life one can either cry about or laugh about. Choose to laugh about it.

    Now, go forth and accomplish something with your life and have fun while you’re at it.

    Sonia Fuentes

    Sonia Pressman Fuentes, who was born in Berlin, Germany, of Polish parents, came to the U.S. with her immediate family in 1934 to escape the Holocaust.  She graduated as valedictorian of her high school in Monticello, New York, Phil Beta Kappa from Cornell University, and first in her class at the University of Miami (FL) School of Law. She was an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development in Washington, D.C.  She was the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the EEOC and drafted a number of the Commission’s landmark guidelines and decisions.  She was a co-founder of NOW, WEAL (the Women’s Equity Action League), and FEW (Federally Employed Women) and a charter member of VFA (Veteran Feminists of America).  She was one of the longest-serving board members in the history of NWP (National Woman’s Party). She also served as an attorney and executive, respectively, at the headquarters of GTE Service Corporation and TRW Inc., and was the highest-paid woman employee at each of those headquarters. In 1993, she retired from the federal government and thereafter wrote her memoir, Eat First—You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You: The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter, and embarked on new careers as a writer and public speaker. She was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame and is included in the online exhibit of the Jewish Women’s Archive of 74 Jewish-American women who contributed significantly to women’s rights. On June 9, 2008, she was one of 36 feminist lawyers honored by the Veteran Feminists of America at the Harvard Club in New York City for significant contributions to women’s rights in the 1963-75 time period. She is featured in Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation, a documentary film about the second wave of the women’s movement that was released in early 2013. In September 2013, Sonia spent a week in Antwerp, Belgium participating in the opening of the Red Star Line (RSL) Museum. The RSL Museum, dedicated to immigration and the RSL, has a permanent exhibit about Sonia and her family. She is one of five surviving passengers of RSL ships about whom the Museum staff knows and was the only surviving passenger who was present at, and participated in, the opening events.

    For more information, please visit erraticimpact.com/fuentes.

    View all posts by Sonia Fuentes.

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