As Austin Woman’s staff strives to UPLevel Austin’s community, they remember iconic women who’ve helped them do the same.
Director of Events & Community Engagement
I met her while living in the Midwest, having recently relocated from Louisiana. We had a mutual friend that had been teasing an introduction for months, with the promise that she and I were “two of a kind” and destined to be “best friends.” The common denominator was that we were both from the South and a little out of place in our surroundings. The long-awaited introduction was made and, as promised, we hit it off. Her name was Debi Keay, and she was from Ft. Worth, Texas. She was several years older than me. A writer and artist. I had never met anyone quite like her.
Debi Keay approached life from an artist’s perspective—she made everything beautiful. Her home was a sensorial experience with curated layers of color and texture. This same concept extended outside in her garden, where plantings were often moved in the fall to facilitate a new and more exciting “performance” each spring and summer. Anyone who knew her would say she was one-of-a-kind. She was soft and graceful but strong-willed and outspoken. I carry her with me every day, and she is part of the fabric of who I am. Debi Keay unexpectedly passed a few years ago, and I never got to tell her all of these things. Her friendship and influence are priceless gifts, and I am forever grateful.
In the early days of Austin Woman, we were honored to feature some of Austin’s most iconic trailblazing women who really led the early days of the women’s equality movement. Liz Carpenter, Molly Ivans and, of course, the inimitable Sarah Weddington who represented “Jane Roe” in the landmark court case that legalized abortion. I was lucky enough to be invited many times to the home of Liz Carpenter, founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus and joint chairwoman of ERAmerica, for some very lively parties and discussions on women’s empowerment, which really helped shape much of the future vison for what I wanted Austin Woman to represent. I will always be grateful for their inclusiveness and support of our efforts at Austin Woman to be a steadfast voice for women
From day one, my mom has been my biggest cheerleader. As a kid, I tried every hobby and activity you can think of. I am incredibly grateful to have had those experiences and that my mom always believed in my potential. She encouraged me to try new things, but most importantly, to stick with them. The sky was the limit. Now as an early-career professional, I apply that mindset to my career goals. My mom’s can-do attitude has motivated me to take on new challenges and elevate my aspirations. Having a great support system has inspired me to UPLevel myself in ways I could have never imagined. Even at my lowest points, I’ve learned to redirect my mindset and persevere through hardships. Throughout the years, my mom has reminded me that growth and change are important phases of life that can help achieve success. I wake up every day eager to put my best foot forward, and I thank my mom for raising me with love and support.
Media Sales Executive
From my earliest memories, my Aunt Chelle has been an unwavering inspiration. When she embarked on her journey as a cosmetology student, I remember her practicing on dummy heads wearing wigs. When she graduated with her license to practice, she said she was excited to be giving people art to live their lives in. Her true masterpiece came later, though. She built a business plan and opened her own salon, which became a staple of style and prestige in Austin. Within those walls, beauty and comfort converged, creating an atmosphere both welcoming and exciting. She didn’t even stop there, though. With Urban Betty rated as one of the top four salons in Austin, she still continued to expand and triumph, culminating in the upcoming inauguration of her third salon. She’s a dreamer, a doer, an emblem of success. Who wouldn’t admire her?
Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire, has inspired me to uplevel in a significant way. Born to freed slaves, her entrepreneurial journey began from the ground up, showcasing her resilience, determination and innovative spirit. Despite facing societal barriers and personal hardships, she founded a company that revolutionized the hair care industry for African-American women. Walker’s focus on self-empowerment through economic independence and her unrelenting pursuit of success have left an indelible mark on American business history. Her story serves as a poignant reminder that with conviction and courage, even the loftiest dreams can be realized. In a world often resistant to the success of women, especially women of color, Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy stands as a beacon of what can be achieved through perseverance and vision.
When I was in fourth grade, I got my first taste of public speaking: a report about a person we admired that we had to present to the class. My presentation was on Janet Jackson. Every time I saw a video from her, I felt empowered *literally like I had superpowers and could do anything). Every song I heard from her strikes the right balance between pop banger and social conscious sensibilities. I walk different every time I listen to her music. Beyond her feminine grace, there’s a thick layer of feminine power in her messaging, dance performances and commentary. She had a hand in redefining pop culture particularly for Black women (and further Black queer womxn), showing the world that we were, are and will remain the blueprint for how culture moves. I don’t know what it was about her that initially intrigued me so much (particularly because I was so wrapped up in her older brother), but every time I thought about a person from history who fascinated and inspired me, it always came back to Janet. (“Ms. Jackson, if ya nasty!”)