United in White
By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Alice G. Patterson
It’s corny, but it’s true, Kelly Grace Smith warned before she began to tell the story.
It starts years ago, in the seventh grade at Jamesville-DeWitt Middle School. Auditions to seek out the Susan B. Anthony speech presenter had been held, the ambitious preteens’ ideas carefully weighed, and Kelly was chosen the winner. She took her spot at the podium. When she started speaking, she immediately had the attention of the audience. She finished talking, and the room erupted with applause.
“I just knew,” Kelly remembered, “I knew in that moment that I would need to use my voice in different ways to support people, because people could hear my voice, in the figurative and the literal sense.”
Kelly’s had different careers and experiences since — the key to a happy life and empowerment, she explained. She was in politics for a number of years, and eventually followed a calling to life coaching, a field she’s been in for the last two decades. Kelly’s also worked in media and is a published author.
Her latest project, White Scarf Women, was spurred by politics, but has little to do with it.
Considering Kelly’s own career in government, it’s no surprise that her daughter Audrey got involved with Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Florida, where the 25-year-old is working to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice. When the result of the presidential election was announced, Audrey was devastated, Kelly said. She had been through similar experiences and was familiar with the feeling of being shaken up by politics. She gave her daughter some advice.
“I said, ‘Well, the best way to move through this is to create something positive out of it,’” she remembered.
Kelly knew that more politicized efforts like Pantsuit Nation existed, but her aim was to unify all women, regardless of their voting history, beliefs or personal background.
She knew that women on both sides of the aisle were feeling angry and betrayed, but she also knew that they have “an infinite capacity to rise above challenges.” After all, she explained, they do it every day. Women have to make decisions and be flexible every day.
The act of donning a white scarf — a symbol of “our shared respect, acceptance and value of one another” — is another conscious choice. In Tibet, a white scarf is given as an act of friendship, Kelly explained. She hopes that her White Scarf Women project will encourage women to support and empower themselves and each other.
“If we can’t do that, then don’t we become like the people — not just men, but the people in the world — who have dismissed or disrespected us just because we’re women?” she proposed.
When she was in public office, Kelly — the first woman to hold the position of Town Supervisor in DeWitt — became familiar with double standards held toward her because of her gender. When she was a candidate, she encountered words and actions that would not likely have been directed toward her male counterparts.
Issues that women face are more apparent now, Kelly said. While there’s still struggle, that struggle can transform into chance for something better.
“The thing about it is — and I teach this in my classes — one of the greatest tools you can ever develop is turning a challenge into an opportunity,” she said.
In this case, the challenge is to recognize differences and the opportunity is to rise above them, heal and move forward together.
For the White Scarf Women project, that movement is gradual for now. Kelly understands giving people the option to join the movement is important, and that some people still need time.
“It’s really corny,” she admitted again with a smile, “but I really think women can change the world when we grasp hold of things like this, and support women to really shift the culture.”
Women are impactful, Kelly explained. American women make a day-to-day difference in the world around them, and in turn, women around the world look to them as role models.
“So shouldn’t we be respecting and empowering women at the same time that we’re setting an example? Not as a burden; all we have to do is set an example,” Kelly said. “Let’s show the world this is who we are. Let’s show ourselves this is who we are.” SWM
To contact Kelly and learn more about White Scarf Women, visit kellygracesmith.com.