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April 13, 2012

Observances

Women’s History Month: Empowerment, education fundamental

By Geneve N. Mankel, Public Affairs Staff

Education and supporting education is fundamental to the continuation of the empowerment and equality of women, said Raeanna Johnson, the current Miss Wisconsin and founder of the non-profit organization Empowering Women, Inc.
PHOTO: Raeanna Johnson, founder and president of the non-profit organization Empowering Women, Inc., speaks with members of the Garrison Command Group. Photo by Lou Ann M. Mittelstaedt
Raeanna Johnson, founder and president of the non-profit organization Empowering Women, Inc., speaks with members of the Garrison Command Group after the Fort McCoy Women’s History Month observance. Johnson is Miss Wisconsin 2011. (Photo by Lou Ann M. Mittelstaedt)

Johnson, the guest speaker at the Fort McCoy Women’s History Month observance March 27, provided a brief historical narrative and described experiences in her own life that represented this year’s theme of “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.”

Johnson said she was excited to speak to the Fort McCoy audience because it is exactly the type of opportunity that supports her Miss America platform, “Empowering Women: Mind, Body and Soul.”

Women’s education began as a way to prepare women for household duties, such as reading to teach children about the Bible and religion, and math to budget household finances, Johnson said.

In the 1700s women were thought to have less intelligence capabilities than men, and arguments were also made that women needed education only to achieve moral abilities, Johnson said. In the mid 1800s women started to realize the importance of their own successes. Education, careers, and the first coed colleges followed.

Nearly 200 years after those first coed colleges were established, Johnson works in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Her major is Organizational Communication Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies.

Reaching her educational goals wasn’t always easy for Johnson. Just before her sophomore year of high school, she lost her older brother to a drug-related suicide. Her education began to suffer and belief in herself took a nosedive.

PHOTO: Raeanna Johnson speaks to the audience assembled at the Fort McCoy Women’s History Month observance. Photo by Lou Ann M. Mittelstaedt
Raeanna Johnson speaks to the audience assembled at the Fort McCoy Women’s History Month observance. (Photo by Lou Ann M. Mittelstaedt)

“I struggled to move forward,” Johnson said.

With the help of her high-school guidance counselor, her Family and the Miss America program, Johnson has been able to grow, despite past adversity.

“Much of who I am, and the successes that I’ve enjoyed, can be attributed to those who have supported me,” Johnson said.

Johnson also had difficulty choosing a career path. She changed her mind several times before committing to her current goals.

“This whole rollercoaster of ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ ‘What career path do I want to take?’ was not something I always decided on my own; I always had someone there guiding me,” Johnson said.

Johnson emphasized that everyone should think about what they can do as individuals and as a society to continue empowering young women.

“Consider who has helped you along the way, and the young individuals you encounter in your own lives and how you can help benefit them and encourage and empower them as individuals,” Johnson said.

During a recent presentation to group of young women in a retail marketing class at a local high school, Johnson noticed a lack of ambition and drive among the students, she said. “I found myself thinking about how unfortunate it is that students, and in this case these bright and intelligent young women sitting in front of me, set such low standards for themselves.”

Through her Miss America platform, “Empowering Women: Mind, Body and Soul,” Johnson wants to empower young women like those in the retail merchandising class.

In tandem with her platform, Johnson founded Empowering Women, Inc., a non-profit scholarship organization. The mission of the organization is “providing young women with opportunities to attain academic and career success through scholarship, promoting a healthy lifestyle, and encouraging community service,” Johnson said.

“I really wanted to give away a scholarship; I just didn’t know how to do it,” Johnson said. “When I took on this platform it was the perfect opportunity for me to ‘pay it forward.’’’

Through the Miss America program Johnson has received more than $20,000 in scholarship funds for her education, she said.

Johnson said the Miss America organization helped her in her education and empowered her as a young woman.

It also gave her a voice to make a difference in the lives of other young women in her community.

Johnson’s goals include obtaining a master’s degree and opening a health and well-being facility where Families can participate in dance and fitness classes. She also hopes to expand Empowering Women, Inc., as a statewide program.

The Fort McCoy Equal Opportunity Office sponsored the event. The next event is the Holocaust Days Of Remembrance event April 26.

For more information about Equal Opportunity observances at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-3246.

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