Joan Wicks, Amanda Gorman, and Gabriel GormanJoan Wicks, with permission
MY HERO celebrates hero moms and daughters that have been making a difference in the world, sometimes in situations of great risk. What is so special about these stories is that the daughters are carrying on their mother’s work with verve and confidence, building on their mothers’ legacy, strength, and inspiration as they continue her mission and follow new missions of their own. As it has always been, even in patriarchal cultures, powerful lineages of women continue to make a real difference in this world.
In the US, officially Mother’s Day began in the early 1900s, when Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way to honor a mother’s sacrifices. But the celebration of mothers and motherhood is found in many cultures most religions, where it goes back the Neolithic and Upper Paleolithic when carved stone images were venerated in celebration of the divine feminine and motherhood. In India the mother goddess, or Great goddess—which goes back more than 5000 years, is nothing less than the supreme creative force.
MY HERO features seven unique mother-daughter teams who are working very hard to make our world a better place for all of us.
Joan Wicks, with permissionJoan Wicks and her daughters, Amanda and Gabrielle Gorman
Dr. Joan Wicks and her daughters, Gabrielle and Amanda Gorman
Dr. Joan Wicks raised two outstanding, creative young women: Gabrielle and Amanda Gorman, whose art, media, and words are influencing the nation and the world with their vision for equality and justice for all.
Joan has always worked in service for others as a scholar, teacher, parent and athlete. A sixth-grade English teacher, she has been involved with MY HERO ever since her daughter, Gabrielle Gorman, won Student Honoree for her film Dear America at the 2015 MY HERO Film Festival. Gabrielle and her twin sister, Amanda, both attended New Roads School (K-12) in Santa Monica, where the film festival took place. Gabrielle went on to work as intern for MY HERO and was the host for the 2016 International Film Festival. Gabriel Gorman graduated from UCLA in Film Studies and is today a writer, director and producer working to create art for social change.
Amanda Gorman, Gabrielle’s twin sister, became the nation's first youth poet laureate and graduated from Harvard University with a degree in sociology. She then captured the heart of the nation when she recited her poem, The Hill We Climb, at the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden in 2021.
In an interview with MY HERO Staff writer Shannon Luders-Manuel in 2021, Amanda and Gabrielle credited their mother’s parenting style with their ability to flourish and become the young women they are today. For example, from her own upbringing, Joan carried on the tradition of eating together as a family. (See /celebrating-the-gorman-family)
Joan, their mom, told MY HERO:
Raising my children was the greatest joy and honor of my life. I was very deliberate about infusing an abundance of laughter, love, and creativity into our home. We had so much fun! There was always an ‘adventure.’ People warn you that it will go quickly, and instinctively, I understood this—and I didn't want to miss a minute of it—almost like not wanting to blink! We had soooo much fun together! And yes… it did go quickly.
Small Planet Institute, with permissionAnna Lappé and Frances Moore Lappé
Frances Moore Lappé and her daughter, Anna Blythe Lappé
Mother-daughter team Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Blythe Lappé were honored with MY HERO’s 2021 Global Educator Award, which honors people working to create meaningful change in the world through education.
Frances and Anna founded the Small Planet Institute together, an international network for research and education about the root causes of hunger and poverty and the Small Planet Fund which supports democratic movements worldwide.
The mother and daughter team recently worked together on Diet for a Small Planet’s 50th Anniversary edition, where, building on the 1991 edition, they address issues of climate change, food justice, corporate farming, pollution, erosion, and pesticides, and revise the recipe section. The two currently focus on the intersections between democracy, environment, food, and justice.
Anna Lappé is also breaking new ground in climate and food activism. In her book, Diet for a Hot Planet, the award-winning author, speaker, and activist describes how industrial agricultural practices contribute to global climate change and offers advice on climate-friendly eating.
Among her many activities and commitments, Anna runs Real Food Media, which she founded to bring together food and farm organizations to educate and grow the movement for sustainable food and farming. The organization has created a short films competition with pop-up festivals around the world.
Wendy Jewell, with permissionSlater Kemker and Wendy Jewell
Wendy Jewell and her daughter, Slater Jewell-Kemker
Wendy Jewell worked with MY HERO for many years as writer, filmmaker, and producer while raising her stellar activist-daughter: Slater Jewell-Kemker. Wendy introduces herself and her connection to MY HERO in a story published on the MY HERO website:
My name is Wendy Jewell and I have been associated with The MY HERO Project almost since it began. Currently, I am a producer/writer/educator living outside of Toronto. But it was in Southern California where I met my dear friend and fellow adventurer, Jeanne Meyers. She told me about this thing she was creating on the "World-Wide Web", about heroes and her desire to make uplifting, enlightening material available on the Internet. A decade ago the Internet was a baby and my child was a toddler so I didn't fully appreciate what Jeanne was trying to do. Now that I have a teenager using the Internet, I really GET IT. The MY HERO Project has been an on-line resource for my daughter, not just to learn about great people, but to learn about herself. It's a way for her to voice what's important to her in a non-violent, socially responsible, tolerant way. And that's what Jeanne was talking about… what the MY HERO team, my family and I have been talking about ever since.
Wendy’s daughter, Slater Jewell-Kemker, is an award-winning director who has introduced her generation to the international youth climate movement. Slater, in fact, grew up as a youth reporter for the MY HERO Project. On this journey, she discovered her passion for filmmaking and continues to use media for expressing her activist voice.
The mother-daughter team was awarded MY HERO’s Climate Activist Award at the 2021 International Film Festival. At the online awards ceremony, Wendy and Slater’s admiration for one another was palpable.
UN Environment, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia CommonsWangari Maathi
Wangari Maathai (d. 2011) and her daughter, Wanjira Mathai
Kenyan environmental and social activist Wangari Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the winner of a 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari authored four books: The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth.
Founded in 1977, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) works at the grassroots, national, and international levels to promote environmental conservation; to build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls; to foster democratic space and sustainable livelihoods. GBM has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya.
In 2005 Wangari Maathai wrote about her own mother and about mothers, more generally, in a story entitled, Heroic Women, published on MY HERO. Here’s an excerpt:
My life's work has been made possible through the dedication, intelligence, and power of women. It was the women in my life who taught me not only to read and write, but about service and community, the values that guide me still.
Women have an innate sense of service. It is part of who we are. We give rise to new life by nurturing it inside us for nine months. Then we bring it forth and feed it with our own milk, with our own body, and eventually, our own self. My mother was the first strong woman in my life. I know that it was she who instilled in me a true sense of my own power and my responsibility as a woman.
I am proud to share the credit for my accomplishments with my mother who gave birth to me, and with all the nuns who shaped my perception of the world and my role in that world. My work is the embodiment of their patience, persistence, commitment to service.
In a story she posted on MY HERO, Environmental activist Frances Moore Lappé wrote about Wangari:
… she's not my hero because she is now a famous Nobel Laureate, rather, it is because she has modeled what I most want to learn about: power, courage, and hope. Wangari Maathai is my hero because she is The Woman Who Didn't Listen….And because Wangari didn't listen, Kenya now has 30 million more trees--all planted by untrained village women. Noting that she taught the women to trust themselves.
As the result of her work, tens of thousands of village women who have been taught to defer to chiefs, husbands, colonial authorities, multinational corporate marketers, and to disparage their own traditions and common sense are now gaining the courage to step into the light. They are saying: We have the solutions. We can take responsibility. We can transform our villages and our nation--and our world.
Wangari died from ovarian cancer in 2011, but her legacy continues. Wangari’s daughter, Wanjira Mathai, now leads the Greenbelt Movement, founded by her mother in 1977.
Wanjira MathaiGSS Channel, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Wanjira is vice president and regional director for Africa at the World Resources Institute, where she leads WRI’s overall Africa strategy and works on projects and initiatives in over 20 countries. Wanjira also leads the Wangari Maathai Foundation, whose mission is to work with school children in environmental clubs where they are mentored by Wanjira and her staff and learn about environment.
“I am not living in my mother’s shadow; I am basking in her light,” Wanjira said when asked by about her work with the foundation (See https://wagingnonviolence.org/2021/03/wanjira-mathai-green-belt-wagari-maathai/).
Along with the rest of the world, MY HERO celebrates the work of Wangari Maathai on March 3rd, which is officially known as Wangari Maathai Day.
Amy and Kathy EldonKathy Eldon
Kathy Eldon and her daughter, Amy Eldon-Turtelaub
Kathy Eldon, who created the Creative Visions Foundation in 1998 in memory of her son, Dan Eldon, is the sponsor of the Dan Eldon Award honoring young activist heroes each year at MY HERO’s International Film Festival. A free (and, according to Kathy, “noisy”) spirit, Dan put college on hold and went to Africa, becoming compelled to stay working on the frontlines of conflict areas as a photojournalist for Reuters. He was part of a group of journalists who broke the story of the famine in Somalia in 1993. His life was tragically cut short when he was stoned to death in Somalia by a frenzied mob at the age of 22.
Kathy Eldon is a journalist, author, producer, activist, and mother to two amazing children, Dan and Amy Eldon-Turteltaub. Her life changed drastically in July of 1993, when her son died. He was 22. Kathy's journey has been shaped by this tragedy and transformed by what she has created in its aftermath. She has turned a personal tragedy that would have broken most people into a life-inspiring lesson for humanity. Kathy and her remarkable daughter Amy, are models of compassion, hope and forgiveness in a world too often filled with hatred, revenge and bitterness.
Inspired by Dan’s life, Kathy and her daughter Amy started Creative Visions Foundation to ignite the spark within all of us to make a positive difference. Creative Visions supports Creative Activists, who seek innovative solutions to local and global issues and use Arts and Media to ignite positive change.
Amy Eldon is also a producer and writer, known for Soldiers of Peace: A Children's Crusade (1999), The Thousand Year Journey (2015) and Extraordinary Moms (2011).
Each year Kathy Eldon and Creative Visions presents the Dan Eldon Activist Award at the My Hero Film Festival. This award is given to honor her son, Dan - activist, artist, photo-journalist, changemaker.
UN Environment, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia CommonsBerta Isabel Cáceres Flores
Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (d. 2016) and her daughter, Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres
Working in a country that had long experienced growing socioeconomic injustice, Berta Cáceres brought together the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras to wage a powerful grassroots campaign against the world’s largest dam builder: The Agua Zarca Dam would effectively destroy her people’s livelihood and well-being. Berta’s campaign was successful: Dutch development bank FMO and FinnFund have since abandoned their involvement in the Agua Zarca project. Her work earned her The Goldman Environmental Prize for environmental activism in 2015.
Sadly, after long experiencing death threats, Cáceres was killed in her home on March 3, 2016, spurring outrage around the world.
Bertha Zúñiga CáceresComisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos from Washington, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Today her daughter, Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, carries on her mother’s work in Honduras.
In 2017 Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, born in 1990, took on her mother's role of general coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), defending the environment and combatting sexual discrimination and oppression of women and LBGT, which her mother saw as interconnected. After a turbulent childhood, Zúñiga did her undergraduate work in Cuba and earned a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies in Mexico City.
Following her mother’s death in 2016, Zúñiga left her studies to lead COPINH, where she continues the struggle for social and environmental justice for the Lenca people in Honduras.
Abi and Kitty Richardson
Abigail Richardson and her daughter, Kitty Richardson
Finally, MY HERO has its own mother-daughter team. We are grateful for the outstanding contributions of MY HERO Story Editor and Educator, Abigail Richardson (“Abi”), and her amazing young daughter, Kitty Richardson, a MY HERO intern and musician who won the Emerging Artist Award at our International Film Festival in 2021.
Kitty is an award-winning singer-songwriter from Rutland, UK and a music student specializing in music composition at the University of Leeds. She has composed music for charity as well as multiple theatre companies, music groups and professional producers.
In 2021 Abi wrote about her daughter:
My daughter, and MY HERO’s current intern Kitty Richardson, is an inspiration to me - not just for her incredible talent and work ethic, but because she has heroically faced and overcome so many obstacles in her, relatively, short life… This current opportunity for Kitty to work as an intern for MY HERO is the reward she deserves. Not only is it the perfect fit for her values and beliefs, but it is the ideal vessel for her to explore, cultivate and enhance her many creative gifts. MY HERO, I am very grateful.
Kitty, I am so proud of you. You are my hero. I cannot wait to see what the future brings. I know you will stay strong.
In addition to autism, Kitty has a rare condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which causes broken or sprained wrists and severe joint dislocations.
Kitty and her mum have a special relationship, reflected in Kitty's song, Dear Mum. This deeply moving song is about how Kitty's mother has empowered her “to stand up tall” and how to grow.
See Kitty’s film, Do You See Rainbow? - Learn about the autistic experience through the eyes of someone with autism
To learn about the work of other mother-activists and heroes, see: