Meet Our 2019 Dottie Lamm Leadership Award Winner
Ananda Birungi of Thornton High School Is Our 2019 Dottie Lamm Leadership Award Winner
In 1987, The Foundation created the Dottie Lamm Leadership Award to honor the former First Lady of Colorado’s commitment to advancing and accelerating opportunities for women and their families. The first Dottie Lamm Leadership Award was granted in 1988 and has been awarded annually since to one individual who demonstrates resilience and leadership on the path to economic security. Our 2019 award winner is Ananda Birungi of Thornton. This is her speech from our Annual Luncheon on October 11, 2019.
Looking back on where I’ve come from, I never envisioned that I would be on this stage.
I was born and raised in Uganda, a country plagued with poverty and starvation. While this was a reality for many people, I saw a different side to my country: one of community, kinship and support. I lived with my close-knit family of five. We went to church on Sundays and my parents taught us to love people and treat everyone equally. In a country where being Black didn’t make you a minority, we found pride in our Ugandan heritage.
Through my life across oceans, education has been a constant source of empowerment for me. In Uganda girls were expected to work on farms rather than go to school. While I was fortunate to attend school, I felt trapped in a system that didn’t allow me to explore my intellectual curiosity. At home, I found pleasure sitting by a candle lit flame, reading as many books and newspapers as I came across, to make up for what I was missing.
Despite the fact that the future seemed unpropitious, nevertheless, I persisted with the vision of making something out of myself.
Lack of educational and job opportunities led my family to immigrate to the United States in 2016. I was excited, but nothing prepared me for the experiences I would face as a racial minority in America.
I struggled with integrating into my new American community. It was the first time in my life that I had lived with people that looked differently from me. I stood out. While my accent reflected my culture back to the world, it also reminded me of my otherness.
Whenever I spoke, I felt vulnerable and disconnected. I shrunk into myself and lost my voice. While my family grappled through bigger problems such as finding a home and joblessness, overcoming my insecurities became a personal battle.
I imagined having many friends and easily integrating into life in America. But this wasn’t my reality. I was no longer just a girl: I was a Black, minority girl. I saw Black people oppressed by systemic racism. It outraged me, and, it also inspired me.
While my insecurities could have made me feel powerless, I began to find my voice through my passion to serve others. I joined the Student Leadership team at Thornton High School. While I chased an opportunity to meaningfully contribute, I found a community of people who welcomed me. They gave me a platform to express my thoughts without the fear of judgement and, I learned that my voice is crucial for not only myself, but others that may benefit from my story.
These experiences prepared me to become the dedicated advocate for empowerment, inclusion and peer mentorship I am today. I am proud to say, through amplifying my voice, I have been able to make my mark across continents. By fighting for issues such as expanding education access for children in Uganda and Guatemala, promoting women empowerment and mentorship, through the Girl Up club I started, and as the Vice President of Project Woman of Color.
I also witnessed inspiring diversity, because the US has taught me to be culturally appreciative and to honor people’s heritage. I believe, that no matter where we come from, we all share the desire to coexist harmoniously and we all deserve the chance to fight to earn a better life for ourselves, our families, and our communities.