American Woman

American

Woman

with Brooke Baldwin

In the most polarized and passionate, the most angry and aggressive news environment in recent memory, my job as a journalist requires me -- often -- to push back in live interviews against comments that are unfair, untrue or leave me thinking, "Is this seriously happening right now?"

I have to use my voice. I must speak up.

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, I listened. At debates and rallies, I heard their voices clearly and felt compelled to do something more. Thousands and thousands of women spoke with confidence and conviction. They were women of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities -- all political persuasions. Yes, so many of them were hoping for history to be made: a first female president. But when that didn't happen, I asked myself, "Where will all these women go?" I had a hunch something significant was about to happen as women were speaking out and showing up in record numbers. From the stage at the Women's March in Washington D.C. last January, where I witnessed the collective strength of those who traveled great distances to be seen and heard, it was overwhelming. And, personally, it was crystal clear: the next chapter of my career would focus on women.

Ava DuVernay, Sheryl Crow, Diane von Furstenberg, Ashley Graham, Tracy Reese, Pat Benatar, Issa Rae, Betty White -- they've all shattered glass ceilings, whether in music, fashion or film. Watch the pieces in this series and you'll see why I selected each of them. These are trailblazing women who shared with me very personal stories of success and failure; who aren't afraid to talk politics, frustration and hope. And, perhaps, most importantly, these are women who "don't want to be at the party alone." That's how Ava put it so selflessly as we talked on the set of her hit series, "Queen Sugar." In the end, these are leaders who want to help other women realize their dreams.

I genuinely love each of them, but the woman closest to my heart is my mother. Not long ago, I gave her a sneak peek at the project that's consumed me for the past 12 months. Together, we watched the episode on Diane von Furstenberg. It begins with my mother giving me my first DVF wrap dress (a dress my mom couldn't afford at my age on her school teacher salary). Diane talks about the strength and encouragement her mother gave her and how those things became the platform for her success and influence in the world of fashion, feminism and beyond.

This piece brought my sweet, Southern-bred mother to tears. "Growing up, I wasn't encouraged to speak up or speak out," she recalled. And as I threw my arm around her, it brought me an important revelation, a clear view of the critical change wrought in a single generation of women: my mother and millions like her felt they couldn't use their voices, but they taught their daughters they MUST. Their sacrifices, strength and courage opened voting booths, knocked down boardroom doors, paved paths to directing chairs and set the stage -– or in my case, the anchor desk -– for the rest of us. I dedicate my work on this series to my mom.

How about you? Creating this series has had a profound effect on me. I hope in some way, it influences you, too. Your voice matters, and I'd love to hear from you. Please upload a short video of you on Instagram telling me your "American Woman" story in less than a minute to @BrookeBCNN. ("I'm [your name], and I'm an 'American Woman' because..."). Don't forget to use the hashtag #AmericanWoman.

2017 was the year of #MeToo. Fairness and consequence -- in some cases -- are beginning to land because people like you are speaking up. In order for this movement to continue, for equality to exist, we must never forget the great changes of history have always come through persistence and belief.

For my part, I created "American Woman."

As for my mom, her biggest gift to me was teaching me I can and I must use my voice. I owe her a debt of gratitude... and a wrap dress from DVF.

Diane

von Furstenberg

While best known for her iconic wrap dress, Diane von Furstenberg has been an arbiter on all things fashion for decades. In 1969, the designer married Austro-Italian Prince Egon von Furstenberg and the couple moved to New York, where Diane arrived with a suitcase full of jersey dresses she had designed. The designs were highly praised. In 1974, she released the jersey "wrap dress," seen as a symbol for women's liberation in the 1970s. It is now featured in the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art due to its enormous influence on women's fashion. In 1976, Diane was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine. Her reintroduction of the wrap dress in 1997 allowed it to gain popularity with another generation of women. In 2005, Diane received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) for her impact on fashion, and one year later was elected the CFDA President, a position she held for nearly a decade before assuming her current role as Chairman of the Council. In 2014, Diane published a memoir, "The Woman I Wanted to Be", which has been translated into five languages.

Ava

DuVernay

A director and an activist, Ava DuVernay uses her platform to tell stories that are not only important to her, but that will open up people's eyes. Ava's directorial career began with the 2008 hip-hop documentary "This is the Life," and it has been non-stop since. In 2010, she wrote, financed, produced and directed the indie feature "I Will Follow." Then just two years later, Ava received the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival for her dramatic feature "Middle of Nowhere." But for all her outstanding work up to this point, 2014's "Selma" could be considered Ava's pivotal achievement. The drama, chronicling the 1965 Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, was a hit with both critics and audiences alike. The film received two Academy Award nominations and four Golden Globe nominations. Her more recent work on "13th," a documentary on racial inequality in the American justice system, earned her not only an Academy Award nod, but an NAACP Image Award, a BAFTA for best documentary, a Peabody Award and four Emmys. In addition to full-length works, Ava has directed short films, network documentaries and commercials. She is currently working on her critically acclaimed TV show "Queen Sugar" and the Disney fantasy film "A Wrinkle in Time," premiering in 2018.

Ashley

Graham

Signing on with her first modeling agency at just 13 years old, Ashley Graham has broken all kinds of conventions. In February 2015, she became the first size-14 model to be featured in the Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition. One year later, Ashley was selected as a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Rookie and starred on the cover of the magazine, accomplishing another first. Donning the covers of Vogue, British Vogue, Maxim and SELF, Ashley was named to Forbes' prestigious "30 Under 30" list in 2016 and was featured on that cover, too. The same year, Glamour Magazine named her its "Woman of the Year," People Magazine called her one of the "25 Most Intriguing People of the Year" and Mattel created a Barbie doll in her likeness. More recently, Ashley was named to TIME's 2017 list of "Most Influential People in the World." As as an activist for body positivity, she has spoken at events around the country to promote self-acceptance. Ashley touches on these topics in her debut book, "A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty & Power Really Look Like," which was published in May 2017.

Issa

Rae

Issa Rae began her entertainment career on YouTube in 2011, launching an original series "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl," which chronicled the experiences of people of color that are often untold. Through the power of social media, Issa was able to raise more than $50,000 on Kickstarter for the project, launching two more seasons. "Awkward Black Girl," as it is more widely known, earned Issa the coveted Shorty Award for best web show. To date, her YouTube channel boasts over 320,000 subscribers and nearly 32 million views. These impressive statistics earned Issa a spot on Forbes "30 Under 30" list in 2014. From there she transitioned to television, beginning work on the early stages of an unnamed comedy series. This project was eventually titled "Insecure" and was picked up by HBO in 2015. The show now has two seasons and a Golden Globe nomination under its belt. Issa's 2016 debut book, an anthology of essays titled after her YouTube series, was named a New York Times Best Seller.

Sheryl

Crow

Sheryl Crow has had a storied and accomplished career. Born to musician parents, her path seems almost inevitable. Sheryl got her start locally, teaching at an elementary school in Missouri during the week and singing in bands on the weekends. She was chosen to tour with Michael Jackson as a backing vocalist on his "Bad" tour from 1987-1989. Sheryl contributed backing vocals for many artists, including Stevie Wonder and Neal Schon. Her 1993 debut album, "Tuesday Night Music Club," flew relatively under the radar until the single "All I Wanna Do" became an abrupt success in the fall of 1994. Nine studio albums and $50 million in album sales later, Sheryl has earned nine Grammys, including four best female rock vocal performance awards.

Betty

White

For more than 70 years, Betty White has been making audiences laugh. The 95-year old is a pioneer in the entertainment industry, particularly for female comedians. While she has starred in numerous movies and television shows, Betty's most notable role was as Rose Nylund in "The Golden Girls." The series introduced viewers to a new kind of comedy and expanded opportunities for female actors. Betty has won three SAG Awards, six Emmy Awards and even a Grammy.

Tracy

Reese

Tracy Reese grew up designing and making her own clothing and hasn't stopped. She graduated from the Parsons School of Design in 1984, working for several fashion houses before leaving to start her own label in 1998. Tracy's designs can be found many high-end retailers, including Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. She has two exclusive stores in New York City and Tokyo. In 2007, Tracy became a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. In recent years, she has been working to expand the size range of her clothing line to make it more inclusive. Tracy's designs have been worn by many celebrities, most notably former first lady, Michelle Obama, who wore a Tracy Reese dress to the 2012 DNC Convention.

Pat

Benatar

Pat Benatar's first big break in the music industry came in 1973, after she quit her job to pursue a full-time music career. She sang for a lounge band in Richmond, Virginia, becoming relatively well-known locally. Two years later, despite being on the verge of stardom, Pat decided to leave the band and move to New York City. After a brilliant performance at Catch a Rising Star's open mic night, the owner of the club, Rick Newman, positioned himself as her manager, starting a working relationship that more than a decade. Pat kept up her nightclub appearances and in 1978 signed with Chrysalis Records. The following year, she was introduced to Neil Giraldo, her guitarist and eventual husband. The 80s saw Pat as a nearly unstoppable force as she earned nine Grammy nominations for best female rock performance during the decade and won the award four consecutive years, 1980-1983. To date, Benatar has two RIAA-certified multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums, and 15 Billboard Top 40 singles.

American

Woman

with Brooke Baldwin

Diane

von Furstenberg

Ava

DuVernay

Ashley

Graham

Issa

Rae

Sheryl

Crow

Betty

White

Tracy

Reese

Pat

Benatar