Soledad O’Brien has been a trusted voice for so many of us. We all know her as a journalist who has brought a clear, intelligent and focused perspective to the world around us.
But there is another chapter to her story — one that focuses squarely on empowering young women to be the best they can be through education and opportunity. She brings this to life through a foundation, PowHERful, that she established with her husband, Brad Raymond. PowHERful's mission is transformative: to help young women get to - and get through - college.
Helen Jon will be contributing 10% of all website sales to PowHERful throughout the month of April to support this amazing mission.
We were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Soledad and learn more about PowHERful, her life as a successful journalist, correspondent, mom and wife -- and why, now more than ever, she is eager to take more risks, put herself out there, and make this world a more human and connected place.******
Q: Tell us more about the PowHERful Foundation.
My husband and I started PowHERful (which we first called the Starfish Foundation) after witnessing the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Initially, we privately awarded scholarships to young women in the New Orleans area. In 2011, we established a 501c3 and expanded across the U.S. The mission is to get young women to, and through, college. We work to empower young women to achieve their highest potentials.
Q: Self-advocacy is critical. How do you impart the importance of this to your own children — and to the young women whom you and your foundation support?
We work hard to instill self-advocacy, which is basically having the guts to go ask for help and demand the things you need. Sometimes it's 'demanding' in a really nice and polite way. But it's a way of seeing that you deserve opportunities and will fight to get them.
Q: We have loved following your career — from journalist and correspondent to anchor. As you look back on your journalistic adventures, do you have a favorite interview or moment that stands out in your mind?
No I really don't! I think that's like asking "who's your favorite child." I feel really lucky to do what I do every day. It really is a joy. I've had a chance to cover some of the biggest stories, and work on some really amazing documentaries. I feel just very lucky, all the time.
Q: We have heard you say: “Asking for advice is a smart move.” Whom do you turn to first when seeking advice? And what is the best piece of advice you were given by this person?
I think my parents were really adamant about asking for advice - it was never seen as a weakness, it was considered a strength. You were not only asking to get help, you were also involving another person in your success. You were networking and making connections. People frankly love to be asked for advice. Ask a New Yorker, "what's the best restaurant around here?" and people will literally argue over making sure you get to the best restaurant!
Q: With four children of your own, what is the most universal advice you would give to them?
My girls are 16 and 14. My boys are 12. Good basic advice for everybody is: Work hard, be kind to people. Don't take yourself so seriously. Mistakes are the only way to grow.
Soledad with husband and four children.
Q: You have built a successful career and a beautiful, strong family. All of us at Helen Jon love looking to women like you, who inspire us, so that we can gain perspective and insight from your life and work experiences. What can you share with us that has helped you thrive in both family and work spheres?
Aww you're so sweet. I think what helps me thrive is having a sense of humor. I cover a lot of tough things - I don't stress about minor issues. Simplicity helps me thrive. For work and home - I like things pretty simple and easy. No drama for me.
Q: You always seem to have such a positive and clear outlook. While never veering into the Pollyanna-zone, you have this amazing quality of being able to tell it like it is, yet keep things from becoming too cynical. How do you strike this chord so resonantly and well?
I don't know that I strike that chord so well all the time. I can get frustrated by people spewing hate on social media. It is a pretty stressful time in our nation. But ultimately I think part of my job is to show the shared humanity of people. To try to explain how they think and why they do what they do. I think the only way to do that is to be pretty optimistic about humanity.
Q: We know you are a voracious reader, that you have a true passion for staying alert, aware, educated, and in tune with the world. You have said, “Read everything. Be curious.” What are you reading now?
I am reading two books: Survivors Club, The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. He's a grown man now--I'm interviewing him this week. The book is terrific. And also I am reading Tim Ferris's latest book, Tools of Titans. It's pretty good, I'm enjoying it. But it's massive. I like to carry real books around but that one is definitely a challenge.
Q: You seem to do far more than just “be curious.” You act. Understanding and knowing things are just one part of the solution. The other essential piece is doing, putting yourself out there, rattling cages and making change. Has this always been part and parcel to who you are as a person, or was this something that has grown and evolved?
One of the greatest things about getting older (I turned 50 this year) is really developing a fearlessness. I've always been pretty good at mitigating risk. But these past few years I've just decided to do and say what I want to do and say. I really feel incredibly strong and fearless. It feels great.
Q: Lastly, tell us one thing about yourself that our readers might be very surprised to learn?
I am a decent flutist. Just started taking lessons again!
Thank you, Soledad! We love what you do and how you are getting it done.
Want to hear more from Soledad.... Don't miss her new weekly political talk-show, Matter of Fact, where she elevates the voices of the under-heard, filling a much-needed space in the world of political media. Check your local listings and tune in!
And if you are moved by what PowHERful Foundation is doing and would like to help support these amazing young women, shop Helen Jon today. 10% of all sales through the month of April will go directly to PowHERful. You can also donate and get involved directly through PowHERful's website.