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Black History Month Spotlight: Bonnie St. John on Learning from History
(February 19, 2013)
In honor of Black History Month, Target invited Olympian Bonnie St. John to share her personal story and professional experience with Target team members.
Despite having her right leg amputated at age five, she became the first African American ever to win Paralympic medals in ski racing, taking home one silver and two bronze medals at the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
In recognition of this historic achievement, Bonnie was quoted on millions of Starbucks coffee cups and was honored at the White House by President George W. Bush.
Bonnie is certainly an inspiration—NBC Nightly News agrees, naming her “one of the five most inspiring women in America” in 1996. She has never let obstacles prevent her from becoming a champion skier, Rhodes Scholar, best-selling author, single mother or successful business owner.
Below, we talk to Bonnie about Black History Month and what it means to be a great leader.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
As the first African American to win an Olympic medal in ski racing, I guess I am Black history in a way! By celebrating breakthrough moments in history, you’re celebrating people who took risks and persevered despite hardships along the way. I think about amazing African American women who achieved historic “firsts,” like Condoleezza Rice, Susan Rice and Lisa P. Jackson. These women are history, and I take this time to reflect on their accomplishments. There are a lot of lessons to learn from diversity history.
What lessons have you learned from these women?
Take Condoleezza Rice—she started out in a world where she couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain as some people and she went on to hold one of the most powerful positions in the world. In the face of discrimination, she had the strength and optimism to challenge the status quo and move forward. There’s a lot of inspiration in her story for today’s women. Yes, we still have challenges—and they may not look exactly like those that women of the past faced—but stories like Condoleezza’s demonstrate that you can always achieve more than you realize.
How did you develop such a strong sense of confidence?
I’ve written a lot about confidence, and while writing my book“How Great Women Lead,” I came to realize that my take on confidence might be a little unusual. As an African American woman with a disability, confidence is often about going beyond other people’s low expectations. Confidence is a muscle you have to develop, so you’re not thrown off by what people’s perceptions or biases might be. You have to know who you are.
How do women become great leaders?
Women become bold leaders when they celebrate their unique passions, values and beliefs. They have to be themselves. It’s difficult to be an audacious leader when you’re always trying to be someone else. Accepting and celebrating yourself may not be easy because it may not be the path of least resistance. During a lot of my life, I was very much a chameleon—I used to cover up my leg with pants when I was younger. African American women have a history of straightening our natural hair, which I also did for many years. These types of things might be easier, but are they you? You can’t lead if you’re constantly hiding.
How does Target help make great leaders and celebrate diversity?
I’m the kind of person that’s always aiming for the next thing, which is much like the Target culture as a whole. When you love excellence and competition, you keep raising the bar because that’s what makes life interesting. You don’t rest on what you did last year. Target knows and wants everyone to bring their “A-game” to work, and diverse teams are stronger. The best work is composed of multiple points of view—Target doesn’t want only one point of view, because Target guests don’t have one point of view. You want to represent internally the way your customers are externally, which brings the most creative solutions.
So what’s next for you?
I’m working on my next book, which is all about resilience. Stay tuned!
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BLACK - AFRICAN AMERICAN SKI CLUBS
All Seasons Ski Club... To identify, develop and support athletes of color, who will win international and Olympic winter sports competitions, representing the United States, and increase participation in winter sports. Hayward, CA.
Avalanche Ski Club... Welcome to the Avalanche Ski Club web page, a Montgomery, AL Chapter of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, Inc. (NBS). Montgomery, AL
Black Diamond Dusters Ski Club... A member of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. Membership open to all, regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation. Huntington Beach, CA.
Blazers Ski Club... The Blazers Ski Club, Inc. was founded in 1978 by Mr. Richard Adkins, Jr. The Club actually got its beginning from a spin off of a Sports Car Club. Richard was first introduced to skiing by a friend, Mr. Sam Lecoin who started skiing in Germany in 1964.
Black Ski Inc... Local, Nationwide and International ski trips, Youth Program, Young Adult Activities, Parties, Dances Lessons, Crab Feasts and Happy Hours. And many other social activities. Washington, DC.
Boston Ski Party ... The Boston Ski Party's mission is to promote the sport of skiing and the enjoyment of winter sports to the African American community in Boston. Jamaica Plain, MA.
Camellia City Ski Club... Camellia City Ski Club, a Western Region club, was formed in 1974 to promote skiing among African Americans within the Sacramento Area.
Capital Ski Club!... Capital Ski Club is a non-profit ski club founded in 1981. The club is comprised of skiers and snowboarders from the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area. Since our founding, we have been members of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), Inc. Eastern Region. Washington, DC.
Charlotte Breezers Ski and Sports Club, Inc. ... The Charlotte Breezers Ski and Sports Club, Inc. is a local chapter of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), a non-profit organization. Although skiing is our primary objective, we are also involved in a variety of other activities throughout the year. Charlotte, NC
Chicago Sno-Gophers Ski Club... We are America's third oldest Black Ski Club. The Sno-Gophers Ski Club was founded in 1965. It is one of the largest Black ski clubs in the United States. Chicago, IL
Esprit The Ultimate Ski and Sports Club ... In 1978 a group of friends met and decided they wanted to be on the 'cutting edge' of skiing and Esprit Ski Club was formed. To date, an estimated 4,000 plus African-American skiers attend the annual Summit. Cleveland, OH.
Four Seasons West Ski Club... The Mission of Four Seasons West Ski & Snowboard Club, Inc., is to promote the sport of snow skiing and snowboarding amongst adult and youth of the greater Los Angeles Ca. African-American community.
Ski Club, Inc.... The Mission of the H-Town Renegades Ski Club, Inc. is to promote skiing and
snowboarding activities in the African-American community. Houston, Texas.
Ice Breakers Ski Club ... The Ice Breakers Ski Club (New York, NY) is one of many clubs of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), whose mission is to identify, develop and support athletes of color in international and Olympic winter sports competition for the United States, and to increase participation in winter sports. New York, NY.
Inland Empire Ski & Sports Club... We do it all at IESSC. Skiing, pool parties, camp-outs, carnivals, boating and more. Check us out and join in on the fun. Riverside, CA.
Inner City Ski Club... The Inner City Ski Club, formerly known as the Inner City Ski Bums, is the oldest African-American ski club in the state of Ohio. With a family-oriented focus, the club participates in ski and snowboard activities. Shaker Heights, OH
Jersey Ski & Sports, Inc.... The purpose and goal of the organization was, and still is, to initiate, encourage, implement and promote skiing and snowboarding within the community. Newark, NJ.
Jim Dandy Ski Club... Three energetic and daring young men: Frank Blount, William Morgan and Reginald Wilson founded the Jim Dandy Ski Club in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. in 1958, establishing the 1st African-American ski club in the United States. Detroit, Michigan.
Miami International Ski & Sports Club... The M.I.A. ski and sports club promotes fun and interactive opportunities for families through sports and traveling. Winter activities are focused around skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and ice skating. Miami, FL.
Peoria Pathfinders ... The mission of the Peoria Pathfinders Ski Club is to promote the sport of skiing, snowboarding and the enjoyment of winter sports to the African-American community in Peoria. Peoria, Illinois.
Ski Breeze of Hampton Roads, Inc.... Ski Breeze is a nonprofit organization of African American skiers who share friendship and camaraderie through winter and summer sporting adventures. Norfolk, VA
Ski Jammers... We believe that people with similar ideas about skiing and snow boarding should join together to experience the fellowship in skiing and other social and athletic activities. We sponsor several ski trips each season, which can accommodate expert to beginner skiers. Houston, TX.
Sno-Burners Ski & Sports Association... From a core of four travelers, the Sno-Burners have grown to more than 300 active members to date and is one of the founding clubs of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, Inc. New York, NY.
Snowbusters Ski Club... Our fundraisers allow us to sponsor outdoor activities such as skiing/snowboarding, camping and hiking trips for underprivileged youth in Pasadena and the surrounding communities. Pasadena Ca.
Southern Snow Seekers... Atlanta chapter of the National Brotherhood of Skiers and Crescent Ski Council. An African American ski club that provides ski trips and summer activities. Open to everyone. Website contains club and membership information, events, and ski trip schedule. Atlanta Ga.
Steel on Ice... The Steel on Ice ski club was established in 1988 and brings together African Americans who share camaraderie, network, and build friendships through exciting adventures. Pittsburgh, PA.
Sunshine Slopers Ski Club... As the first African-American ski club in the State of Florida, we currently have a membership of some 250 individuals including singles, married couples and youth who enjoy South Florida’s warmth and diverse communities. Miami, FL.
Tenn-A-Ski Mavericks ... The vision of the Tenn-A-Ski Mavericks is to cultivate and encourage diverse groups of people to participate in winter sports. We also aim to promote friendship and unity among the communities’ youth by way of winter sports and sportsmanship.
Texas Ski Rangers... We are oriented toward active adults 21 years or older. Our membership at TSR is well balanced between men and women. We have a strong youth program and were recognized by the NBS for our excellence with the 2007 NBS Spirit Award. Dallas, TX.
The Ski Ambassadors of Colorado Springs... The Ski Ambassadors are dedicated to maintaining a vital ski club for families and single individuals who enjoy winter sports or want to learn more about winter sports. Colorado Springs, CO.
Thrillseekers... Our adventures have ranged from Bungee cord jumping, to jet skiing in the Hamptons, to Skiing in Austria, to scuba diving in the Florida Keys!! We are open for any type of adventure in which you may want to participate! Hollis, NY.
4SW Ski and Snowboard Club... The Mission of Four Seasons West Ski & Snowboard Club, Inc., is to promote the sport of snow skiing and snowboarding amongst adult and youth of the greater Los Angeles African-American community. Los Angeles Ca.