Happy International Women’s Day from Eastern Illinois University!

Eastern Illi

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and I don’t think I could have concocted a better way to celebrate if I tried. I traveled to Eastern Illinois University to speak to a badass group of women at an incredible event hosted by their Student Government. This was a particularly special gig for me as it was the first time in my 5 years of speaking that I got to throw down with the alma mater of both our founder, Erin Weed, and, of course, the inspiration for Girls Fight Back, the beloved Shannon McNamara. It was an incredible group with great energy from start to finish. And Erin and Shannon’s Greek family, Alpha Phi, were out in full force… Sharing their love and energy, honoring their beautiful sister who fought fiercely against her attacker, but was taken too soon almost 15 years ago.

However, it’s more apparent than ever that Shannon’s spirit inspires women and men alike to be their own best protector everyday. Her sorority sisters approached me afterwards sharing how Shannon’s story not only moved them to lead safer, badass lives, but brought them closer together as a community. In our presentation, we share with students that the most important thing to bring into a self-defense scenario is the unwavering knowledge that you are worth fighting for and this will not be the end of your story. Shannon fought with all her heart and her story is so big, it continues to live on and inspire millions across the globe. I’m truly honored to share Shannon and Erin’s story, along with the rest of the GFB team, so we can all live in a more peaceful and empowered world as women. Happy International Women’s Day to all the brave women out there, and especially to one of the most badass women to walk this earth, Shannon. Your fight lives on.

Thank you Eastern Illinois, the Student Government and It’s On Us campaign for having me on campus … It was truly memorable and I can’t wait to see you all again. Till next time…

Love and Light,

GFB Bree

Moving forward from GFB

There comes a time when a Founder just needs to walk away. Today is that day for me.

But first, I want to tell you a story. On June 21, 1979 an angel was born, and her name was Shannon Elizabeth McNamara.

Less than two weeks before her 22nd birthday, Shannon was murdered in her college apartment near Eastern Illinois University. Her killer was a 26 year old college student who lived right across the street.

She died that night, but boy did she fight. Scratching, clawing, kicking – the DNA evidence was devastating and overwhelming. Her acts of resistance later captured and convicted her killer.

And our angel simply spread her wings…and flew away.

The night before her funeral was the wake, and there were hundreds of people there. I waited my turn in line for hours, to pass her open casket and pay my respects. When I finally got there and knelt down, I felt nauseous.

As wrong as this sounds to say out loud, I remember praying that I wouldn’t vomit in her casket. The whole thing was just so sickening.

Then I saw Shannon’s mom Cindy, who was greeting people in line next to where Shannon lay. I had never met Cindy before, but we had an immediate connection.

It’s a tragically awkward situation – meeting a woman for the first time, over her daughter’s dead body.

I introduced myself, saying “Hi, I’m Erin Weed. I went to college with Shannon. I loved her. And I am so sorry.”

I forced myself to speak in past tense.

I’m not sure what I expected Cindy to say, but certainly not this. She smiled, clasped her hands while throwing her head back and said, “Oh, you’re WEED!”

We chatted briefly, both of us conscious of the hundreds of people in line behind me. And she said to me, “A child being murdered is a parent’s worst nightmare. But you know what? I’m still scared of something. I’m terrified that after all this is over, Shannon will be forgotten.”

I was dumbfounded at the idea there is always something waiting in line for us to fear, even when the worst has transpired. It’s like that Sham Wow commercial: “But wait! There’s more!”

I didn’t say this out loud – but do you want to know my internal response to her concerns?

OH HELL NO. Not gonna happen. Not on my watch.

Friends, pay attention to the moment things become unacceptable to you. That’s when change happens.

After Shannon’s funeral, I sat down and drew the logo (a stick figure of a green girl). I had no idea what it meant at the time. I just knew it was important. Later I realized it was a logo for a company I’d start in Shannon’s memory, and it would be called Girls Fight Back.

Girls Fight Back (or GFB, for short) is a live presentation that’s been seen by over one million young women in high school and college since 2001. It addresses the topics of personal safety and self-protection with humor and style. It teaches the basics of trusting intuition, risk reduction and self-defense – but has an upbeat, pop culture twist that makes it relevant for young women.

It’s kinda like if Dane Cook hooked up with Ke$ha at a roller derby convention and they had a love child named Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Since starting GFB in 2001, I’ve traveled thousands of miles, won awards, published a book going into its third edition, been on countless media programs and stood on stage in front of so many young women over the past decade.

And you know what? I always got the best view in the house.

From the stage, I got to see the light in the eyes of a young woman in the audience, who suddenly replaces her deepest FEAR of being victimized, with the steadfast BELIEF she is worth fighting for, and that she alone can be her own best protector.

Not her daddy or her boyfriend or her brother or 911…just HERSELF.

Now in the early days of GFB, it was just me – living on airplanes, traveling thousands of miles doing speaking engagements. One day, I was on a flight having engine trouble. It was one of those aging little planes with propellers that make you say extra prayers and go to the potty one extra time before boarding.

I’ve been a passenger on many rough flights, but this one was different. It made me seriously consider untimely death by plane crash as a viable outcome.

Shaking, turning, banging, swerving, beeping – this literal white knuckle ride had some bald guy in the back screaming, “We’re all gonna die!”

Personally, I wasn’t scared of dying. I had lived a great life. And remember that movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze? Ever since seeing that, I’ve been fairly convinced death might actually be kinda awesome. I mean, who knew you could learn to make pottery after you’re dead?

What scared me on the airplane that day was the idea that all the content of Girls Fight Back was still locked in my brain – no written transcript or video footage existed. If I peaced out, the GFB initiative of creating a culture of dangerous damsels was over.

The idea of my crusade ending prematurely, simply because I didn’t take the time to grow the idea bigger than myself, felt selfish. And lazy. And I vowed if I lived through that flight, I’d figure out a way to scale our success and reach more girls than ever.

Hey, good news! We landed. I lived. And the bald guy? He went about his business and got off the plane pretending like he didn’t just completely lose his shit.

In his defense, it’s easy to have major realizations and to make epic proclamations in the midst of zero control. Then control returns, and we go back to our old patterns.

But for me, there was no going back. I kept that promise to scale, both to myself and the Tiny Infant Jesus I prayed to that day. I hired and trained a team of international speakers, and today my team conducts presentations in the USA, India and Pakistan.

GFB was always intended to be bigger than me and even bigger than Shannon, no matter what. Wanna know why?

The true gift GFB offers the world is not our story. The value is in our TRUTH.

And the same goes for you.

It’s easy to get trapped in stories. Maybe you grew up in poverty, or got a real bad perm once, or failed a class, or were issued a citation for public urination after a rowdy night on the town…

But these things don’t define you.

On the flip side, maybe you’re at the top of your class, or are a natural athlete with ridiculous good looks. Maybe you’ve got the girl or guy of your dreams and an internship to die for.

But these things don’t define you.

It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we extract and apply what we learn from our experiences. Stories are teachers. Truth is the lesson.

Our story at GFB is one of a tragic murder, and a friend who found that unacceptable. Changes happened as a result.

But our truth is stronger.

Our truth is that you deserve to walk down the street without being assaulted. You deserve to live alone in your apartment without wondering if you’ll wake up to a rapist pinning you to the bed. You deserve to be in a relationship that doesn’t hurt you – visual bruises or not.

Our truth is that women everywhere should travel the world or live alone or walk home after dark – and be at peace in these situations. Each of us should lead the badass existence we were intended, and equip ourselves with whatever tools necessary in order to facilitate that.

And since we’re gettin’ all truthy up in here, here’s my personal confession.

I did not start GFB to end violence against women.

I did not start it because I love self defense.

I certainly didn’t get it going it because I hate men,

Not even the man who killed her. (I chose to forgive him, in order to set myself free.)

I started Girls Fight Back for a mom.

A mother looked me in the eyes and told me the worst part of your child being murdered isn’t the missed weddings or grandbabies. It’s the threat of the memory of your daughter – someone who is part of you – simply…disappearing.

That idea was unacceptable to me then, and it still is 12 years later.

People often say, “If I only help one person, it’s all worthwhile.” As much as I despise cliche in general, I believe this one is true. But not for the reason you might think.

It’s not about that one individual – it’s about the change wave that starts rolling the moment we are brave enough to act. With GFB, by helping one mom, we ended up teaching over a million other women not only how to fight – but that they are worth fighting for. (and this is the much harder thing to teach)

When you speak your truth, you really do change the world.

It’s this belief that led me to see that sometimes our greatest tragedies become the world’s greatest opportunities for growth and change.

Because each of you has a story and a truth the world needs to hear. (Even if you don’t know what it is yet, or you change your mind every other day!)

Now I’d like to leave you with this…

On June 21st of last year, Shannon Elizabeth McNamara would have turned 33 years old. And on that day, it was she who gave me the present. I gave birth to my first and only daughter, who we named Phoebe Elizabeth. She was 5 days late but right on time to share a summer solstice birthday with one of the most badass women who ever lived.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world, because every day I get to have an angel on my shoulder, and an angel in my arms.

I’m also lucky because the new owner/President of Girls Fight Back is just incredible. Her name is Gina Kirkland, and you can trust her. She’s amazing. And she will take what I’ve built and grow it ten-fold, I am quite certain.

I have a few wishes for you, as I walk away from GFB and move on to new adventures.

May you award yourself the job as CEO of your life.

May you never rely on someone else for your peace.

May you know how to change a flat tire and dine with royalty.

May you love a lover that loves you. (no matter what boy, girl or alien you fall for)

May you never apologize for crying in public.

May you always be able to pay your own way.

May you embrace your truth, and speak it with reckless abandon.

May you plant roots, grow wings,

And fly, fly, fly…

Sweet Little Ninja Baby

Last Fall I broke the news to the world that I was pregnant. I remember being overcome with emotion when I learned my due date was June 16th, because for the past 10 years June was a month of grieving.

The inspiration behind GFB, Shannon McNamara, was murdered on June 12, 2001. Her birthday was June 21st. So every June for a decade I muddled through it, waiting for July to arrive and for the sadness to dissipate. (watch this video for more on this…)

But four weeks ago today, our lil girl arrived. On Shannon’s birthday. June 21st.

Umm, WOW. Just wow.

I’m not speechless often, but I’ve barely been able to talk about it without crying bittersweet tears. (and I can’t blame hormones this time, either) I posted this on my Facebook later that day:

And so it was. I now have two angels…one in heaven, and one in my arms.

Here’s to breathing new life into all we do. And to remembering there is a reason for everything.

Bad-ass love,
Erin

An Unassuming Beauty

Today would have been Shannon Elizabeth McNamara’s birthday. The poem below was written by a dear friend of the McNamara family, Sharon Rickerson. Sharon also has written a unique poem the previous 9 years that Shannon has been gone. If you live in the Chicago area, check out the Daily Herald tomorrow, as this poem will be published there.

She lives

In Heaven

Not far but Away

Her spirit Near and dear

For Now we wait

FOrever will come

And there will be No more tears

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:4

Encouraging to all who knew her

Lovely inside and out

Inspiring to young and old

Zealous, vibrant and joyful

Athletic, fair and gracious

Brave and strong

Engaging her world

True to her Maker, true to all

His child and our delight

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13,14

Happy Birthday Shan; we miss you so much!

Note from Erin: June is a rough month for all who loved Shannon, with her death happening on June 12 and her birthday on June 21. I feel her birthday is so symbolic however, since today is the summer solstice. This is the first day of summer, and the day of the year with the longest period of daylight. Isn’t that symbolic of how much light Shannon has shed upon this world in her short life?

10th Anniversary e-Party

Ten years ago, this month, I lost one of my dearest friends to homicide, but amidst the sadness, a light flickered in the distance. Gradually, yet deliberately, a silver lining began to sparkle around a very dark cloud, and from it emerged Girls Fight Back. The storm of June 12, 2001 was over, but not forgotten. The rainbow afterwards has been glorious–and thanks to the many people who have believed in our mission along the way, it has shone brightly for an entire decade.

How do we properly celebrate 10 years of changing lives…even saving lives? How do we begin to pay tribute to the gentle soul of Shannon McNamara, who inspired this entire campaign? Especially a movement that is global in scope, reaching women of all ages? Thanks to a little thing called the Internet, I think we can pull off this celebration quite swimmingly and include our friends across the world. How? We’re gonna throw an e-party!

What is an e-party, you ask? Well for us, it has four different dimensions…

1. BLOG: Throughout the month of June, we will be featuring our greatest influencers on the GFB blog. They will be sharing their thoughts, memories and insights from our adventures since 2001, as well as their ideas and hopes for the decade ahead. These people have deep insight into why this movement has worked and maybe even some embarrassing/fun/random tales for your enjoyment. (Note: all hilariously humiliating posts will likely feature me…) The folks blogging this month will be friends, fans, business comrades and super-fans. All of whom have contributed so much to GFB. Without their influence, GFB would not be what it is today. To all of them, I say THANK YOU.

2. TWITTER:  If you’re a tweetin’ kind, be sure to search and save the hashtag #GFB10. It you tweet a happy birthday message to GFB this month, be sure to use that hashtag so we can re-tweet you!

3. FACEBOOK: We’ll also be posting the blog posts on the GFB Facebook page, as well as having fun giveaways and contests throughout the month. If you’re not already a fan, please come hang with us at our digital domicile.

4. ONLINE STORE: We’re offering 10% off for all orders placed at the GFB online store during the month of June. I especially recommend the GFB book and/or DVD as a graduation present for young women. At checkout, use discount code: GFB10

Hope you join us for this world wide web fiesta, and big thanks for your continued support. Cheers to the next ten years…

Strong. Resilient. Spirited. Unified.
Erin Weed