Category Archives: girl power

Reach The Top

I can’t remember Laverne’s face, only her legs. But that makes sense, because standing tall, I came up to her knees. I was two years old and I adored my preschool teacher. Under her guidance, my entire class aspired to greatness, which we defined as climbing to the top of the jungle gym. One by one, the other kids triumphed. Finally, I was the only child who hadn’t summited.

Every day, I arrived at school and gazed at that jungle gym — majestic and imposing, beckoning and terrifying. The bars towered enormous, a soaring five feet tall. I felt a powerful need to climb. But every time I stepped toward the challenge, my fear steered me back to the safety of the swings. One morning, Laverne found me at the base of the grand structure, staring up. I was verbal for my age, so she knelt next to me and asked what was holding me back.

“It’s too big.”

“Are you scared?”

“Very scared.”

“Well, here’s an idea.” Laverne spoke slowly, giving me time to keep up. “You can be scared without being brave, but you can’t be brave without being scared.”

I replayed her words in my head several times. After a minute, I nodded. “I’m ready to be scared and brave, not just scared.”  I stepped forward, then hesitated.

Laverne took my hand. “Let’s do it together.”

I remember the next few minutes as a series of disjointed freeze frames —  the cold against my hands as I gripped the bars, the strain as I pulled myself upward. A part of my memory confused me for a long time: a crystal clear view of a smooth, medium brown surface, under a lattice of white. I couldn’t make sense of it until I realized that as I climbed, Laverne climbed next to me. When I looked at her for a shot of courage, I was looking at her brown legs under white fishnet stockings.

My next memory is the sound of my classmates cheering. I turned my head slowly, astonished at the splendor of the view. I saw a red ball behind a shed, a white sock in a pile of leaves, a spiderweb in a nearby tree. I beamed at the sweeping panorama brimming with hidden treasures. The moment was fine and at two years old, I was changed forever.

To this day, I always feel a warm confidence when I think of jungle gyms, spiderwebs and fishnet stockings. Although I didn’t have the language to frame the feelings when I was two years old, I understood on a visceral level the value of fear as an essential part of courage. I experienced first-hand how a great teacher can bring students to heights they never thought possible. In a place too deep for words, I knew that when a girl reaches the top of her world, she’ll never be the same.


Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade. Her second novel, Tightwire, continues to follow Caroline, as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who use her novels in their curriculum. 

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Filed under Education, gender equality, girl power, great teachers, preschool

Self-Defense And Family

I had never kicked a man in the face, or kneed him in the groin. I had never even raised my voice in public. Until I was 32 years old.

I had given birth to my first child a month previously. He was slumbering in my arms — a swaddled bundle of peace and trust. I was in monumental need of a nap, with the desperate exhaustion of a new parent. But I loved cradling my baby, and wanted to hold him a bit longer. I’d been entirely oblivious to the world outside my newborn for four weeks, so I settled on the couch in our family room and reached for the TV remote.

As the screen came to life, I zapped to attention. The news anchor was describing a kidnapping. A mother was loading groceries into her car — broad daylight, crowded parking lot, upscale neighborhood. A man approached, showed his weapon, and took her baby. When my husband came home that evening, he found me hyper-alert, napless, clutching our firstborn. I told him I wanted to learn self-defense.

The class was hands-on, with a coach guiding us through every fight. Our “assailant” dressed head to toe in protective gear, so we could fight without injuring him. I learned to break an attacker’s hold, to shout to scare him off, to fight when needed, to knock him cold if necessary. But self-defense is about protecting from harm, not about causing mayhem. So I was also taught techniques to de-escalate a dangerous situation, to fight only as a last resort. I learned to recognize the difference between an empty threat and an impending assault. If the assailant crossed that line, I was ready. The empowerment that grew within me, the commitment to protecting my self, was about strength and safety. The experience was life-changing.

Six years passed, and I was walking home in San Francisco after a day at work. Suddenly, a man grabbed my arm. In an instant, my self-defense class was at my fingertips. I gauged his stance, his build, his level of aggression. I shrugged off my natural impulse to pull away, and instead stepped toward him. I hurled my briefcase to the ground, 100% ready to fight, and yelled in his face, “BACK OFF!” The entire street froze. The man let go, retreated several steps, shot me a terrified look, and ran away.

I felt invincible for one stellar moment. Then I felt something even better – solid, down-to-earth empowerment. I picked up my briefcase and walked home. By then, my first born was an older brother, and I held my children. Tender and strong.

Self-defense and family. That’s what it’s about.


Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Her novels, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire, include issues of sexual assault, healing and empowerment. 

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Filed under feminism, girl power, NoMore

A Single Candle

Seventy years ago, on August 1, 1944, Anne Frank wrote the final entry in her diary.

Over the past week, I reread The Diary of a Young Girl. I slowly turned the pages, remembering when I was eleven years old and read her work for the first time. I stopped at a sentence that shook me to the core, forty-four years ago: “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

With the news coverage of the Mideast, I’ve been thinking about Israel and Palestine. I find myself wondering what would have happened if Anne Frank had been free to grow into the woman she was meant to become. Maybe she’d still be alive today. Maybe she would have written more astonishing books. Maybe she would have succeeded where nobody has been able to succeed so far – guiding Israelis and Palestinians to live comfortably as neighbors, with mutual tolerance.

I support Israel; I cannot support a terrorist organization like Hamas. However, I grieve equally for the Israeli and Palestinian children who have been injured, traumatized, orphaned, killed. As I think about this ongoing tragedy, I struggle to “defy and define the darkness.”

Then my thoughts turn toward “a single candle.” During this time of intensified turmoil, I will think of Anne Frank. If I get lost in hopelessness, I’ll remember a Jewish girl whose voice soared above the hatred and bloodshed of the Nazi Regime. I’ll turn to her young voice for guidance. I can light “a single candle” any time, any place, in my mind.

I’m lighting “a single candle” right now.

Novels by Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.


Caroline Black, a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of lesbian and gay parents, and as a voice against the stigma of therapy.

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Filed under Anne Frank, girl power, hope, light, peace