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One in a Million: Mikki Stevens of Red Hot Mamas

By Suzanna McCloskey on 04/01/2015 | Featured Columns & Series

This year, Girls on the Run will serve its one-millionth girl! We’re honoring this milestone by celebrating what makes each of us one in a million and by showcasing some one-in-a-million women who have made exceptional contributions to empowering girls and women.

Red Hot Mamas is a one-of-a-kind comedy dance group founded 22 years ago by Mikki Stevens, now in her 60s, when she inspired a group of five women to dance in their hometown Fourth of July parade for the purpose of encouraging and motivating other women through uplifting fun. The group has since gone on to perform in two Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades by invitation, two U.S. Presidential Inaugurations, The London New Year’s Day Celebration and many other events. Most group members range in age from 30 to 60 and all exude a zany zest for life.

Here’s what Mikki has to share about being one in a million.

Q: Girls on the Run envisions a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams! How did you start to realize your own limitless potential and pursue the path to where you are today?

Mikki: In the beginning there was a grandma who taught me to know God’s love for me was something above the abusive environment of my family home and that with God “all things are possible,” including the belief that a "nothing" child like me could live a meaningful life. An aunt broadened my 6-year-old perspective of the world by paging through a book of children of the world over and over again with me. I loved those children. She was an educator and impressed on me the magic of education to help me do anything I wanted to do...

I really was the stereotypical “nerd” girl in school. I didn’t have stylish clothes. My hair hung down greasy much of the time, and as I reached junior high, [I experienced] locker room bullying. My gifts and talents started emerging regardless. I took free music lessons at school., and my mom scrounged up the $1 it took to register me for parks and rec classes in dance and baton. Boom! This was my world. There was music and a richness of depth behind it that I wasn’t fully conscious of at the time. There was fun, movement and a life where dreams came true, if even just for one hour.

Education lifted me out of my smallness . . . I became, and remain today, an education junky, loving to learn new things. Education took me to new places and broadened my mind. It made me think in different pathways than my genetic environment imposed. I believe everyone, regardless of age, needs to keep learning new things to stay vital to self and others.

Q: Of the traits and achievements that help make you one-in-a-million, what stands out most to you?

Mikki: Faith. Perseverance. Determination. Creativity.

I became and remain today an education junky loving to learn new things. Education took me to new places and broadened my mind.

Q: Girls on the Run believes that big things are possible when you keep moving forward. Can you share an example from your own life? 

Mikki: Many examples! I was the first person in my family line to complete college. I limped along and didn’t get the best grades, yet I eventually walked across that stage in a cap and gown!

I stayed married for 44 years. After one year I remember thinking, “Wow. A whole year with the same guy! Amazing.” Forty-three more years later, I feel the same way. There were times each of us thought we couldn’t make it another day with the other person, but we learned to advance and grow our love. . . . So, we made it, one small step at a time. Rest if you must, but don't you quit!

I worked through deep depression. It was dark. It was deep. It lasted for years. I did not think there was a way out. Scraping and clawing for a thread of forward movement, just to slide back and begin again. One day a flicker of light ahead slowly grew until, years later, I was basking in the full warmth of the sun. Never give up.

I earned a graduate degree. I thought it would never happen, but it did, one class at a time while working full time as college faculty, running a comedy group and caring for family. Never give up.

And, of course, the Red Hot Mamas, which has served to encourage thousands of woman of diversified backgrounds. Many many times I felt like hanging it up as the mantel of leadership of hundreds of women can yield tremendous criticism and discouragement along with the successes and joy. As the group evolved, my faith grew deeper. It is my faith that has kept me going. I believe God has shown me the fruit over and over again as women learn to believe in their potential regardless of what the world tells them or of what their own or self-imposed expectations might be.

We can think all the wonderful thoughts we want all day long every day, but it is what we evidence by our expression through words and actions that make a difference in the world.

Q: Which one of the core values of Girls on the Run resonates most with you and why?

Mikki: The core value, "Express joy, optimism and gratitude through our words, thoughts and actions," really resonates with me. It is rich. We can think all the wonderful thoughts we want all day long every day, but it is what we evidence by our expression through words and actions that makes a difference in the world.

Q: What insight or advice would you offer a young girl today? What would you say now to your 8-year-old self?

Mikki: It is true that there is no one like you. You are truly and wonderfully made on purpose, just the way you are. How you feel inside is to be explored. Don’t believe the lies that will tell you things such as, “you’ll never amount to anything” or “you’re worthless.” These words usually come from people who believed these lies when someone dumped them on them. Think of the potential they never got to explore, and have compassion toward them and you! My mothering heart wants to hold you on my lap and nurture your amazing spirit.

To my 8-year-old self: Honey, hold on. There is more out there for you. Believe it. As your grandma tells you, “This situation is not love. God is bigger than this. He is love and He loves you no matter what.” Life is big. The world is big. Right now, you may be in a small place for a short time, but you are headed to bigger places. Learn everything you can learn. Knowledge is power. You are a sweet darling child. Your tears are noticed. Your feelings matter. I love you.

 

Who do you think is One in a Million? Take the One in a Million Challenge today and help build a chain of affirmation! Post a photo of someone you think is One in a Million, make a donaton to Girls on the Run in their honor and ask them to accept the challenge to do the same.

 

Suzanna McCloskey

Author

Suzanna is the Marketing Services Coordinator at Girls on the Run International, where she serves as the project manager for all marketing collateral, manages the weekly e-newsletter for Girls on the Run councils and works closely with the Partnerships and Programming Departments. She comes to Girls on the Run with a background in nonprofit communications and is thankful for the opportunity to help girls lead joyful, healthy and confident lives.

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