Ask Rozie Kennedy if her 18-year-old self would be surprised at where life has taken her and she laughs. “The industry I work in—climate technology—didn’t even exist back then!”
Managing philanthropic relationships for a California- and Hawaii- based cleantech accelerator allows her to channel clean-energy investments into local communities in need. But as much as this work feeds her passion to give back, another passion fuels her soul, her Brave Sis Project.
“My eighteen-year-old self would not have been surprised by Brave Sis,” she admitted recently on a Zoom call. “I majored in Literature at Tufts; I always wanted to write a book.”
The journey from East 83rd Street has taken Rozie many places: seven years in Paris, where she picked up a Master’s degree from the Sorbonne. Back to New York, where she met her husband of 26 years, John Kennedy, a composer and Opera and Orchestra Director of the annual Spoleto Festival in South Carolina. They moved together to Santa Fe, where they started a performing arts company; and then to the Bay Area. And even though their daughters Jazzie (23) and Jade (20) plan to return to New York City to finish college and settle for a while, Rozie has been plotting “retirement” abroad.
“When I graduated from Brearley—even when I finished college—my sights were more trained on the developing world and the French-speaking diaspora. Like so many people around the world, I was all about freeing Nelson Mandela, ending apartheid in South Africa, and figuring out how to help our global sisters.”
In 2019, Rozie decided she was going to “get more accountable to myself.” So she looked for a planner: the ones marketed to men were all about driving for success; those marketed to women featured drawings of “blonde, size-one women—and I was so tired of having to asterisk myself into a space or be the ‘only’ in the room and having to reinterpret the narrative through my lens.” The planners marketed to Black women were even worse: “once you get past the fancy covers and the ‘you go, girl!’—inside they were so generic and almost insulting.”
In true Brearley fashion, she decided if she couldn’t find the right planner, she would make it. “On Christmas morning I got this visitation from a force that said ‘Tell my story’ and that was it, like a fire. I started researching women, making lists, charting the birthdays of women of color through history. I took online courses in how to build a business; I got an LLC and a website
. I found an illustrator. I was working on the academic/research side, then the creative side, then the business side—managing all three at once while the COVID pandemic hit and
changing day jobs at the same time.”
“Every so often I have to take a day off to collapse because it remains a lot,” she added. But it also means a lot—to her and to the 2,000 people around the world who now own and use the Brave Sis 2021 Journey-Journal.
“This was just going to be a project; I wasn’t expecting to find my passion and my meaning,” Rozie said. “But now it feels almost holy.” Recently she donated copies to the Tupac Shakur Foundation and an Oakland nonprofit that works with adolescents rescued from sex trafficking. “The fact that this little book could get into the hands of these young women and give them a sense of self—that’s overwhelming. The Brave Sis Journey-Journal has touched and uplifted people, gotten into their hearts, given them a tool to grow. It’s all very humbling.”
Asked if she has any advice for current students or fellow alums, she points to something she learned in the process of making Brave Sis: “You need to define your own measure of success and happiness—don’t let anyone else do it for you. As a scholarship student at Brearley and then a first-generation college student, I had no financial cushion; I really felt I had to take every job that came my way. Looking back, I feel like I wasted a lot of years letting other people tell me what to do or who to be. It’s so important to cultivate your own inner firmament, your own North Star—and check in with that every six months or so. If you’re not living a life you love, make a change as soon as you can.”
Next up for Rozie, in addition to the 2022 Journey-Journal, is a Brave Sis adult activity book, due out in April 2022, thanks to a connection made by one of her Brearley classmates. “So I am going to be a published author after all.”
-Elaine Bennett '77