“An optimist is someone who figures that taking a step back after taking a step forward is not a disaster, but more like a cha-cha.”
That is the mantra that Hannah Jackson-Matthews feels everybody should take to heart.
A senior, English writing major with a women’s studies minor, Hannah has had many experiences in her young life that have made her unique and wise beyond her years.
She was adopted as an infant from Kansas City, Missouri and grew up in a small suburb of Lancaster called Lititz, Pennsylvania, with her parents and two older brothers – one of which was adopted from Seoul, South Korea.
As a child, she always knew she wanted to read, write, and travel, which is what initially drew her toward an English major.
During her college career, Hannah had an experience that she calls “life changing.”
“I took Intro to Women’s Studies with Jennifer Woolston and it just opened my consciousness…I learned so much about the world and myself.”
Her interest in women’s studies goes hand in hand with many of her on campus activities. Hannah is a peer educator at IUP, teaching her peers about college health issues, and works side by side with the Haven Project, raising awareness for domestic violence and providing outreach to those who do not know where to turn.
Hannah is also a member of Sigma Tau Delta, IUP’s honors English fraternity, and works with the IUP National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as Indiana’s branch of the American Association of University Women, a non profit that works to establish equity for women through advocacy, education, and research.
On top of her academic duties, Hannah is a full time wife to her husband of two years and mother to her son Caleb, who will turn two in March of this year.
But Hannah’s full plate doesn’t stop her from fighting for the causes in which she truly believes.
“My biggest passion is equality.” She says. “I know as a black woman in America that there are inequalities and injustices in the world. I also know as someone who grew up in a middle class, white family that I was afforded many more opportunities than others less lucky, because that’s all it is–the luck of the draw, than I was. Honestly, I want everyone to be offered the same opportunities and access to their greatest selves.”
This desire drove her to single handedly organize a die-in at IUP this past December, a reactionary event to the indictment of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.
“I saw through social media there was a large response from my peers–crying out for a change,” says Hannah. “Honestly, I had no idea how many people I should have expected to attend. However they estimated after the event over 75 students participated. I was very pleased with the turn out.”
But her activities didn’t cease in 2015. This March, she will be heading the Women’s History Awareness Campaign as a peer educator, because she firmly believes, “If women work together they are capable of incredible, immeasurable change!”
With all of Hannah’s accomplishments, it is no surprise that she recently gained recognition from a national organization.
“This year I received the Brown Girls Wellness Women of the Year Award for my work in women’s issues, which is a complete honor,” says Hannah.
But just because Hannah has made sky high achievements does not mean that she isn’t grounded. In fact, she used her wisdom and level headedness to offer some sage advice.
“Know that failures are a part of the journey toward success,” she says. “Failures are just a step in the process. The only time failure is definitive of a situation is when you allow it to be. If you choose to give up when you fail then you do fail, indeed. But if you choose to get up, evaluate your course of action, and try again, you didn’t fail, you learned a lesson on the road to your success.”
And Hannah’s road to success is well paved indeed!