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Charlotte Woman of the Year | Molly Barker, 2004


What made you start Girls on the Run? 

I started Girls on the Run to provide girls a safe place to define “girl” on their terms.  The program was born from my own challenges growing up and trying to, at times, conform to a set of standards and stereotypes that didn’t serve me.  Since founding that in 1996 the program has grown to 225 cities across North American and served nearly 1,250,000 girls. 

Molly Barker | Charlotte Woman of the Year 2004What other causes are you passionate about?

I am extremely passionate about bringing a variety of voices to leadership…particularly political leadership.  I am deeply disturbed by the language, approach and divisiveness so characteristic of our current political climate.  I started a new program called The Red Boot Coalition which addresses the polarization.

How do you bridge career with advocacy?

These are one in the same to me.  I’ve been fortunate to make advocacy my career.  I founded Girls on the Run in 1996 when I was 35 years old.  I’ve since made advocating and supporting programming that “changes things”…my living and career.

What are ways we can empower young women each day?

Listen to them.  Listening is the most powerful way to honor the dignity of another person.  Make time to listen.  I would say that this is the most important element in leadership as well.

What does it mean to you to be the recipient of the 2004 Charlotte Woman of the Year award?

The connections I’ve made with the empowered women in that circle…have been immensely rewarding.  It’s funny.  At first I was completely intimidated by them.  I remember the first meeting looking around the room and saying to myself, “Why am I here?”  I’ve since come to be close friends with many of these amazing women! 

About Molly Barker
Molly Barker is the founder of Girls on the Run International, the program that uses running to empower girls. A four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete, Molly used her background in social work, counseling and teaching to develop the program. Since Barker founded it in 1996, it has served a million girls and earned her numerous accolades, including the Daily Point of Light Award, given by President Obama and Former President Bush in a ceremony at the White House. 

After retiring from the organization in 2013, she was asked to join the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, a Washington group seeking ways to bridge the political divide in Congress. By the time its 29 members of the commission made recommendations, however, Barker had decided the real problem was bigger than Congress. It was all of us.

That was when she began formulating an idea for The Red Boot Coalition, a new organization whose name was inspired by the gift of a pair of red boots from her daughter Helen.

In August 2014, Molly put those conversation-starting red boots to task and set out to get to the root of what was causing these polarizing conversations. From Charlotte to Las Vegas she listened to hundreds share their fears, concerns and hopes. 

“Ultimately, leadership comes down to one very simple question,” she wrote in the telling of her cross-country journey. “Am I willing to make the effort to see, to listen, to look for the humanness that rests within each person I encounter?”


This year's Charlotte Women of the Year are Jill Dinwiddie and Susan Patterson. A Woman's Place explores the evolving role of women in the New South and honors women's civic leadership and service in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. This year's program "Civic Activism Now" features a panel discussion moderated by Vi Lyles, 2003 Woman of the Year and Charlotte City Council Member. Panelists Janet Cowell, North Carolina State Treasurer, Janeen Bryant, Regional Director, Leadership for Educational Equity and amalia deloney, Senior Program Officer, Media Democracy Fund; will examine the evolution of civic activism including new tactics, technologies and current movements that are making an impact on our society today.