To Persevere: Lessons from a Fighter

Lauren Casteel is a freedom fighter, intellectual extraordinaire, an inspirational role model — there aren’t enough words to describe her. She is a living reminder of all that we have gained in this country in the name of freedom and all of the work we have yet to complete. She “made a way out of no way.”

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Ms. Casteel spent the early years of her life in the Jim Crowe South, embracing her mostly African American community and finding solace in it while struggling against heavy discrimination. Her father’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s as the head of the National Urban League uprooted her family. They moved to Massachusetts and, later, travelled all over the world.  She was blessed to have met a number of powerful and influential people due to her father’s stature. Her youth prevented her from absorbing it all, which led her to her first lesson: Try to be a little bit more present in the present.

Ms. Casteel had to mature particularly fast. As a teen, she experienced a violent sexual assault. However, Ms. Casteel did not recoil in fear, however. They found the man, and she later personally testified against him. Upon reflection, Ms. Casteel said, simply, “I demanded justice” and she fought for it. Her actions, not her words, spoke the loudest to her audience of Pioneer Leadership Program students and faculty.

Later, her success in high school in the United States ultimately gained her acceptance into the prestigious Swarthmore College, but it was not meant to be. Only weeks before beginning her first semester at Swarthmore, her father passed away. Depression and grief took hold of Ms. Casteel. She ended up dropping out of Swarthmore, which led her to her next lesson: Be willing to ask for help, and be willing to help somebody else.

Eventually, Ms. Casteel found herself in Colorado, finishing college and working with a local news station. Her career blossomed from there, as she took her attitude of “Yeah, I’ll figure it out” and a bullet-proof work ethic to new horizons. Currently the president and CEO of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Ms. Casteel served as the senior communications advisor to Mayor Federico Peña in 1984 and has lead numerous philanthropic efforts throughout her career.

Ms. Casteel was and is a fighter.  She has arguably become one of the most successful and inspirational leaders in the country.  Her devotion to “people who find themselves in systems…where they don’t understand the bureaucracy and the system” led her to a career of advocacy for the underprivileged. Lauren Casteel made a way out of no way, paving a path for other women in a society that leaves them behind before they can even start. Her inspiration will surely have a positive impact on this new generation of fighters, women who will fight the way she has.

And long may that inspiration continue.

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Written by: Matthew Darling, current PLPer

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