Women Like Her
An interview with director and global crusader Sally Colon-Petree
– By Stacey Gualandi
“I found myself while making this movie.”
That wasn’t part of the script when filmmaker Sally Colon-Petree originally set out to make her first documentary back in 2014. Women Like Us had a simple mission: to “shed light on things happening to women around the world, locally and globally.” But little did she know it would become her life’s mission.
“I’m starting fresh. This is who I am now,” says Colon-Petree. “God has chosen for me to bring all this stuff out to change lives. I feel that is my purpose now.”
The self-taught director shared this revelation at a recent private screening in Las Vegas of Women Like Us: Three Journeys. One Mission. To Change The World. Hosted by Deluxe Version Magazine, it was just one of dozens of “empowerment forums” being held across the country to promote the film and inspire action.
“I want people to be aware, not to live in fear,” says Colon-Petree.
Colon-Petree’s personal transformation began when the former actress/singer/TV host and producer made an eye-opening trek to Kenya, followed by stops in cities across America, to highlight the stories of 14 women dedicated to changing the lives of others. Together with journalist Catt Sadler and Women Like Us Foundation founder Linda Rendlemen, Colon-Petree tackled “unimaginable social injustices young women face,” including sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, teen suicide, poverty, and bullying. When the documentary debuted in November 2017, it couldn’t have been more relevant in the current “women’s movement” climate.
It also hit close to home for its creator.
“I was bullied in the worst kind of way,” says Colon-Petree. “…My family wasn’t welcome because we were Hispanic. [Bullies] burned our garage down three times to get us out of the neighborhood. I was chased almost every day after school. It was the worst kind of bullying.”
Colon-Petree says Women Like Us wouldn’t have even been possible without a mother like hers. “My mom always wanted me to direct.” But in 2014, Carmen Alicea, who devoted her life to social work for special needs kids, passed away. So, Colon-Petree decided to spend the money her mom left her traveling to Kenya and creating a film to honor her.
“My mom gave me the motivation for finishing this! My mother would be proud.”
Did this labor of love also include a what-the-heck-was-I-thinking moment ? Colon-Petree laughs. “A friend just asked, ‘If you knew then what you know now, would you still have done it?’ I said, ‘No way!’ I’m glad I didn’t know how hard it was going to be. But I woke up [one] morning and felt it in my belly. This is what I’m supposed to do. So I went full-speed ahead and didn’t stop until 3 and a half years later.”
As a mother of two daughters ages 11 and 12, Colon-Petree says she hopes to carry on what her mother taught her. Social media is off limits and both girls went with her to the Dominican Republic to build homes for homeless people. “Kids are so entitled these days. It’s just our society. But I want to raise them to be good human beings.”
As Colon-Petree begins shooting a short film in Puerto Rico—post-Hurricane Maria, where her family is originally from—she’ll continue to share her message through Women Like Us and ultimately empower women and men to do something. To quote from it directly: “Your basic abilities matter, and can be a miracle in someone’s life.”
Sally Colon-Petree certainly believes in miracles.
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