Janet Jensen’s Acceptance Speech for the Partner in Freedom Award, Nominated by Restore NYC

Janet Jensen The Jensen Project Restore NYC Partner in Freedom Award Nominee

Leading with Hope

My father used to say that “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” He also used to say, “The more you Lead, the more you Serve.” Every year, these bits of wisdom passed down from my dad have become clearer to me. This world is changing, and as leaders, it is our responsibility to grow and to serve one another. 

As I look around this room, I see people who have given much of their lives to serve others with the gifts they have been given. I also see people who may be, at this very minute, putting on a brave face. Look to your right and to your left. Some of you have recently experienced grief and loss. Some of you have spent a lifetime feeling ignored. Some of you have broken places that you aren’t sure will ever heal. A few of you have seen beauty come from your ashes. I see you. Hello.

In case I haven’t met you yet, my name is Janet Jensen, and I’m the Founder and CEO of The Jensen Project. I have spent decades in the philanthropic space. One thing you should know about me is that I am relentless when it comes to finding new ways to protect women and girls from violence.  

And I want you to know something else about me—I am one of you.

I’m not pretending to understand your personal brokenness or your suffering. But I am here tonight to tell you one thing: we need each other. I think the way forward is to find connection, to learn we all have more in common than we realize. I’m honored to stand before you today as an entrepreneur and business leader. My story may not look like yours, but just like you, I experienced some rocky paths along the way. 

When I was twelve, I was sexually molested by a physician. No one listened to me when I tried to tell. When I was 25 years old, I was sexually assaulted by a stranger while on a run in the park. My attacker brutally beat me and left me for dead. When I could drag myself up, I went to the nearest house, and they shut the door in my face. When I finally got to the emergency room, I was treated like a number. And when I tried to advocate for myself, the emergency room physician called me a narcissist because I was not a stab-wound or gun-shot victim.

Like I said, we don’t need to experience the same trauma to know what it feels like to be labeled unimportant, or to be preyed upon, or to be misunderstood. 

In the years following my assault, I would come to understand that few people—law enforcement, medical personnel, and even some friends—understood my pain or worse, minimized it. There have been many rocks in my road. In addition to my rape, I am also a survivor of domestic abuse and gun violence. Needless to say, I’ve spent many years taking my dad’s advice and working on my own growth and healing.

We all have had rocks along our path, but I have learned we don’t need to experience the same path in life to know what it feels like to be caught in unhealthy relationships and cycles. I think we all know what it’s like to feel broken in some way. 

But, as we’ve seen tonight, our brokenness can lead us to connection and beauty. And I believe connection can lead the way to hope.

And hope changes everything. 

Please hear me, because I believe it in my bones: Hope changes everything, and our darkest moments have the ability to launch us toward a life of hope, and that hope can be scattered, and then it can change the world. 

Another thing you should understand about me is that I carry hope around in my pocket. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. I love to scatter hope. You see, in my experience, hope always changes the conversation and sparks connection. Hope shifts how I view and approach problems, how I hear things, what I believe about others, and how I see my place in the world. It’s the superpower I carry around with me every day.


Napoleon said that, as leaders, we need to be dealers in hope. Now more than ever, our world needs that. We need connection. We don’t need to look alike or to be similar—we don’t even have to agree about most things. But in order to stay connected in community, we do need to face each other with compassion and understanding, and we need to always lead with hope. 

To leave a legacy of hope, we must first embrace the brokenness in our own story. We cannot lead in our full power without acknowledging, embracing, and allowing it to make us stronger. 

Our shared pain—our superpower—actually connects us to each other and changes the narrative. And that is a beautiful thing.

You see, just by being here tonight and supporting Restore NYC, you are using your own superpower. You are connecting in community and leading with hope. Important conversations are happening around these tables, knowing we are working toward a common goal and purpose. Together, we can come alongside survivors and offer hope. It is my privilege to be honored tonight as a Partner in Freedom. I am grateful.

Another thing my father used to say was “Inspect what you Expect.” And although that is great business advice, I also like to apply it to my superpower. Everywhere I go, I expect to see hope. Sometimes I have to look for it a little harder than others, but I can always find it if I’m willing to dig in. So my encouragement to you all tonight is this: Inspect what you Expect. Always be on the lookout for and expect hope. If something feels hopeless, lean in. Lean in and inspect it with curiosity and compassion.

You just might find hope hiding somewhere beneath the surface. And that, my friends, can change everything.

Thank you.


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