From Lt. Gov. Carroll, a real-life lesson in breaking barriers

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll recalls facing discrimination of every kind: as a Navy officer, as a woman, as a black American.

She never let it hold her back.

Carroll, a Republican who took office with Gov. Rick Scott two years ago, told her story of resolve on Tuesday at a Broward College event to mark Black History Month.

“It’s not just one month out of the year. It’s 365 days,” she told a group of 300 at the central campus in Davie. Black history “is woven into the fabric of the United States.”

Carroll went beyond the topic of black history, to focus on leadership and the American dream, and to recall incidents of gender discrimination when she served in the Navy for 20 years.

In overcoming the adversity she faced, Carroll said, she remembered that “how you overcome [challenges] defines who you are.”

“Your attitude will determine your altitude,” she said.

Carroll’s family immigrated to New York from their native Trinidad when she was 8.

“The opportunities this country has afforded to myself and to my family … it’s second to none,” she said.

A large part of that American dream came true because of her decision to join the Navy in the 1970s, a time when men did not always want women to be part of “their Navy,” she said. She found that confusing.

“If I were a man, I would want me in the Navy.”

She remembered that women were afraid to disclose their pregnancies at the time because men would allege that they became pregnant strategically to avoid deployment. When her female colleague discovered she was pregnant just before a deployment and tearfully disclosed the news, Carroll decided to raise her feelings about the anti-female sentiments among the men.

She also discussed the sacrifices necessary to stay in the Navy, including being away from her three children (one of whom is now a Miami Dolphins cornerback, Nolan Carroll).

She also suggested not letting race and ethnicity be a barrier.

“You bring a different perspective and knowledge to any organization you’ll be part of,” she said. “Use it as a gem, as a jewel.”

Kimberly Aldunate, Broward College’s student body president, said she left the lecture feeling inspired.

“As a female leader, my purpose is to inspire other leaders and empower them,” she said. “I want women to be more confident in themselves and not let anyone tell them they can’t do something.”

Madai Gutierrez, a 19-year-old mother of two, said Carroll’s emphasis on balancing motherhood and work struck a chord with her.

“She sacrificed, so that now her children have what they need,” she said. “That’s inspirational.”