Hosted by black female students on campus, the inaugural BRAVE — black, resilient, artistic, vigilant, enough — summit featured a day of speeches, breakout sessions and panels Saturday with black leaders from a range of fields, including Black Lives Matter D.C. Co-Founder Erika Totten, Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Core Health and Wellness Center Founder Dr. Gloria Wilder (GRD ’93).
BRAVE was founded to promote dialogue and uplift black women amid misrepresentations of the community in the mainstream media, according to the summit’s website.
Alexis Oni-Eseleh (COL ’16), one of the summit’s organizers, said it is important for black women to come together and share their experiences.
“It is one thing to have passing conversations about being a black woman, sharing bonding moments with kitchen beauticians, and commiserating when the media inevitably forgets about us. It’s another thing to take our experience and broadcast it in a public forum,” Oni-Eseleh wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Taking place in the Healey Family Student Center, Reiss Science Building and the Intercultural Center, the conference engaged an audience of around 250 people.
The conference included breakout sessions and panels such as “Black Women in Executive Positions,” “Religion and Communities of Color,” “Health Disparities to Women in Media” and “Generational Feminism and Black Women in Public Policy.”
In her keynote speech, Wilder advocated for the potential of black females to create impactful change in the community.
Wilder said the goals of activists have not changed since she began advocating for women of color as a teenager.
“The era of change that you are in is very similar to what we were in when I arrived here in Washington, D.C.,” Wilder said. “We wanted Martin Luther King to have a birthday, a holiday, we wanted Nelson Mandela to be free. We wanted to be able to finish our educations. We just wanted to be.”
Wilder stressed that young black women should not let society prevent them from seeking to achieve their goals.
“When you see injustice, say something. Don’t feel powerless when you actually have all the power you’re ever going to need,” Wilder said. “Have the courage to follow your passion and have the courage to know that nobody can write this script for you.”
Wilder said society perpetuates a cycle of poverty, which she experienced firsthand as her mother had to work three jobs while receiving welfare.
“The condition of poverty in the United States is a condition that we put on a certain percentage of our citizens,” Wilder said. “We do not even give access to civil law to people who are poor.”
Wilder encouraged alternative solutions to address the issue of poverty. Wilder completed her medical residency in a mobile van, as part of an effort to better serve underprivileged Washington, D.C. residents.
“This community had decided that this was important and that in this one little case of the little mobile van that could, justice would speak to some children in Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8,” Wilder said. “I had been the first resident in the United States to do their entire residency on a mobile program. After I finished it and people realized that you could actually learn a little medicine out in the field, they approved these types of residencies across the country and we had more applicants than we could deal with.”
Wilder said she looks forward to the impact future generations of black women will have on all facets of social justice, including education, economic justice, environmental justice, legal justice and health care.
“The beautiful thing about life is that one day you’re going to pass the baton. And you’re going to hope that the people behind you are just as swift so you can watch them move ahead of you,” Wilder said.
Speakers in the “Black Women in Public Policy” panel detailed how they are using their positions to help women of color in the public sector.
Moderated by African American studies professor Meredith Anderson, the panel featured Clyburn; Anita Hannon, intergovernmental liaison in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations; International Finance Corporation attorney consultant Adeola Olagunju; Open Society Foundation senior policy analyst Nkechi Taifa; and Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden.
Snowden said while working in the public sector is difficult, it is rewarding.
“Nothing is harder than trying to force the government to do something that it always doesn’t think it wants to do,” Snowden said. “When you are taking on a bureaucracy that has been entrenched for many years, it is a battle every single day.”
According to Clyburn, public service is the most effective method to instigate real change.
“Not all of the things that you think are yours you’re going to get on the first, second or even the third time,” Clyburn said. “But if you want it, then you will find a way to maneuver to get it. I am sitting here promoting public service because I think that it is the greatest gift you can give to your communities and this nation.”
Taifa said young people can make a difference if they choose a career that allows them to pursue their passions.
“One piece of advice that I would give to young people out there is to follow your passions, because if you follow your passions you will not go wrong,” Taifa said. “My advice to you is to demand change and demand that there must be a difference.”
Sarah Santana (COL ’16), who attended the summit, said she was fascinated by the summit’s emphasis on intersectionality.
“I was curious as to how the summit would approach intersectionality and look at various issues that we don’t necessarily talk about directly at other events on campus,” Santana said. “I think that it’s really great to hear those experiences because I think that a lot of the time you don’t really get a chance to hear about someone’s vulnerability.”
Shakera Vaughan (COL ’19), who volunteered at the summit, said she found the experience empowering.
“I chose to volunteer for BRAVE because I feel like there are not enough events that celebrate ‘Black Girl Magic,’ and I think that it is very important that we are reminded why we are important,” Vaughan said.
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