The United State of Women Summit: Girls at the Center: Understanding Obstacles and Exploring solutions

Wednesday, June, 15, will always remain special to my heart. After an entire AMAZING day, attending The White House United State of Women Summit on June 14,

I went to the White House to participate in the session Girls at the Center: Understanding Obstacles and Exploring Solutions, hosted by the White House Council on Girls.

The day began with a warm welcome from Kalisha Dessourcess, Policy Advisor, White House Council on Women and Girls, Office of Public Engagement. After her opening remarks, she started the program off by having a conversation with Marley Dias, Founder, #1000 BlackGirlBooks. To sit down and listen to an eleven-year-old kid, who is the founder of an organization that is collecting and providing books about black girls was a treat. Marley started her foundation after realizing that fewer than 10 percent of children’s books had a black person as the main character. She decided to do something about it and set a goal to collect books about black girls. Today, Marley has an organization that is dedicated to collecting books and redistributing them to schools so that kids across the United Stated can have access to books that excite them because they see characters that look just like them.

I could totally relate to Marley. Seeing many young girls in my community not have access to books also inspired me to do something about it. Just like Marley, I collected books from several departments at Auburn University and travelled with them to Kenya. Today, girls in my community have many books that are housed in our first community library. Marley ended her conversation by asking people to continue to teach kids to use their passion and talent to make our world a better place.

Next was a panel on The Voice of Experience. This panel featured several young women who had overcome adversity including abuse, sexual violence, juvenile detention and teen pregnancy. Yet, through it all, these young women never gave up. With their own determination to turn things around, coupled with the help of trusted mentors and grass root organizations, these young women are on track to become powerful women. I cried the entire time they were speaking. At the same time, they made me realize that no situation is permanent and that we have the power to turn things around. They ended their conversations by asking the audience members to:

- Learn to meet girls where they are.

- Be honest when in a mentor-mentee relationship.

- Listen with humility

Our next panel before the break-out session was on Supporting Girls to Thrive. This featured several accomplished women including Lee Roper-Batker, President and CEO, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota; Ana Oliveira, President and CEO, New York Women’s Foundation; Monique Morris, Co-Founder and President, National Black Women’s Justice Institute; Catherine Pierce, Senior Advisor to the Administrator, Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention, Department of Justice; and Joanne Smith, Executive Director, Girls for Gender Equity and Young Women’s Initiative Co-Chair. They talked about several initiatives they are engaged and working with and how these initiatives are supporting girls to thrive. Their panel was simply AMAZING!

In between the panels, we heard special remarks by Tina Tchen, Assistant to President Barack Obama, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls and Valerie Jarett, Senior Advisor to the President, and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Last, we attended breakout sessions. I participated in the Education session where we had in-depth conversations about sustainable and transformative practices happening in schools. We also shared what issues are going on in our schools and talked about possible solutions, and shared amongst each other resources and support groups that exist across the United States and around the world. Most importantly, we asked the younger attendees to share with us what they needed to continue staying on a track to success. Listening to them openly speaking up was heartwarming.

To close the amazing day off, participants weighed in on what sisterhood meant. For many in the room, sisterhood means:

- Love and acceptance

- Caring for each other and staying together

- Being honest with each other

- Celebrating our differences

- Respecting each other choices

- Standing up for each other

WOW! To be in White House, among many passionate women who are creating change in our communities was an honor. I had the BEST day of my life. I left the summit with a heart full of gratitude. I was thankful because the panelists were AMAZING and very inspiring.

My biggest takeaway was that Impossible is not a word and that no situation is permanent. I vowed to continue inspiring and mentoring our young girls and women so that they have all what is needed to become powerful women.

Dr. Esther Ngumbi is a Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Entomology Department at Auburn University, Alabama. She is a Food Security Fellow with New Voices, The Aspen Institute and is serving as a Clinton Global University Initiative (CGI U) mentor for Agriculture and MasterCard Foundation Scholars mentor.

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