SCSD Students Inspired at Sisters Empowering Sisters ConferenceMore than 200 young women of color from Corcoran, Henninger, ITC, Nottingham, PSLA at Fowler, Promising Futures Leadership Academy, Brighton Academy, Grant, Lincoln, and HW Smith recently spent a day on the Syracuse University campus to attend The Image Initiative, Inc.’s Sisters Empowering Sisters annual conference.
The conference featured panel discussions that focused on self-esteem, healthy relationships, health and wellness, and more – as well as workshops focusing on higher education and career choices.
But this wasn’t a typical buttoned-up conference: students said it was real, eye-opening, inspirational, and emotional.
One of the panelists, for example, had recently been released from prison, after initially receiving a decades-long sentence.
“Use us as an example of what you don’t want to be,” she said. “I’m so glad I went through what I went through, so you don’t have to go through the same things. I hope what I’m sharing with you can help guide you and help shape your path. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been through or where you are right now… you can do whatever you want to do. Just believe in yourself. You are worthy of being whatever you want to be.”
Other panelists spoke about conflict resolution, how decisions have consequences, how the legal system works, and more.
“It was very inspiring,” Corcoran sophomore Cynthia Williams, a first-time attendee, said. “They talked about relatable things that we go through as young women and how to avoid making the wrong choices. As a young woman, I could really relate to the people who were speaking. Hearing from them really helped me better understand how to avoid the situations that they had been through. In school, usually our guest speakers will just tell us what not to do. At Sisters Empowering Sisters, they got deep into real things – it was more personal. If anyone there wanted to better their life, all they had to do was listen.”
“It felt like a safe space,” fellow Corcoran sophomore Jailah Lodman added. “What was said there stays there. We were able to spill our emotions. There are some things that it feels like other people can’t understand, but we felt understood there.”
For many of the participants, the highlight of the day was “Sister Circle” – when one group of women gathered, seated in a circle, with music playing. Another group stood, encircling them, and whispered positive affirmations in their ears.
‘You are strong.’
‘You are enough.’
The experience was powerful, many of the students agreed.
“Last year, I had a great experience at the conference,” Nottingham junior Amanda Brefo shared. “I bonded with a lot of females and networked with a lot of panelists and mentors. But I didn’t participate in the Sister Circle. This year, I did – and it was my favorite part. I was going through trauma at the time, and I really needed to hear those words of affirmation. It made me cry. Because all of us have been through our own traumas, but we put our differences aside to come together and it really helped us. If every girl could attend this conference, it would help our community – our society. There’s a lot of negativity in the world today, and a lot of kids who go the wrong way. This conference gives you a reality check and really empowers you.”
Overall, many of the attendees said they walked away feeling a stronger sense of self-worth and a motivation for what lies ahead.
“Last year, I was going through a tough time when I attended the conference, and being there really helped me embrace myself,” Nottingham sophomore Bertha Braddy said. “For women who are trying to find out who they are and what they want to represent to society, the conference really toughens you up and gives you confidence.”
“When everyone looks like you, it helps make you feel more comfortable and allows you to be more vulnerable,” Nottingham sophomore Amiah Crisler added. “Seeing people who come from a similar background and have been through the experiences you are going through… and then seeing what they’ve become and hearing their advice – it helps a lot!”
Brighton Academy School Counselor Monica Shaw said the conference was a positive, bonding experience for students and adults alike.
“The Sisters Empowering Sisters Conference was an amazing and uplifting experience,” Ms. Shaw said. “Some highlights of this conference were the guest speakers who shared stories and spoke words of empowerment. Our students also loved the Sister Circle… the room was powerful, courageous, filled with positive affirmations, strong energy, and signs of resiliency. We all left the conference enlightened and feeling full of good vibes!”
Nicole Watkins, Founder and President of The Image Initiative, Inc. and Chair of the Sisters Empowering Sisters Conference, said that seeing the transformation that happens within attendees is one of the things she most enjoys about the event.
“The young women who attend walk through the doors one way, with a set of experiences and unsure what to expect from us,” Ms. Watkins shared. “When they leave at the end of the conference, transformation – however major or minor – has happened. In some way, they are changed for what we hope is the better. I feel this conference benefits young women by seeing them, acknowledging them, and more importantly, providing them access and opportunity to things some of them can't imagine for themselves. I am truly unable to put into words what it feels like to see or know a young woman who came through our programming to then attend college, develop a trade, or start her own business years later. It's one thing to set out with a goal to make a difference but to see the manifestation of that in these young women consistently is nothing short of humbling.”
Three SCSD seniors also received college scholarships at the event. Congratulations to ITC seniors Breiale Martin, Aliyah Brown, and Samantha McGiveron, for being awarded with the Dr. Bridget L. Lawson I.M.A.G.E (Imagine Me Achieving Great Expectations) Scholarship.
Thank you to the team at The Image Initiative, Inc. for uplifting our young women through this wonderful event!