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Washington Area Women’s Foundation Hosts Youth Summit

The Washington Area Women’s Foundation on Friday hosted its first-ever GirlsLEAD Summit focused and convened by D.C.-area girls of color at the University of the District of Columbia.

Founded in 1998, the foundation focuses on advocating for gender equality and improving the economic security of women and girls.

Foundation President Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat said the summit, which hosted girls age 12-24, was conceived as the signature event for their women’s initiative focusing on young women of color.

“A few years ago we realized that when we talk about gender equality and we talk about low income women and girls in the city and in the Washington region what we’re really talking about is young women of color,” Lockwood-Shabat said. “It was really important for us as an organization to stop think about our work and to be very intentional about both gender equity and race equity.”

The Washington Area Women's Foundation holds its first GirlsLEAD Summit at the University of the District of Columbia on March 9. (Photo by Reese Bland)
The Washington Area Women’s Foundation holds its first GirlsLEAD Summit at the University of the District of Columbia on March 9. (Photo by Reese Bland)

Co-curated by the organization’s Young Women’s Advisory Council, the event featured opportunities for the girls to meet and interact with potential mentors, workshops and panel sessions, and an energetic lunch and step show featuring music provided by DJ Beauty and the Beatz.

Initially slated just for UDC’s student center, demand for presenters and participants was so high that the event was expanded to include locations in the university’s engineering and business schools. Organizers said the response was so great that they were forced to cap attendance at 300 girls.

Lockwood-Shabat lauded the work of the foundation’s Initiative Advisory Committee, which featured leaders of several community organizations that co-facilitated the young women’s advisory council, including National Capital YWCA CEO Monica Gray.

“It’s just been a phenomenal opportunity to meet young women who we believe are the voice of the future and the present and who have enabled [the foundation and the YWCA] and other organizations to really look at how different challenges affect young women,” Gray said.

Traciee Gentry, 19, a fellow and volunteer at the event, called it a “great learning experience.”

“I felt safe here,” Gentry said. “I don’t necessarily feel safe out there, but here I feel girl power.”

Keynote speakers and hosts included Elaine Welterorth, former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue magazine, Leslie Foster, WUSA-TV (Channel 9) anchor, and radio personality Sunni of WPGC-FM’s “The Joe Clair Morning Show.”

The culmination of the day’s event allowed the young participants to present their recommendations to a group of city policymakers. However, for many attendees, the high points came during the individual sessions.

Emilie Khapadea, 12, of Brown Educational campus, had glowing words for her time with Queen Beez, a hip-hop mentorship program focusing on empowering young girls in underserved communities, which hosted a session at the summit.

“I’ve been in this program for three years and it has boosted my confidence a lot,” Emilie said. “I’ve met new people, I’ve grown my social skills, and I feel more confident.”

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