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“Coming here today made me more confident in who I am.” – 2015 Girls Symposium attendee

Remarks such as these, made by New York City High School students, reminds us that our efforts are not in vain, as we seek to advance and amplify the voices of women and girls in New York City.

On June 1, the YWCA of the City of New York (YW) held its second annual Potential to Power Girls Symposium, where 150 girls and 50 influential women engaged in thought provoking conversations about gender equity. At the top of the morning, in the midst of introductions, an unexpected surprise kicked off the symposium—a flash mob! The Calhoun and Hewitt School’s joined forces to perform the songs “Brave” written by Sara Bareillis and “Girls just want to have fun” performed by Cyndi Lauper. What an ideal way to commence an exciting and energizing day centered on empowerment, courage, femininity, and education!

Flash Mob and Audience

Before discussions were kicked off, Misbah Awan, our keynote speaker and junior at the Young Women’s Leadership of Astoria, delivered a speech entitled, “Too busy writing history to read it.” The speech covered the importance of identity and feminism, and it was the perfect segue into our youth conversation moderated by Political Analyst, Zerlina Maxwell.  Zerlina, alongside Emma Morgan-Bennett, Junior at Bard High School Early College and Percy Carter, Junior at Convent of the Sacred Heart School, engaged in a candid exchange regarding feminism and gender equity. Both girls spoke about the different ways that men can become involved with feminism, the common misconception that feminism is “man hating,” and shared their thoughts on celebrities that are feminists, such as Beyoncé. As one student shared, “when you are a feminist you should appreciate yourself, we were made with intention.”

In addition to conversations about feminism, Merle McGee, YW Chief Program Officer moderated a conversation about street harassment, alongside Catherine Korren, Sophmore at Roslyn High School and Talia Scott, Senior at the Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem. Scott, who has often experienced diverse forms of street harassment, has sought to overcome her fear by creating a documentary addressing this issue.

Zerlina Maxwell YC

Zerlina Maxwell with Emma Morgan-Bennett and Percy Carter

Merle McGee with Panelists

Merle McGee with Catherine Koreen and Talia Scott

For the remainder of the morning, there were several conversations and “structured dialogues” between influential women and girls. Influential women from various fields attended the event including writer and trans-women rights activist Janet Mock; Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer; Actress Laura Gomez; co-creator of the Daily Show, Lizz Winstead and Editor-in-Chief of ESSENCE magazine, Vanessa De Luca. There were many young women activist also in attendance like Synead Nichols, Cherell Brown and L. Joy Williams. To see the full list of influential women, click here. Many phenomenal women, such as Chelsea Clinton, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Veronica Roth, Chimamanda Adichie and Maria Hinojosa, showed their support by sending welcome messages and words of encouragement via videos to girls in attendance.

Special message from Chelsea Clinton
Special message from Veronica Roth
Special Message from Senator Gillibrand

During the symposium, Dr. Danielle Moss Lee also launched her new campaign “Intergenerational Generosity,” a social change initiative that encourages women and girls to uplift one another, build new opportunities and promote positive relationships. “Intergenerational generosity is defined as the process of courageously making room for multi-generational, multi-dimensional points of view … and mutually beneficial agenda rooted in values of empathy and kindness, and the releasing of privilege. It means I have to give something and risk something.” – Dr. Danielle Moss Lee. Everyone was encouraged to join the movement through our YW social media platforms and by using the hashtag #YWwomanKIND.

For the remainder of the day, girls planned social action projects to address gender inequities in education, safety, leadership and representation. Over the summer, YW staff will continue to organize the working groups to prepare for the project launch in fall 2015.

The second annual potential to power Girls Symposium is the continuation of a movement that is bound to be revolutionary. After all, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”-June Jordan


To see more photos click here

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By: Kelsie Bonaparte