It was an afternoon of cheering and empowerment for young women and their mentors at the Generation WOW conference Nov. 4 at the University of North Florida.
Keynote speaker Dr. Robyn Silverman urged the girls not to listen to cultural messages that teach young women to limit themselves, creating what she calls “garbage brain” − full of muddled ideas such as poor body image, negative thinking and other messages that inhibit achieving everything they are capable of.
“You define you,” Silverman said.
To illustrate her Silverman’s point, Simone Edwards, Women’s National Basketball Association player and founder of a new anti-bullying campaign, told the story of getting a community center started in her native Jamaica. Walking in with only an idea on a piece of paper, Edwards was able to convince her supporters to build a badly needed community center.
“I walked in with a dream, “ Edwards said. “I walked out with a building,”
She said that determination to achieve the goals she set for herself helped to overcome obstacles such as poverty and lack of support for women athletes. She urged the girls to visualize who they wanted to be.
The idea that visualizing a dream sometimes means moving beyond the obvious was the focal point of a panel led by Angela Spears, former First Coast News anchorwoman. Panelists urged girls to “be what you can’t see.” They spoke about combining hobbies and passions with determination to help audience members get beyond expected choices.
Nicole Thomas, vice president of specialty operations at Baptist Health and a mentoring advocate, touched hearts in the audience as she spoke to the “Angels Within Us.” Her inspirational message − recognizing struggles that young girls sometimes go through and the work that United Way does to help them − sent a clear message: be the light you want to see!
Generation WOW founder Donna Orender and Coretta Hill, vice president of community engagement for United Way of Northeast Florida, then took the stage to announce a new United Way partnership, WOW United.
WOW United will give young women the chance to identify their dream for social change and create a plan to implement that change. Generation WOW and United Way of Northeast Florida, through an extension of the UNF Upstream project, will help students hone their ideas into a proposal. The deadline for project ideas is Jan. 15, and the winning idea will receive a cash prize of $1,000.
Going forward, these Generation WOW young women will be the impetus of change alongside the mentors that are willing to step forward and help them be that change. Stay tuned!