Last week I was honored to attend the United State of Women Summit in Washington, DC. Five thousand women gathered in our nation’s capital to celebrate the progress made throughout the Obama administration to improve the lives of women and girls here and around the world, and showcase innovative solutions to the obstacles women and girls still face.
The invitation-only guest list was a who’s who of activists, academics, journalists, public officials and business leaders who are all change-makers dedicated to building a better world. I cannot tell you how grateful and humbled I was to be among them.
I was invited to attend the Summit by Jess Weiner, CEO of Talk to Jess, a consulting and strategy firm that acts as a thought partner for companies who seek to change their messaging toward women and girls. Jess moderated a panel on Revolutionizing Gender Norms with Amy Poehler and Juliana Chugg, EVP Chief Brand Officer, Mattel, Inc. Jess was instrumental in Mattel’s relaunch of Barbie with more inclusive body shapes and sizes. In a sea of 5000 women, Jess spotted me and I finally got to meet my shero face to face.
The energy in the room was absolutely electric. Any one individual speaker out of the list of presenters would’ve made for a remarkable event, but collectively the power players who inspired, educated and motivated us was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my entire life.
Here are some of the most recognizable names on the program:
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinhem, Connie Britten, Patricia Arquette, Warren Buffet, Nancy Pelosi, Amy Poehler, Billie Jean King, Kerry Washington, Shonda Rhimes…
Any one of those speakers by themselves would’ve made the day remarkable, but it was by far the girls who made this day so unbelievable.
The day began with the Pledge of Allegiance by the Girl Scouts of America, followed by the National Anthem by the Children of the Gospel Choir.
Sophia Bush interviewed 11-year-old Marley Dias who started a movement and a literacy campaign called #1000BlackGirlBooks.
Marley said, “We all need a hero that looks like us, but I couldn’t find any books that featured young black girls as heroes. I finally found ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ by Jacqueline Woodson. It made such a difference for me, I wanted to give other girls the opportunity to read it.”
The girls who introduced Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey made me cry. Mpumi Nobiva is a graduate student of Oprah’s school for girls in South Africa. “To many, my initial circumstances proved that I would amount to very little in this life. However, my world was changed forever when “Mom Oprah,” Miss Oprah Winfrey came to South Africa and built a school that would groom female leaders who are now changing the face of Africa.”
Dorothee Mulumba, a 17-year-old student at Langston High School in Arlington VA. moved to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was six, “to ensure that they had access to quality education and access to opportunities that would enable them to fulfill their full potential,” she said. “One opportunity that I’m so grateful to have is to be a mentee in First Lady, Michelle Obama’s Leadership and Mentoring Initiative. Not only has she changed my life, but she is leading an effort to ensure that girls around the world have that same opportunity.”
It was 11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer who had the most important role of the day introducing the President of the United States. She was by far was my favorite speaker of the entire summit. When she was asked if she would be nervous speaking in front of 5000 people, she said, “oh, no, I just spoke to 11,000 last week.”
The uber-confident Mikaila, captivated the entire room with her story of becoming the CEO of Me & the Bees Lemonade. When she was just four years old, she got stung by two bees in one week. “At first I got angry, and then I got curious,” she said. She began researching bees and their role in pollination and our food chain. What started as a lemonade stand with the secret ingredient of honey has grown into a mult-million dollar brand, having just signed an $11 million deal with Whole Foods for distribution of her products, now branded as BeeSweet Lemonade, in 55 of their stores.
“Entrepreneurs hold the American Dream. And the biggest dreamers are kids.” Her advice to anyone looking to start a business? “It’s simple,” she said. “Bee fearless. Bee-lieve in the impossible and dream like a kid.”
Wow! I want to be just like her when I grow up!
My #1 favorite moment of the entire event did not take place on the main stage, or even during a break-out solutions seminar, but a chance meeting of a delightful 7-year-old girl in the hallway. Natalie McGriff was there with her mom Angie, who had nominated her daughter to attend the Summit. Natalie created a comic book called The Adventures of Moxie McGriff about a girl who didn’t like her hair but decided to turn her insecurity into a superpower! Not only is Natalie a published author, but she taught me how to do FaceBook Live and I got to interview her.
I just missed a selfie with Amy Poehler! Damn that moving stairway! But her message and tag line from her Smart Girls Campaign, “Change the world by being yourself” is the one I will take with me and pass on to every girl I work with.
I pledge to use my voice to empower girls to be themselves.
Make your own pledge and post it in the comments below and share on social media. Together we are all stronger. Join the United State of Women and pledge to do your part so that today, we can all change tomorrow.