Conference inspires, educates women
Hayesville – About 70 women from a variety of backgrounds gathered Saturday for the 17th Multicultural Women’s Development Conference at the Hinton Rural Life Center.
The conference, organized by One Dozen Who Care Inc. based in Andrews, has always been place where women can learn about other cultures, but it become much more. Eva Maiden, who traveled from California to be at the conference after hearing about it from Ann Miller Woodford, saw it as a way to empower women.
“Women learning, connecting and uplifting themselves,” Maiden said. “When she told me about the conference, I knew it was really up my alley.”
Although she took a step back from organizing the conference this year, Woodford lead by example – greeting women, introducing them to each other and encouraging them to live their dreams.
The empowerment was echoed in Denise Pickens Johnson’s keynote speech, during which she encouraged women to be lifelong learners and how to use their voice.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about people around us,” Johnson said.
She said by being at the conference, the women were taking that opportunity to learn and transform their lives.
Johnson also explained how words have power, and how affirming yourself can transform your life.
She said transformational leaders are often called quiet leaders, and just because a person has something to say doesn’t mean they always have to say it. She added that one of her teachers, Brenda Blount, would tell her that if she wants to be seen, she should sit down – and if she wants to be heard, she should be quiet.
“It’s better to be thoughtful,” Johnson said, “than to open your mouth and be called a fool.”
Another highlight of the conference was the diversity panel. The panel featured three local women – Pamela Carman, Mary Ricketson and Crystal Sparks. After Carman and Ricketson provided insight about growing up in Mississippi and Sparks shared her story of growing up as a biracial person who presented white in West Virginia, facilitator Ellerna Forney asked the panel about their opinions on diversity topics.
When asked, all three women said diversity is needed. “We suffer because of a lack of diversity,” Carman said.
Sparks said that as she was growing up, she craved diversity.
“I think there’s a need, especially now,” Sparks said. “There’s a need for peace.”
During the daylong conference, the women were treated to Jamaican dancing by Marion Pryce-White and a Muslim prayer recited in Arabic by Shahadah Lloyd. Women also got to attend a session to learn about addiction, domestic violence, building a website or self defense.
Many women said they learned a lot at the conference. “It just was very informative and very inspirational,” said Jean Hall of Canton.
Monica Matthews, who was a recipient of the organization’s 10-10-10 mentoring program when she was younger, said she made connections with people she will bring to her students at The Learning Center charter school in Murphy.
“I loved hearing the stories from people,” Matthews said. “That brings people closer together.”
Aisha Lloyd of Murphy, a student at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, said several discussions they have been having in classes were presented at the conference.
The conference also featured the presentation of the first One Dozen Who Care Prescott Scholarship for Higher Education. Dr. Emory Prescott, benefactor of the scholarship, was inspired to create what she called a bridge to education by the organization’s work to build bridges.
Hannah Bailey, a senior at Hiwassee Dam High School, was honored as the first recipient of the $1,500 scholarship. She plans to study pediatric nursing and psychology at Carson-Newman University in neighboring Tennessee.
“By them helping me, it’s going to help me help others,” Bailey said.
Mary Sue Casey, the scholarship chair, said there were nine applicants. Bailey’s essay about being biracial in middle school stood out.
“I really fell in love with her then,” Casey said. “It was very good to hear a teenager talk about things like that.”
The conference was first held in 2000. Since next year will be the 20th anniversary, conference co-chairs Cammie Johnson and Dawn Colbert would like to see 200 women attend. Each woman was asked to bring a friend with them next year.
Woodford, founder of One Dozen Who Care, decided to pass the torch to the younger generation to organize this year’s women’s conference.
“I’m really proud of them,” Woodford said.
Colbert had worked with Woodford on planning the conference in the past, but this was Johnson’s first year.
“I’m very grateful to be working under her and learning from her,” Johnson said.
Both ladies felt the conference was a success. They were grateful for the support from friends who accepted roles as speakers and presenters on about a month’s notice.