Women of the World Festival (WOW) made its way to Harlem last weekend, and for four days it was like a mass exodus of phenomenal, fearless and socially conscious women. The WOW festival is dedicated to providing a platform for female voices to effect positive change; it also fosters community and fellowship amongst women internationally.
Launched across the pond (in London) in 2011, the festival has since made its way to 15 cities on five different continents. Last weekend, New York City had its turn welcoming WOW for the very first time. And what better place to set the stage than at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theatre? The weekend’s line-up featured conversations, activism and performances from powerful women like inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant, singers Joi and Macy Gray, poet jessica Care moore and more. It was a weekend of transformation, truth and empowerment.
“Here’s my message. Get it. Take a breath with me,” said Iyanla Vanzant on Friday night, and the entire audience audibly inhaled. “You matter.” Vanzant continued. “Just as you are, right now. You matter. You matter because who you are matters.” The attorney turned spiritual teacher took it to church (as evidenced my the occasional yes from the audience, waiving hands and outbursts of applause). She brought a powerful message as only Iyanla Vanzant can. “We’ve been so disloyal to ourselves in order to honor the feelings and dysfunction of people. Remaining loyal to people who treat you poorly, dishonor you, disrespect you.”
Vanzant went on to describe the purpose, vision and lesson of several decades in life (20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s) and referred to each group as a “clan.” According to Vanzant, the most important aspect of transitioning from decade to decade is self-analysis. “Take yourself into review. What happened in your 20s that is not resolved in your 50s? You didn’t pause.” The 61-year-old inspirational speaker was effervescent that night, tempered with maturity and a strong sense of spirituality. She spoke life into words and channeled her higher Self to bring about healing and transformation within her sister-folk.
The thoughtful conversations flourished.
“Just be true to yourself,” said Grammy-nominated Elle Varner at Sunday’s Music Industry and the Female Image panel. “We are not being authentic,” she continued. The discussion brought together industry executives like Mona Scott-Young, Teresa LaBarbera Whites (responsible for discovering Destiny’s Child) and Yvette Noel-Schure (who currently represents both Beyoncé and Prince). Themes included privilege vs. power, authenticity and work-life balance.
Moderator Isisara Bey posed a question about Mona Scott-Young’s franchise Love and Hip-Hop, and the decision that some made not to attend that specific panel. Mona Scott-Young, CEO of Monami Entertainment, responded: “I’m not here to judge [cast members], I’m here to provide an opportunity and to provide a platform.” One cast member, a former stripper, cried after receiving what was her first bona fide paycheck—she was accustomed to having dollar bills thrown at her.
“Women are from very specific worlds, and they navigate very specific lifestyles,” Scott-Young went on. “We are not monolithic. We do not come in one shape, size and mindset.” The audience applauded, and the conversation eventually moved on.
Brooklyn-based 23-year-old Niomi Sterling attended the panel and was able to relate to the discussion and topics that were explored. “I think that the views that all the panelists expressed reflected what women struggle with every day, as far as decisions and life paths.” Twenty-eight-year-old Natasha Brown, another Brooklynite panel attendee, felt similarly. “I feel like we are constantly dissecting other women and their image. Sometimes it’s constructive, but often times it’s destructive. As an educator, I feel like it is important to have these conversations with these young girls and to support and uplift them.”
If WOW aimed to encourage and inspire girls and women to be agents of change, then this would be a mission accomplished.