Leaning forward, Melody Curry ransacked her oversized purse. Her nametag from the Ninth Annual Spelman College Women of Color Leadership Conference dangled from a lanyard worn around her neck. Comfortable flip-flops unearthed and professional heels replaced, Curry boarded the train heading away from the Georgia International Convention Center where the two-day conference had taken place on May 15th and 16th. "I plan to make it a ritual, going forward," said the Operational Risk Manager, reflecting on her second year in attendance.
Curry was one of 450 attendees, speakers, and media individuals who had gathered in Georgia’s capital to engage in dynamic discussions about strategic leadership. A robust offering of workshops, panels and talks focused on the tagline of this year’s conference: “Building Wealth, Entrepreneurship, and Paying it Forward.” Actress and entrepreneur Nicole Ari Parker and crisis management expert and Scandal muse Judy Smith were also on hand as recipients of the 2013 Legacy of Leadership Awards.
“This year, as we say, is ‘off the hook,” Conference Convener Dr. Jane E. Smith told EBONY.com. As the head organizer of the conference and Executive Director of LEADS at Spelman College, Smith has dedicated herself to championing leadership, economic empowerment, advocacy in the arts, dialogue across differences and service learning. “To be with passionate people is one of the better things of my life, and I get to do it once a year,” she said.
To kick off day one of the conference, award recipient Parker partnered with psychologist Dr. Brenda Wade to address how love and high-quality relationships help to maintain good health and generate wealth. Corporate professionals sat beside eager entrepreneurs, and ambitious students beside proud alumnus. A sprinkling of men lent some diversity to the predominantly Black and Latino, female-filled crowd.
Using her entrepreneurial venture Save Your Do LLC and her marriage to actor Boris Kudjoe as examples, Parker provided context for the challenges and rewards of maintaining an effective work-life balance. “In terms of [Save Your Do,] I try to keep the stress out of it,” said Parker. For those budding entrepreneurs struggling to juggle a career and passion project, she advised against pressuring one’s self to succeed. “Let each step be a victory,” she said. “That’s how my career didn’t discourage me from trying and to keep going.”
Hands were raised whenever Wade prompted audience members to list what she dubbed “The Big Five”— Positive beliefs, thoughts, words, actions and feelings. “You get balance by scheduling you first,” advised Wade. Physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness and health—Wade and Parker’s most prominent speaking points—remained a crucial matter throughout the conference, particularly in The AJ ZONE, an informal talk delivered by the vivacious actress, celebrity life stylist and Spelman alumna AJ Johnson. Healthy living is designing a custom lifestyle that will help you reach—with unwavering commitment—your optimal health, said Johnson.
“If you're not doing everything you can to take care of your temple, you're asking to be sick, not wealthy and less than your best,” she told the audience. To prove that she does, in fact, practice what she so vehemently preaches, Johnson even exhibited some of the items packed in her traveling “healthy toolkit,” which included her running shoes and a copy of His Princess: Love Letters from Your King.
Afterwards, Spelman College president Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum lead a conversation on “the 21st Century woman of color” with Dalila Wilson-Scott, acting president of JP Morgan Chase Foundation, and Gael Sylvia, founder of Sylvia Global Media Network. Tatum touched on the gaps in wealth for families of color to illustrate the audience’s “tremendous responsibility to shape and [uplift] entire communities.” True leadership is about advancing others, she said.
During the conversation, Tatum also stressed the importance of mental wellness and fitness—one of the college’s most recent initiatives—when shaping one’s community.
“I try to lead by example,” the college president told the press later that day. Noting her 35 year-long vegetarian diet and her daily workouts, Tatum demonstrated her own commitment to living healthy. “I’m wearing my Fitbit [Tracker] as we speak,” she revealed, informing everyone that she had taken 5,812 steps that day. Select attendees and conference organizers then gathered at the Legacy of Leadership Awards Dinner. The event paid tribute to Parker, Judy Smith, and other women powerbrokers whose commitment and leadership have made a lasting impact in workplaces, communities, and the health and wealth of women of color.
Day Two opened with a networking and coaching breakfast held to help conference goers plan out their final day, which offered a variety of strategic leadership workshops, like “Discovering Your Personal Brand,” “Profit with Purpose,” and “Thriving in a Disruptive World: 6 Critical Concepts for Navigating the 21st Century.”
A plethora of notable influencers from various industries also served on panels throughout the packed schedule. Music artist Avery Sunshine and Hunger Games actress Karan Kendrick, both Spelman alumnae, spoke about the business of entertainment by sharing their first-hand mistakes and success. Move from success to significance, urged Kendrick.
Allison Samuels, a Senior Reporter at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, moderated “The Role of Media in Wealth Building,” with CNBC Correspondent Sharon Epperson, Editor-in-Chief of National Newspaper Publishers Association George Curry, and “Girl, Make Your Money Grow” author Gail Perry-Mason. Attendees hung back afterwards to meet and greet the panelists and continue particular points addressed during the conversation.
At the Conference closing, Dr. Tatum and Dr. Smith officially extended an invitation to the 2014 10th anniversary of the Spelman College Women of Color Leadership Conference. Smith placed an emphasis on having a more diverse attendee representation of racial and ethnic backgrounds for next year, as well as more attendees from the West coast and Pacific area. “The reason is the world is diverse and the world is global,” said Smith. “If Spelman is in the business of making leaders out of our students, we must have them mixed with other people.”
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Patrice Peck is a writer and journalist whose work explores the intersection of race, culture, and identity. Her work lives at www.patricepeck.com.