United and Strong: Rising Through The Struggle

12th Annual Women of Color Leadership Conference Reiterates Importance of Unity

“Imagine a world where racism doesn’t exist,” asked Pakou Her, as she kicked off the 12th annual Women of Color Leadership Conference, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Themed “United and Strong: Rising Through the Struggle,” the conference opened with a compelling presentation about the importance of unity and right relationships among communities of color.

Using statistical data and imagery to highlight various communities’ ongoing quests for social justice, Her’s presentation gave segue to a reverberating call throughout the conference, hosted by the UMKC  Division of Diversity and Inclusion. She called for unifying communities of color – women in particular – in the fight for social justice and a world of inclusion. She highlighted the importance of self-reflection and committing to stand in comradery not only with all communities of color, but with one’s own cultural community as well.

“We can’t do it together if we don’t do it individually,” said Her, owner of Tseng Development Group, adding that the time is past due for communities of color to formulate unified efforts toward civil and women’s rights.

Breakout sessions throughout the day focused on various timely themes including creating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) communities in the urban core, workplace inclusion, femininity and feminine identity, health care and financial wellness.

Political strategist, “empowermenteur” and social justice advocate Angela Rye served as the keynote speaker for the conference luncheon, and perhaps the main attraction for the sold out event. Pulling from the famous poem, Ain’t I A Woman, by abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, Rye’s address, “It’s 2017 and Ain’t I A Woman,” focused on the holistic struggle of women of color and served as a tool for mobilizing attendees to assemble and get involved in their communities. Rye reminded attendees that women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, yet are underrepresented in board rooms and court rooms. Using this statistic, she presented a call to action for women to come together, speak up and take action.

“What will it take for us to move?” asked Rye.

Rye further challenged attendees to tap into their passions and actively work to magnify their voices in legislative decisions and in the workplace.

“It’s not enough to stay woke if you don’t act woke,” she said. (Woke, according to Urban Dictionary, is defined as “being aware and knowing what’s going on in your community.” Woke is a term specifically tied to issues of social justice and racism.)

Following her address, audience members engaged Rye in a brief Q&A period where she provided advice to community leaders on succession planning for future generations, and being proactive in solving for gaps and disparities in economics. She offered book recommendations, including What’s the Matter With Kansas by Thomas Frank, and Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur. She also assisted in connecting groups with interests pertaining to the role of arts in the struggle for social justice and diversity on community boards.

Throughout the conference attendees, shopped a variety of vendors showcasing their goods and gathered at the end of the day for a social hour of networking and debriefing.


Kelsey Haynes | Division of Strategic Marketing and Communication

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