Young women filled the halls of Mission High School on Saturday for a daylong conference organized by Ignite, a California-based organization that encourages young women from low-income communities to become civically engaged and pursue careers in politics.
The third annual Tomorrow’s Women Leaders Today Conference was the first time the event had been held in the Mission District. It drew 150 women from all over the Bay Area.
“This year we wanted to show some love to the other side of the bay,” said Fatimah Simmons, Ignite’s director of programs.
Conference workshops ranged in topic from immigration and the DREAM Act to reproductive rights to social and professional branding and marketing.
“It’s never too early to learn and to expose people,” said Simmons.
“I’m really passionate about women and girls and helping them realize their full potential to change their communities,” said Kim Vu, who presented a workshop on personal branding and social networking.
Vu is an alumna of Emerge and the New Leaders Council, two organizations that are linked to Ignite and that provide different avenues for young leaders to become politically engaged in their communities.
“I’m not the only expert in the room; you are all experts, too,” said Vu, who encouraged open discussions and group participation during her workshop.
In the next room, young women were discussing reproductive rights.
“I’m here because I’m excited about this young generation,” said the
workshop’s host, Sophia Yen, a pediatrician at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
“Thank you, thank you,” called out Annaki Geshlider to Yen before walking out of the room. “Thank you so much. You’re so cool.”
Geshlider is a 17-year-old senior at the Urban School of San Francis
co in the Haight. She left the conference feeling strong and uplifted.
“Yes, I feel empowered after talking with the local politicians. They were open to us, and I’d like to follow in their footsteps one day,” she said.
“Yes,” agreed her friend, Elana Rapp. “I think because I care about politics but I don’t get how that happens and it helps me to see how it can be done. It’s less vague and more possible,” said Rapp.
At a lunch with local politicians, serious networking was interspersed with giggles as role models shared tips with teens and young women.
“We need that encouragement, because 50 percent of the population are women but there aren’t enough women in office,” said 17-year-old Bren
da Gonzalez, who hopes to study politics at UC Berkeley this fall.
“I think that empowerment conferences like this for women are good, because media portrays women as less valuable and they are stereotyped,” said 19-year-old Sheila Blandon, a sophomore at Berkeley City College. “These conferences are a reminder that women are no less than men, and they can make as much money.”
Oakland native Isabel Borjon, 15, said she was pleased that women in positions of power were taking time to tell young urban females that success is possible for them. “There’s a bunch of opportunities open to you even though you’re a woman,” she said.
After the lunch, many young girls huddled excitedly around Sofia Campos, the 23-year-old keynote speaker and DREAM Act advocate.
“There are so many things that blind us from the power we have as women,” said Campos, who received her bachelor’s degree from UCLA last spring.
During her keynote speech, Campos encouraged the young women to confide in and trust each other and to develop a universal sisterhood.
“To know that you have mentors and sisters that you can call upon is so important,” she said.