During the day we had a speaker who joined us, despite having to take unpaid time off work. She was a young mother, who had to leave quickly after her speech to return to her family. Near the end of the day an organic rumbling stirred through the crowd: they decided to pass the hat to replace the young woman’s lost wages.
One summit attendee ran to the lobby to get a basket, while another walked around collecting donations in a coffee cup. When all was said and done, bills and change filled the basket. The woman’s day pay was replaced, and then some.
More than 200 women from all over North Carolina joined together Thursday on the Wake Forest campus in Winston Salem to discuss poverty, health, jobs, and almost anything else affecting women and families in our state. Although the panels, plenaries, speeches, and breakouts were wonderful, what really struck me were the connections.
I wasn’t in the lobby more than five minutes before a woman, spotting my name tag, said, “Jen Ferris! I’ve always wanted to meet you!” Throughout the day I heard similar conversations repeated as volunteers, non-profit workers, elected officials, and activists connected with old friends, or folks they only knew from online.
Keynote speaker Melissa Harris-Perry spoke early in the day, peppering her presentation with (mild) foul language and hilarious examples and Powerpoint slides. (Don’t take my word on it. Go ask someone who was at the summit to tell you about Harris-Perry’s take on douches.) Having the early talk invigorated the crowd and set the tone for the day. We weren’t strangers– we were all girlfriends working together in pursuit of a common cause.
During our food insecurity panel we heard from Chapel Hill business owner Vimala Rajendran, who offers food on a pay-what-you can basis at her restaurant. “Food sovereignty is being taken away from individuals. We need to take it back,” she told the audience. 1.5 million North Carolinians live in food deserts— places where healthy food is neither accessible nor affordable.
Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden rocked the crowd with an empowering lunchtime speech before being interviewed by Women AdvaNCe board member Amy Tiemann. Their nearly casual chat felt like sitting around the coffee table with friends.
The fair wage panel featured me in my debut as a moderator. But far more importantly, experts and academics from across the state brainstormed on ways to level the playing field for women. We talked a lot of statistics, which can be dry, but I couldn’t help but be moved by the following: If we paid women a fair wage, half of all poverty would be erased. That single statistic speaks multitudes, both in terms of how we hold women back today and how we could effect real change with only a few simple steps.
We finished the day by hearing a beautiful speech from Blueprint NC executive director, Erin Byrd. I think every arm in the room was covered in goosebumps as she helped us define our charge.
What was your favorite Summit moment? Share with us using the #NCwomen2015 and #WomenAdvanceNC hashtags!