How to Make Lawmakers Pay Attention: From Washington, D.C. to Raleigh, N.C.

>>Gloria SteinemWomen AdvaNCe is featuring personal stories about North Carolina women leading up to our second NC Women’s Summit on September 26th, 2014. This year’s Summit will feature panel discussions, cultural presentations, and leadership trainings by community leaders, activists, and academics. >>Join us!

More than a year ago, when Deborah Locklear first heard about Women AdvaNCe, she got inspired. The mother, small business owner, and military spouse took on yet another title, this time as co-founder of Redefining Robeson County, an AdvaNCe Team of Women AdvaNCe.

Locklear’s journey as an AdvaNCe Team leader took her to Washington, D.C. in June for the White House Summit for Working Families. She joined more than 20 other Women AdvaNCe representatives—from Alamance, Robeson, Durham, Guilford, Orange, and Wake Counties—to voice her concerns about the issues facing working women today. That experience left quite an impression.

“I gained insight from so many women from different circumstances. Each had a different view—but all of us were looking for ideas to inspire change,” says Locklear. Locklear added that while self-interest and politics play a role in Washington, she felt that the “power players were at the Summit with an open mind and an open heart.”

The White House Summit sounds like a golden opportunity, and I’m envious that I couldn’t attend. These women participants got the chance to collaborate on their ideas, validate each other, and most importantly impress upon Washington that women across the country want change. The good news is, we’ll all have a chance to participate in a similar exchange this September, but you’ll have to read on to the end to find out how. How’s that for a tease?

Valerie Evans of Raleigh would move hell and high-water to attend. The working mom has been in higher education for 20 years, and has experienced more than her fair share of difficulties.

“I know what it’s like to be poor—working poor. Just before my senior year of high school, I discovered I was pregnant. In my panic, I married my boyfriend and kept the secret as long as I could. My son was born in April and I graduated in June in the top 15% of my class. I know the challenges of dealing with WIC vouchers, Medicaid, and commodity food lines. I know what it’s like to go to bed at night praying that someday we’d have a home with heat. I got lucky. I had support systems that helped me lift my family out of that life. I’ve sworn many times that I will never forget that life and those challenges so I can help others find their roads out of poverty.”

Simone Hawks of Greensboro volunteered for voter registration during the 2008 and 2012 elections. She attended the White House Summit with Women AdvaNCe because she considers it her duty:  “When the state of North Carolina started to go backwards, I decided that change starts with me. I attended the summit because even though I am single, I need to all that I can to help others,” she said.

Hawks, Locklear, and Evans found the White House Summit to be invaluable. Locklear came home and continued her work with Redefining Robeson, and even partnered with the >>NC Council for Women to improve the lives of women in the state.

“Women bring a different outlook to the table and we need a woman’s perspective when dealing with family issues and the workforce,” Locklear said.

Redefining Robeson has plans to provide the local government with a “checklist” of suggestions they could implement to provide a better quality of life for the women of the region.

“I believe that the Summit has inspired others to fight for the things that we need and it has also inspired those in positions of power to do better by their employees,” Hawks added.

Evans, meanwhile, has been inspired to get women involved in the politics at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh where she works. She’s also planning a voter registration drive on campus.

“I learned how much more I can do. So many people at the White House Summit managed to leverage their own talents to increase their reach and make a real difference in their communities. I think I learned how much more I can really do,” said Evans.

If stories from the White House Summit leave you wanting to take action – don’t miss the >>NC Women’s Summit on September 26th, 2014 at NC State University in Raleigh. Women AdvaNCe, the Women’s Center at NCSU, and the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill are teaming up to continue the discussion initiated in Washington about how women can be a part of improving the lives of working families.

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