In October 2017 I had the pleasure and honor of attending National Crittenton’s conference, In Solidarity We Rise. I appreciated my experience at the conference more than words can express. I went to the conference looking for my passion and found a better version of myself.
When I found out about the event, I was no longer at my organization directly serving young women and had no means to participate in the conference. I had transitioned from being staff at a community-based organization that I grew up in to pursue the “traditional” college pathway. I had just completed my transfer requirements at a community college (after six years) and was accepted into a private university. Unfortunately, the thought of paying over sixty thousand dollars a semester while working full-time and raising my son discouraged me from pursuing that route. As a single mother working in an administrative role and trying to imagine a better future, I felt trapped in my monotonous routine. Life was happening and it felt like hardly any of it was in my favor.
This conference couldn’t have come at a more necessary time in my life. As basic as it may sound, when I saw the discounted rate for young women to attend the conference I felt like they wanted me there as badly as I wanted to be there. I decided that I belonged at that conference and nothing would stop me from sharing that space.
As fate would have it, I ran into my former director at the airport who was taking a group of young women to the conference. I nearly cried because it was some of their first times going on such a long trip – and being on a plane. That was also my experience when I was in that program eight years prior. I was immediately reminded of why we do this work and what impact seemingly simple events like this can have on an individual’s life trajectory.
We were all young women ages 16 to 24 who were traveling across the country to speak on panels and facilitate workshops as experts not only on our lived experiences, but also on best practices and pathways to success. Having that national platform meant we could support our sisters who we’d never met but who we know exist and could benefit from all of our lessons learned.
When I was 14 and pregnant (with what I’d learn later in life included multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences) I couldn’t fathom the thought of being treated as an expert in anything. I came to the conference as a student of life with an open mind hoping to learn how I could reconnect and continue to support the work I’d done in the past. The feelings I experienced at the conference were overwhelming in the best way possible! I was able to reconnect with my previous support system and expand my network while making equally meaningful mutual connections with the younger wave of leaders who I’ve stayed in touch with to this day. I gained a fresh perspective on old concepts and an expanded view on new ideas.
Seeing women at the conference in positions of power who genuinely believe in the potential of girls like me and not only support but create opportunities for authentic youth leadership and development reassured me that I could take both the nontraditional route to success and still pursue higher education without losing myself or my values along the way.
As wild as it may sound, I had to travel 2,400 miles away to remove mental barriers by simply being in the presence of people who truly want to see me succeed. Sometimes that is all it takes and I am sure I am not the only young woman who has had one of these moments.
I want to take this moment to thank National Crittenton for allowing me to share the space that helped me remember that our collective purpose is bigger than any one of us and when one of us makes it, we all make it. I am glad to share that in just over one year since the last conference I am now one full semester away from obtaining my Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and Planning (and my mindset hasn’t been compromised nor have my values changed).
What I’m looking forward to at the next conference is learning from our young leaders and finding the motivation to come home in time for finals before crossing the stage. This is just the start of a new path on the same journey. I want every girl to have an opportunity to find whatever it is they may be looking for and we can only do that by coming together in May. Now, more than ever, we need to share that space and create the future world we want to thrive in.
Monica EO’Mailani is embarking on a new media project, learn more at her website: www.lonicache.com or find her on Instagram: @lonicache