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Shaping tomorrow's women leaders: Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, journalist Tina McElroy Ansa inspire at SSU
Tina McElroy Ansa

SSU Women’s Leadership Conference

When: 8am-4pm, Friday Mar. 18 (keynote speaker Isabel Wilkerson @noon)

Where: SSU Student Union, 3219 College St.

Tickets: $35, includes lunch and dessert reception


ALL the shamrock talk might say otherwise, but March isn’t just for the leprechaun set. It’s also Women’s History month, when we take time to focus on the accomplishments and contributions of 51 percent of the population. (It used to only be Women’s History Week, so that’s progress.)

In spite of a rich history of innovation, intelligence and courage, women still make an average 77 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts. But thanks to mentorship and encouragement, the field is leveling out, and more women are represented in traditionally male-dominated career fields like science and engineering than ever.

In order to maintain that momentum, young women need examples of female leadership not only to glean the possibilities for their lives, but to make the vital connections that facilitate the career a well-networked professional. Providing that opportunity is the aim of the second annual Women’s Leadership Conference this Friday, March 18 at Savannah State University.

Launched by SSU president Dr. Cheryl Davenport Dozier, the conference is an outgrowth of the on-campus Women’s Leadership Institute, the sponsoring organization that cites as its mission to “help women on the path to leadership, create networking opportunities, and challenge the new and ongoing issues that rising women leaders face.”

Featuring workshops, lectures and small group discussions with prominent leaders on the local, regional and national stage, the day will revolve around this year’s theme, women in arts and media.

“The young women I see are always seeking information about how do they find a mentor, how do they succeed, what do they need to become a good leader,” says conference organizer Wanda Lloyd, who chairs SSU’s Journalism and Mass Communications Dept.

Though she has mentored many students over the years, Lloyd herself did not have such guidance when she began her career as a newspaper editor for Gannett.

“There just weren’t a lot of people in the newsroom back then who looked like me, female and African American,” recalls Lloyd, who co-edited the textbook The Edge of Change: Women in the 21st Century Press. “There is so much value from hearing from women who have made it to the top.”

You can’t ask for a better role model than award-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson, who will serve as keynote speaker at the conference lunch. The former Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times, Wilkerson was the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize and rose to international recognition after the 2010 publication of her book, The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson interviewed over 1200 people and spent 15 years chronicling the flight of more than six million African Americans from the rural South to find equality and prosperity in other American cities through the first half of the 20th century, an exodus that has become known as the Great Migration.

The Warmth of Other Suns achieved both critical and popular success as well as a spot on President Obama’s summer reading list. Wilkerson continues to examine how history affects the opportunities of African Americans, immigrants and other minorities.

“By success I don’t just mean making money, I mean emotional well-being: contentment, happiness with where you are in life, which is an underappreciated form of success,” Wilkerson told the publication Arts ATL in 2012.

The complexity of that kind of success is also up for exploration at the workshop portions of Friday’s conference. “Shaping the Story and Balancing Life” will begin as a journaling exercise with former Atlanta Journal Constitution editor and reporter Tina McElroy Ansa, though the ultimate objective is to identify the challenges on the way to creating a harmonious life.

“Women have an insatiable thirst for hearing how other women leaders manage their time, how they raise families while having a career, the specific ways someone got to where they are,” says Lloyd.

Other workshops include how to improve public speaking skills, a session with a life coach and practical advice on how to network and make professional connections.

“Sometimes it’s who you know; sometimes it’s reaching out to people. It means being ready to go after the people who can help you,” clarifies Lloyd.

The goal of the Women’s Leadership institute is to provide guidance all year long and will follow up Friday’s conference with a lecture from Tonea Stewart, actress and Alabama State University’s Dean of Visual & Performing Arts, on March 28.

While the conference theme focuses on media this year, Lloyd stresses that attendees can be anyone with the goal of becoming a leader in their career, on campus, in their community and their family. They don’t even need to be women, she assures.

“If men want to come, we’d be very happy to have them!”