African-American Female Students, Community Members Come Together for Day of Reflecting and Career Planning
“Life is all about changes, and you’re going to make mistakes. A mistake is a lesson as long as you learn from it. I continue making mistakes at 63,” said community member and business owner Pat Duncan to a table of students.
The young ladies she had conversations with gleaned that wisdom and more from African-American community leaders during our second annual African-American Young Ladies Summit (AAYLS) May 15. The women discussed their professions and how they got where they are in their careers, listened to students’ career aspirations and offered support and guidance. Students indicated the types of careers they’re interested in pursuing, and the event’s organizers worked to connect them with a professional in a similar career field.
The professionals included everyone from Denver Board of Education member Happy Haynes, to a healthcare worker advocating against disparities in the African-American community, to an author and publishing company owner, to a librarian who belongs in the small fraction of the field — only 3% of the country’s librarians are African-American, according to her data.
“I share my testimony because of the importance of having an example and just because your life starts off in one place doesn’t mean it’s going to have to end there,” said one of the community members, who was a teen mom living in Tennessee and now has a successful career in Denver.
“I love my community, I really enjoy pouring into kids. Folks did it for me growing up and to be able to share experiences and perspectives, what I’ve been through and encourage them brings a lot of value,” said Samantha Pryor, an attorney and DPS mom. “I like to tell the young women – don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than; you’re more than good enough.”
It gave students a safe place to confide in the women with what’s challenging them today. “Eighth grade is challenging, everyone is changing who they are. I constantly feel like I need to push it up a level,” one student shared to Angelle Fouther, a communications professional. Angelle took great care to include other young voices in the conversation, and gently responded: “If I could tell my 13-year-old self something, it would be that if you look at everyone around you, everyone wants to be liked and loved. Find ways to affirm others. Find ways to be able to say what you need, in a nice way, not in a demanding way, instead of lashing out in ways that hurt others.”
“I do feel like the community has came more together now,” the student said. “It’s positive.”
It’s that feeling of hope for the future that AAYLS founder Dr. Plashan McCune and team have been building on since the program’s inception in spring 2018. The event’s organizers – a steering committee made up of educators and community members who have banded together to make a difference – took the concept for last year’s summit, gathered feedback from students and expanded the targeted support into a full-blown program that are responsive to the young ladies’ expressed and known needs.
“You can come talk to me about anything. I’m not here to judge you; I’m here to listen,” Pat said to the students. She knows what it’s like to be in the presence of trailblazing women. Her sister was Colorado’s first African-American woman to be elected as Secretary of State.
In addition to the career-focused conversations, colleges were present to answer questions around admissions, scholarships and majors.
“This event is a culmination of all that we have accomplished in a very challenging year. We are bringing African-American women from around the Denver metro area to sit with, share and support our African-American young ladies. It is exciting to share a space with so much love and support,” said Dr. McCune.
For information on future events and to participate, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Superintendent Susana Cordova’s plan for leading DPS toward a streamlined focus on Equity, Instructional Excellence and Collaborative Teamwork includes the goal of eliminating barriers and providing the right resources to ensure all students have educators and leaders who both care about them and push them to succeed.