There was unity around one message in Richmond Tuesday among a diverse crowd of over 1,000 women: empowerment.
From entertainer Queen Latifah to the first ladies of Virginia to a Native American chief, the Women’s Achieve Summit at the Greater Richmond Convention Center celebrated women’s achievements and explored how to continue reaching new frontiers.
Host Queen Latifah held court with interviewees, sharing anecdotes and laughs over the stories of challenges and triumphs. The summit was part of the American Evolution, a commemorative year of events highlighting pivotal moments that occurred in Virginia 400 years ago and continue to impact the nation. Ahead of the summit the Virginia Women’s Monument was unveiled, which features seven statues honoring women from different parts of the commonwealth.
Retired astronaut and U.S. Navy captain Wendy Lawrence talked about growing into a leadership role, while also challenging the “false narrative” that women have to face things alone.
“I was possessed by a dream, so I absolutely know the power of having a dream,” she said.
Anne Richardson, chief of the Rappahannock Tribe, spoke about honoring ancestors who led the way, while working to usher in dreams — of how to find one’s “North Star.”
Deborah Jewell-Sherman, a former superintendent of Richmond Public Schools who now teaches at Harvard University, spoke alongside Irma Becerra, president of Arlington County-based Marymount University, to touch on key issues women of color face in the education system, and why it is imperative to teach young people that college is accessible.
“Education is challenging,” Becerra said. “We need to be intentional with moving forward and moving along … It does take a village to instill that confidence.”
“I encourage all young people to get a well-rounded education because you never know where you may end up,” Virginia first lady Pamela Northam said.
Along with the personal stories of how to break glass ceilings, blaze trails and overcome obstacles was the idea of showing up.
Queen Latifah recalled first noticing voter apathy at her high school in Newark, New Jersey; “people thinking that it’s no big deal, it doesn’t matter, but it does matter.”
“People need to go back and take a look at a few pictures and see some people being sprayed with hoses and being bitten by dogs for their right to vote, and maybe it will spark something inside of them,” she said.
This isn’t the first time Queen Latifah has encouraged people to vote. In 2018, she partnered with Black Entertainment Television’s “Black Girls Rock!” to encourage voter registration and she recently tweeted “Voting gives us a voice” on National Voter Registration Day.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner spoke to Queen Latifah about how upcoming state elections are imperative for women in regard to working for equal protections — especially with all 140 General Assembly seats up for re-election.
In the past two years, a record amount of women have been elected to the Virginia General Assembly and Congress.
Warner said the government functions better with more women because they are “used to getting stuff done.”
In February, the Equal Rights Amendment lost by one vote in the House. With a couple more votes, legislators could pass the ERA, Warner said.
“You don’t have to go out and change 50 different delegates, although you can do that as well, but if we switch a couple of the votes in the House and the Senate, Virginia could become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.” Queen Latifah said that voting is “ultimately our power,” and she can’t imagine giving that power away.
“I challenge any person that is about to be 18 … to register to vote, if you decide you don’t want to vote then you don’t have to vote, but if you are not registered you can’t vote,” Queen Latifah said.
At the end of the month, Queen Latifah will receive the W.E.B Du Bois medal from Harvard for her service and contributions to the African American community.