I got to meet one of my long-time heroes, Myrne Roe!
It’s an odd feeling, to be exhausted and replenished at the same time, yet here I am. In the past seven days I’ve been part of two incredible conferences. I got home from the National Federation of Press Women conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania last Sunday and hit the ground running, to co-chair the Know Your Worth Women’s Leadership conference in Wichita five days later. It feels like a whirl-wind of making new friends, seeing familiar beloved faces, listening to incredible speakers, exploring new ideas - and being deeply inspired. I’m glad I have this weekend off, to rest and reflect.
I love the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) and what it stands for. Started 81 years ago to help women writers gain bylines and opportunities to be published, this professional organization is just as essential today as it was when it started. I have served on the national board and am past president of the local chapter, Wichita Professional Communicators, and believe strongly in our Code of Ethics and support of the First Amendment. I am a legacy of this organization. My mother, Cecilia Miller Green, is also a member and past president and I am proud to follow in her footsteps.
One of my favorite events each year is going to the national conference, where I get to see the women, and men, I’ve become close friends with over the years. Although we only see each other in person once a year, our love is strong. I am constantly inspired and blow away by the talent of our members and the achievements they modestly make happen. Hearing what they’ve done, stories of their daring adventures, people they’ve interviewed, and their hilarious tall tales, are what I live for. This wild and colorful group of wordsmiths love to laugh, tell stories, dance, eat and drink and are fearless when it comes to making new adventures. We are an organization of willful, outspoken, opinionated, authentic people who love words and aren’t afraid of conflict, owning that telling the truth is an essential part of effective communication. Coming together is like a family reunion and I found myself staying up way later than my common sense advised, to savor every minute I could while we were together.
Just as inspirational, but in a little different way, the Know Your Worth conference was amazing. The brainchild of Denise Sherman, the newly appointed Executive Director of The Kansas African American Museum, she told entrepreneur and community-builder, Christina Long about her mission of bringing together an inclusive mix of women for a conference to talk about what is means to know our worth. Christina challenged her to make it happen, giving her the little push it often takes to do something big.
When I heard about it the first year, I was intrigued. Helping women own their power is my mission and I went. I was so impressed with the speakers and participants, I wrote on the feedback form that I would volunteer to help organize the second year. After attending the first meeting, Denise asked me to be her co-chair. I had written the email telling her “no” in my head, when I ran into her at the Chamber of Commerce Awards and realized it was too good of an opportunity to turn down. I’ve gotten to meet and work with women I probably would never have had the opportunity to work with, if it weren’t for this conference. This year I got to meet and talk to one of my heroes, Myrne Roe, a long-time women’s rights activists, teacher, writer, and the editor of one of my favorite books, “Radiating Like a Stone.” I am honored to be part of making this sold-out event happen and can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
As I reflect on the last week, I can’t help but acknowledge that both the conferences I was a part of this past week were events mainly with women. Of course, as Headmistress of the Finishing School for Modern Women, I’m used to that and love it. Just like Women’s Studies classes in universities are open to everyone, the Finishing School, NFPW and Know Your Worth welcome all genders. We just apply a female perspective to issues and experiences, which is a bit different than the patriarchal viewpoint we’re used to.
While the National Federation of Press Women does have some men as members, and our Communicator of Achievement, the highest honor we give, went to a man last year, most of the members are women. Lots of men have a bit of a hard time joining an organization or going to a conference or school with “women” in the title. At the NFPW conference one year, one of the men told me he didn’t know if he felt comfortable in such an “estrogen-heavy” environment. My sassy answer was, “Welcome to our world.” I can’t tell you how many conferences I’ve attended that weren’t marketed as “men’s” conferences, yet didn’t have a single woman keynote, breakout speaker or even panelist. At least we’re up front about it. The NFPW does better than that, with excellent male speakers, like author Ricky Bragg at last year’s conference.
While some people don’t like the idea of events that are specifically for women, I do – obviously. I’ve had discussions with people that believe we shouldn’t have separate events for many reasons, from reverse sexism to the opinion that events for women are too “fluffy.” While it does make sense that men and women need to be in the room together to discuss women’s issues to move things forward, there are times when women need to share their experiences and knowledge to help other women succeed. In so many ways, women have been pitted against each other, taught to compete against each other rather than collaborate to get what we want out of life. Since ancient times, women have formed communities, come together and helped each other survive. They found that when a group with less power comes together, their combined power is stronger than it was when they tried to survive or win the battle on their own.
Since I started the Finishing School I’ve found that bringing women together, gives them a place for their voices to be heard and is powerful. In a low risk environment, women who aren’t used to speaking their voices can gain experience and confidence in what they have to say, so they can be bolder in other situations. Without the pressure of having to compete, we all learn to listen to each other and give support and advice. By helping women learn to own their power, come together to collaborate and help each other, we combine our strength to not just to survive, but to thrive.
While it’s been an intense week and I’m planning on lots of napping this weekend, I am so grateful for the experience. My inner strength is bolstered, and my heart is full from the connections with my sisters.
I feel replenished and ready to take on the world.