Students and community members gathered March 16 for the fourth annual BRAVE Summit. The summit was held in the Hariri Building and featured mainstage panels, break-outs sessions, and a keynote address by Yandy Smith, an entrepreneur and television personality.
Shakera Vaughan (COL ’19), director of speakers, described the BRAVE Summit as a meaningful day for black women. “BRAVE is a safe space, BRAVE is a safe haven, and BRAVE ultimately is a community where people, specifically women, just feel like they are absolutely supported and that they are being uplifted and empowered,” Vaughan said.
The theme of this year’s summit was Vigilant: Maintaining the Movement. Vaughan said the board searched for speakers who had made an impact within the fields of activism, advocacy, and community organizing.
“We were really searching for speakers who had made some type of large impact within the black community, specifically, if we could find them, speakers who were uplifting black women,” Vaughan said.
The Summit began with opening remarks by Leah Walker, director for equity and community engagement at the Virginia Department of Education. She discussed how today many black women are rising to leadership positions, but still facing barriers. “While seats at the table for black women are opening up for women across all professional sectors, we still find ourselves feeling isolated, disrespected, second guessed, paid less, but most importantly, still driven to make an impact,” Walker said.
Walker encouraged the audience to defy the stereotype of the angry black woman by speaking low and slow, making sure that every word is understood. She ended her speech with a call to walk boldly into the future.
“Go with certainty into your future, know that your voice matters, insist that you are valued, and stay vigilant in your pursuit of excellence,” Walker said.
One of the day’s panels, “Mothers of the Movement: Black Women as Social Pioneers” featured Makia Green and Dornethia Taylor, community organizers for Black Lives Matter. Green and Taylor talked about how to be an active member of the Black Lives Matter movement, and discussed how it is only a moment in a larger movement that started with ancestors getting off slave ships. Green urged attendees to be active in the movement by attending organizing meetings and making agreements with neighbors not to call the police in certain situations. Taylor said that everyone must make time for black people’s liberation, that it should be a priority just as it is hers.
“I didn’t choose this life,” Taylor said. “Harriet Tubman told me, ‘Look, I need you to go walk on top of the tracks.’ She said, ‘If I went on the Underground Railroad, I made time for you to walk on top of the tracks and be unapologetically black.’”
Attendees could choose from a variety of break-out sessions discussing activism in areas such as entrepreneurship, law, academia, and student leadership.
Dashawn Cribbs (COL ’20), a volunteer and previous attendee, said the break-out sessions have been his favorite parts of the summit because of the dialogue they spark. “I feel like that’s where you can learn more from other people that you may not hear from.”
Entrepreneur and television personality Yandy Smith gave the keynote for the summit. She spoke about the importance of positive media representation for black women, as well as her recent activism about inhumane conditions at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center. She urged students to make their own opportunities through persistence and drive, reminding them that one person can in fact change the world. Above all Smith advocated for lifting up fellow women whenever possible, and even encouraged audience members to share opportunities they needed support for during the Q&A portion.
“Be someone that encourages your sister. Be someone that builds them up. Be someone that challenges them,” Smith said.
Kayla Edwards-Friedland (COL ’22) said she has struggled with feeling like she does not belong since coming to Georgetown and felt BRAVE allowed her to regain her confidence. “This conference to me is getting back to my roots, getting back to my own, re-evaluating myself and recentering myself to understand that I’m still me and I’m just as capable as I was before I walked into Georgetown.”
The summit, while geared towards black women’s experiences, had many male volunteers. Khendrick Beausoleil (COL ’20) has been a volunteer at the BRAVE Summit since his freshman year. He feels it is important that he and other men are involved in the event. “I think there’s not a lot of opportunities to celebrate black women, lot of opportunities to celebrate and support black women outwardly and openly and devote a day to it. So for me it’s just a good way to support, just show my love and support for black women,” Beausoleil said.
Dai Yah Thompson (COL ’20) reflected at the end of the day that one of the most important elements of the BRAVE Summit was the opportunity for the black community to come together.
“This day is also a day for us to come together and re-certify the idea that we are enough. So not just talk about issues that are prevalent in our community, but also just to be around each other and have good food and have community,” Thompson said. “Us being together in and of itself is a celebration.”