More than 500 girls attended the EmpowHer Institute Girls to Greatness Teen Summit. (Shelby Stephens/L.A. Sentinel)

On Friday, April 28, the EmpowHer Institute hosted over 500 girls from 13 schools at their annual Girls to Greatness Teen Summit at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This year’s theme, Leaders Today. Changemakers Tomorrow., was a declaration of power encouraging the girls to step into their purpose with confidence and commitment.

Throughout the day, girls enjoyed musical performances, interactive workshops, and special guests like Brenda Olmos of the City of Paramount, and actress, producer, and writer Jessica Marie Garcia.

The summit began with the premiere of the institute’s new theme song, performed and written by EmpowHer teen Siaira Shawn Harris. Harris is a talented singer and song writer known for her soothing and soulful voice. Her song “Wrong Speed” earned a spot on HBO’s hit series Insecure, and in 2019 she released an extended play (EP) entitled “Tender”. Her performance set the tone for the summit and uplifted her fellow teens for the day ahead.

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After the morning performance, EmpowHer’s CEO and President Dawn L. Brown, welcomed the girls, staff, and volunteers with a brief introduction of the itinerary. She reminded the girls, “Today is a judgement free zone as we celebrate being a girl. Today be bold, step out of your comfort zone, allow yourself to learn something new, and have fun!”

CEO Dawn L. Brown with EmpowHer Staff and Council Member Brenda Olso (Shelby Stephens/L.A. Sentinel)

During her closing statements, Brown introduced the first keynote speaker of the summit, City Councilmember Brenda Olmos. Olmos has been a member of the Paramount City Council since July 2019 and has served one term as Mayor. She is a part of an all women council in the Southeast L.A. community, which is the only women-led council in Los Angeles County. As the first Latina to be voted to lead the city, she encouraged the girls, “Never be ashamed of where you come from, it’s apart of your story. There’s no such thing as a challenge that you cannot overcome, sometimes you need a helping hand and it’s ok to ask for help. Look to your left and look to your right, look at these wonderful ladies sitting next you, empower each other!”

Before dismissing the girls for their first round of workshops, EmpowHer’s Director of Programs Keyonna Keith shared, “An EmpowHer girl knows the power of her voice, get to know each other, and make new friends. We have over 500 girls here, EmpoweHer is a sisterhood!”

For a little over an hour and a half, the girls were able to participate in a variety of workshops in two rounds of 45-minute classes. Theses workshops allowed the girls to either learn new skills or a new hobby. With over 15 workshops and a master class, the institute tailored the educational experiences to align with the teens and their interests. Workshops like Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, Real Money Real Talk, The Business of Art, and Train Like a Fighter, were hosted by real entrepreneurs, financial advisors, artists, and professional athletes, exposing the girls to successful individuals in their careers.

The afternoon keynote speaker Jessica Marie Garcia, graced the EmpowHer stage with her exciting personality and comedic demeanor. Garcia is an American actress, producer, and writer from Orlando, Florida. She became a household name after starring alongside Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder and her performance on Netflix’s drama-comedy On My Block. Garcia currently has a recurring role on NBC’s hit series Lopez vs Lopez with famous comedian and actor George Lopez. After sharing her experiences and life-journey to becoming a successful actress, her presence at the summit left the girls inspired and hopeful for the future.

Business of Art Workshop Host Jheri Cavitt, left, and Train Like a Fighter Workshop Host Sloan Baptiste (Shelby Stephens/L.A. Sentinel)

After rising star Jessica Marie Garcia spoke, with perfect timing, The Rising Star Ceremony began. The Rising Star Award is presented annually to exceptional young women, under the age of 25, who have challenged systematic barriers to create a path for girls and women to achieve greatness. This is EmpowHer’s way of thanking these inspirational trailblazers for shattering misconceptions and redefining expectations for girls everywhere.

This year’s ceremony honored robotics inventor, author, activist, and youth advocate Danielle Boyer, actress Jessica Mikayla, and EmpowHer alumni Xenia Zolano Dorote. The honorees also participated in a Panel discussion with the girls, taking questions and sharing stories.

As a segway from the ceremony, the girls were split up into groups for two rounds of mentoring sessions. With access to more than 100 mentors, the institute curated mentor conversations with volunteer and partnership mentors to talk to the girls about life challenges as a woman, navigating a career as a woman, and how to acquire business skills as a woman. Their motto, “If you can see Her, you can be Her”, rang true during these sessions by allowing the girls to connect with women they aspire to be.

To initiate the spirit of competition, the last segment of the summit was the EmpowHer Social Justice Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math (STEAM) Student Project Presentations. A panel of six judges vote and award a first, second, and third place winner for the best project proposal. EmpowHer’s eighth and ninth grade classes were challenged to identify a social justice issue important to them and develop a project outlining how a STEAM technique can be used to address the problem. The challenge is designed to foster innovation, encourage engagement in social justice, and develop skills in critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. The top three teams in each grade level are preselected to present their project proposal at the summit.

After a full day of empowering girls and young women, the institute continues to execute their mission of providing the necessary resources to marginalized communities through education, training, and mentorship. EmpowHer creates a clear pathway for girls to be confident, expressive, and honest in safe places tailored to their needs. Preparing them for college and a career, each girl was able to build community and network laterally with their peers, and vertically with their idols.

The EmpowHer Institute has a variety of upcoming events scheduled for second half of the year, including their Black Women Non-profit Leaders Forum, the Pathmaker Awards Gala, and the Anniversary Thought Leaders Dinner. To volunteer, donate, or become a school partner, visit Our Programs – EmpowHer Institute or connect online at Contact Us – EmpowHer Institute.