JWOF'S 2nd Annual Women's Empowerment Conference held at Jungle Island, Miami, Florida on April 23rd, 2016 was a smashing success. 200 women and men gathered for a day of electrifying presentations that served to ignite pride and passion in Jamaican heritage and the successes of Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora.
Attendees to the conference were welcomed by the smooth sounds of Steel Pan music playing Jamaican Mento music to set the tone for the decidedly Jamaican event. The lobby of the Tree Top Ballroom at Jungle Island was bright with selected vendors selling one of a kind crafts and sponsors sharing their products. JWOF conducted a Silent Auction with exciting offers.
The day began with a warm welcome from Dr. Heather Russell (Chair Department of English - Florida International University, Miami, Florida) who went on to serve as moderator for the Smash The Glass Ceiling panel. JWOF's Vice President, Ms Cheryl Wynter gave an overview of JWOF's activities for 2015. The panelists of The Smash The Glass Ceiling Panel shared their experiences as they made their journeys through the Courtroom, the Newsroom and the Boardroom. Alison Smith, Esq. partner at Weiss Serrota Helfman; Rene Marsh CNN National Aviation & Governmental Affairs Correspondent and Marie McKenzie Vice President of Global Destinations at Carnival Cruise Lines.
The second panel “Transformation” had the incomparable Mrs. Beverley Manley-Duncan who has made gender and transformation her life’s work and she held the audience captive with her frank exchange. Registered Nurse, Motivational Speaker and Trainer, Eva Francis shared her insights on how she transformed her life into becoming an entrepreneur. Dr. Audeanne Donaldson also a Registered Nurse, author and Motivational Speaker spoke about her own transformation and how she shares with audiences. The Transformation panel was moderated by the energetic Suzette Rochester, JWOF member and the manager at the Florida Representative office of Victoria Mutual Building Society.
JWOF’s scholarship luncheon was an event on to itself with the captivating Paula Williams Madison, a second generation Jamaican who was born in Harlem, NY to Jamaican parents delivered an unscripted presentation that had even the staff enthralled. She chronicled her life’s experience as an American born to immigrant parents who instilled their Jamaican values to her and her brothers and how herself and her siblings parlayed their immigrant heritage into financial and professional success in America.
JWOF’s founder and current president Dahlia Walker-Huntington, Esq. addressed the luncheon audience with a motivational presentation that ended with the inspirational poem by Jamaican poet Jean Wilson; “No more smalling up of me”. She praised all the panelists and attendees and thanked them for celebrating Jamaican culture in a different format. The luncheon was capped off by the presentation of three ‘Powerful Women . . . Next Generation’ scholarships to three powerful young Jamaican women.
Among the guests at the Scholarship Luncheon were Jamaica’s Consul General to Miami and Honorary Chair of JWOF, Hon. Franz Hall; Peter Bunting, MP and former National Security Minister of Jamaica and Mrs. Bunting; Jamaica Diaspora Board Member for the Southern United States Wayne Golding, Esq. and Mrs. Golding; Dr. Malou Harrison – President Miami Dade College North and Fr. Horace Ward – Rector Holy Family Episcopal Church and JWOF Member Mrs. Ward.
After shopping and networking, the final panel “Mentoring” proved to be the most moving and the adage, “save the best for last”. Three young Millennials who have benefited from mentoring and who are continuing the legacy wowed the audience with their commitment to helping their peers. Sharu Goodwyn – community affairs specialist and LeToya Stairs Marketing Specialist displayed insights into the benefits of mentoring the next generation which is a hallmark of the JWOF mission. Jermaine Haughton, Esq. was the lone male panelist during the conference and he single handedly brought everyone in the room to tears. His riveting story from extreme poverty in Clarendon, Jamaica to graduating top of his class at Baltimore Law School in 2015 accompanied by pictures of the house he was raised in had people visibly stirred and asking for tissues. Jermaine was the picture of intelligence, humility, swagger and charm that made the audience secure that they would be hearing his name again. JWOF’s Mentor committee chair Georgia Robinson, Esq. was the moderator of the Mentoring Panel.
In an effort to ensure that Millennials, high school seniors and college students are able to benefit from the Women’s Empowerment Conference JWOF offers a reduced Conference rate for them and also secures sponsorship for the young women to attend. The young women were pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoyed the conference as for some the name “conference” suggested that the event was going to be a stuffy “old people” event – were they stunned.
JWOF’s mission of assisting women in need, personal development and mentoring were in full effect during this uplifting event that left everyone emotionally elevated and looking forward to the 2017 Conference.