I was in a room with giants. Being at the ONE Campaign’s AYA Summit was incredible and I’m still processing all that happened there. 75 women were brought together with change agents to talk about issues that are affecting women and girls around the world, specifically in countries in Africa.
The summit was moderated by Patricia Amira, who is considered Africa’s Oprah and it had so many amazing speakers and panels. The panel about Human Trafficking with Cindy McCain and Kristen Howerton hit me in the chest.
I was overwhelmed by the wealth of information and the powerful people in the room and I want to talk about everything and just squeal about how awesome all of it was. However, I’ll just focus on the 4 women who left their fingerprints on my spirit (and rendered my thug unable to deal) during that conference.
Clemantine was 6-years old when the war in Rwanda began and her parents sent her and her sister Claire to their grandparents to ensure their safety. The “noise” as she referred to it reached them too and the young sisters had to run away, walking so much that their toenails fell off. They ended up in a camp where “refugees” was written on tents. That was her first time seeing the word. That was her first time knowing that it was used to refer to her.
She told stories about how she escaped a man who attempted to assault her while at the camp. She talked about how home is the 6 different countries she and her sister went to on their search for safety. Her story is of true resilience and I was in awe of her.
“My Grandmother told me that you should never forget your language. When you forget your language, you fade away.”
Danai Gurira is most known for her role as Michonne on The Walking Dead but she also happens to be an amazing playwright, and an advocate for the importance of the arts. Danai attended the conference, and not only is she incredibly down-to Earth but she’s also brilliant. We met very briefly at the Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon this year but we really got to talk at this summit. She and I have a college majors common (we both studied Psychology and Sociology).
Danai wrote a play about the civil war in Liberia, from the perspective of a girl soldier and she performed 3 scenes from it at the Summit. Just her. On stage. Behind a podium. No costume. Just her. And she managed to take us out of that room into wherever she wanted us to be. She made us believe that 3 people were standing in front of us as her voice changed between characters. And she poured out emotions as the “Girl” spoke of war and its ugliness.
When she was done, the room erupted in cheers and she got a well-earned standing ovation. We were all in tears because THAT is talent. THAT is a gift.
She is from Zimbabwe, and when she went to Liberia, she heard about the girl soldiers, who are oft-invisible in stories of the war. When the Liberian women she spoke with told her “You’re our sister,” she was emboldened to write and tell their story, with their permission.
“I have an American passport but I am an African girl.” – Danai Gurira
Look at Danai telling my story. I swear she’s bae.
Marquesha Babers is a storyteller who performed one of her poems titled “Rising” at the Summit. She got a standing ovation when she was done because she really is a gifted wordsmith. Plus, her ability to turn her pain into power through poetry is admirable.
“Knowing I can help a girl through her day just by speaking, keeps me speaking.” – Marquesha Babers
She had me snapping my fingers and stomping. Holly Gordon of Girl Rising interviewed her on stage and we found out that she was homeless for 5 years of her childhood. At 19 (now), she’s still homeless and sleeps on the couches of her friends. Everyone in the room gasped.
So many of us in there are in positions of privilege and power and to see this amazing girl sit on stage without a place to call home was unacceptable. When Marquesha got off the stage, she was surrounded by people. I heard some of the mothers in the room tell her she could come stay with them. People offered her their guidance. We HAD to do something.
3 hours later as the day ended, Holly came up and announced to us that the Marquesha Babers scholarship has been established and the first recipient would be Marquesha herself. OH THE UGLY CRIES IN THAT ROOM! Wow.
You can donate to the Marquesha Babers Scholarship to help her rise!
Danai’s reading and Marquesha’s scholarship were back to back. But we weren’t done being rendered unable to deal.
A girl was brought up onstage, rocking a wig and sunglasses and we were told that her name is Saa. She is one of the girls who was kidnapped by Boko Haram (one of the 300+) in Chibok, Nigeria. I did not know when the gasp escaped from my mouth.
She escaped after 24 hours and told us her story. I was stunned into silence because this girl, who just 6 months ago was kidnapped at gunpoint with her friends, had the strength and courage to share her story with us. Talk about power. I wrote about her story in full for The Root so read it all there. But my goodness. Whew.
I also spoke with her one-on-one and gave her a hug. I didn’t take a picture with/of her because, it just didn’t feel right for me to do so. I talked to her about what she’s liking about the U.S. and I let her know that I’m available if she needs to talk.
4 of the girls who were kidnapped and escaped have been brought to the U.S. to continue their education. The Jubilee Campaign is working on bringing more of them here.
It was just A LOT of feels happening in those 2 days and I thank ONE Girls & Women for making the magic happen (click the #AYASummit hashtag on Twitter and IG for the fine details). I have been a groupie of the work of the ONE Campaign for a long time and I’ve supported from afar. I’ve bought their swag and (RED) is a division of ONE too, and I’ve certainly been a huge fan of them since they launched (and I’ve bought (RED) shirts, iPods, phones, etc). However, this was my first time seeing what they really DO up close.
The ONE Campaign wants to help eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 and the work they have done with various partners has gotten $100 million of debt owed by African countries cancelled. ONE asks people to use their voices to amplify what matters. S
Storytellers can change the world and this Summit was full of epic world-changers. I am so excited that I got to be a part of it. Thank you to the ONE Girls & Women team. You are doing such important work!
Oh and let me dedicate this SQUEEEEEEEEE to my fellow AYASummit ladies (and 2 men). YOU ARE ALL SO DOPE! I’m so glad we met, networked, broke bread and took selfies together. Also, your shoe game is LEGIT! 😀