Recap: Massachusetts Conference for Women featuring Kerry Washington, Robin Roberts and Leymah Gwobee

Leymah Gbowee and Tiffany Probasco of The Fab Empire
Leymah Gbowee and Tiffany Probasco of The Fab Empire

Last Thursday nearly10,000 women joined together for the largest women’s convention of it’s kind in the country- The Massachusetts Conference for Women: The Power of Us held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The day was full of inspirational speakers; although, unfortunately, keynote Kerry Washington had to cancel her appearance at the sold out keynote luncheon. Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts was to act as stand-in, but unfortunately was unable to fly out of Laguardia in time to make the conference.

Kerry Washington and Robin Roberts
Kerry Washington and Robin Roberts

Washington came on the teleprompter screen to speak about “us-ness” and how we need to “step into our power as women.” She wanted to remind us of  how powerful we are when we work collectively, and how she is reminded of this daily as she works on a crew full of  “bad ass women” on Scandal. Robin Roberts, who dressed up as Olivia Pope on Halloween this year, jeered at Washington for getting to wear all that Burberry and Prada she wanted; Washington answered back that she doesn’t even get to keep the clothing. Drat.

Roberts spoke about her journey from ESPN to covering Katrina. A native of Mississippi, she openly admitted “I was really there  to find my mamma and my sister, not journalism.” When asked if she found her family while on air, she genuinely broke down – a live journalist faux paus. “I thought – they’re going to fire me.” But fortunately, the audience identified with the realness of the moment. She encouraged the crowd, “Make your mess, your message.”

Her resolve would once again be tested when she  was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 which she beat with treatments of radiation therapy. In 2012 she was diagnosed with a rare condition of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). At the time she also lost her mother with whom she was very close to. It was then she realized that “We are just a little bit stronger than we think we are.” And once again encouraged us with the quote – “When fear knocks, let faith answer the door.”

Robin Roberts
Robin Roberts

She ended her interview on a more lighthearted note in a speed round of questions;  my favorite of which was describing her favorite drink as the “Whoo Whoo” because after you have few of those you’ll be saying “Whoo Whoo”. Hilarious.

2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace and women’s right activist closed out the key-note session. She  played an important role in ending the Liberian civil war in 2003 which is shown in the powerful documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. Gbowee set the stage by coming in on crutches without any assistance. I thought – here we have two American women who can’t get to the conference by way of planes or obligations, but here – a woman who embodies everything that is peace – comes to the stage from Liberia on crutches. I was already moved and she hadn’t even spoken a word yet.

When she did, she painted a picture of being in the midst of a vicious civil war in Liberia . She said Liberia has been the only country that has had the equivalent of three world wars. At one point, the place where these men were fighting the roads were closed, and the soldiers were not allowing food and supplies through to  large areas of the country. She, along with other Christian and Muslim women, set out on their 7-hour walking journey. Of course the community concerned for their safety as they departed, but to them she said, “One of two things were going to happen: they will kill us or we will be alive, but we are not going to stay here and do nothing.” As a result of their effort, the roads were reopened and the flow of food and supplies restored.

Leymah Gwobee
Leymah Gbowee

She spoke of her peace work in other countries – which has sometimes not ended in the best results. . In some countries she has been asked not to return.  In all cases, she said what needed to be said on behalf of women; on behalf of peace. She referred to advocacy in this way – ” Crisis is looking for us to exploit our collective power…All you need is a little madness, and it doesn’t take a lot to make you crazy.”

There was something in the air that day, or maybe when you bring 10,00o women in the same room something is bound to shift in the universe.  As we explored to the “Power of Us” we not only were encouraged to tap into our own power, but our power in the collective. On that day we were friends, colleagues and even comrades. Yes, there is a power in “us”.

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