With the mention of the phrase, “Black women, we are powerful!” actress and humanitarian Cicely Tyson cemented the inaugural Power Rising summit hosted last weekend here in Atlanta into history. “If you have any doubt about women, and who we are, go read Sojourner Truth’s story and learn about her beginning.”
Tyson was only one a rich lineup of powerhouse personalities and speakers who were brought together to create a special moment to cap of Black History Month and usher in Women’s History Month to a sold-out audience of nearly 1,000 from all over the country.
But it was the words of Tyson and her moderator—actress Nicole Ari Parker—that brought all in attendance to their feet, some with tears of hope streaming from their eyes. At 93-years-old, the legendary actress floored the audience with tales of her childhood and experience in the industry.
“When I open my mouth and let God speak for me, I never ever had any consciousness about speaking the truth,” Tyson said in earnest. “Speaking the truth was very important to me because I never wanted anyone to come back to me and say, well when you were at so and so, you said this and so. When I open my mouth—mind you, I tell you I was extremely shy—but when you ask me a question, don’t ask me if you don’t want the answer.”
In a most endearing tone, Tyson told listeners, “I would’ve done Miss Jane Pittman in a basement,” instilling in women that your job should not be contingent upon a paycheck, but your integrity. “If I read a script and my skin tingles, it’s for me. If I read a script and my stomach turns, it’s not for me.”
Hundreds of vivacious black women varying in ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age, political affiliation, and socioeconomic status gathered at The Westin Peachtree Plaza to indulge in the highly anticipated, inaugural four-day “Power Rising” summit.
Over four exhilarating days, the summit was punctuated with appearances from the likes of “black•ish” star and “Mother of Black Hollywood” Jenifer Lewis, “Insecure” star and comedienne, Amanda Seales; political strategist, Donna Brazille; DJ and founder of Black Girls Rock, Beverly Bond; “Living Single” actress and author Erika Alexander, and renowned author Luvvie Ajayi.
Even local elected officials and political pundits, including Stacey Abrams—the former Georgia House minority leader turned Democratic candidate for governor—and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took the Power Rising stage to share and inspire summit attendees.
The goal of the event, organizers said, is helping African-American women leverage their political, economic and social power in order to move themselves, their communities and the nation forward.
“Black women own more than 1.5 million businesses. We are the largest users of social media and we know that we are cultural influencers,” said co-convener the Rev. Leah Daughtry. “The summit will bring together black women from across the country and all different walks of life. It will focus on our political prowess, our economic power, and our cultural influence.”
Power Rising provided a platform for multi-faceted black women to generate ideas, implement educational programs, utilize workshops in entrepreneurship and technology, and most importantly to discuss problems plaguing the community.
Each planned discussion was carefully curated as a foundation to spark action and create a plan that will not only improve the community now but for generations to follow.
Initially conceived by Daughtry during a retreat hosted by female members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the summit was created to focus on a number of issues, including business & economic empowerment, culture & community, education & innovation; health & wellness, and political empowerment.
At the retreat, Daughtry was presented with the question, “What steps could be taken to galvanize women for positive change?”
In response, she took action and enlisted the help of a number of influential black women, including, Tamika Mallory, co-chair for the Women’s March; Karen Finney, a spokeswoman for the Clinton 2016 presidential campaign; LaToia Jones, a well-known political organizer and co-founder of Black and Engaged; Amaya Smith the National Media Director for The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO),as well as, attorney and media host, Star Jones.
Each of these women and a host committee of many more, as well as sponsorships from the likes of AARP, Apple, BET, Coca-Cola, Essence, and Revolt, all helped birthed what Daughtry has called a “historic” summit.
“The purpose of this conference is to bring black women of all ages, disciplines, and interest here to discuss where we live, the space we live in, the opportunities we know that are there, and the barriers, and to discern from those experience what are some of the actions agendas that we can bring back to our communities,” explained Bonnie Watson Coleman, the first black woman to represent New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District.
“It’s about empowering us through our communities and world, but making sure that there is follow up,” Watson Coleman continued. “It’s so important that we have it now and people look forward to the things that come from it, and perhaps there can be another and another one .”
In an uplifting letter to address attendees, US Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) stated, “Today, the leadership of black women is more important than ever. As we all know, we are at an inflection point in the history of our country. We see it when voting rights have been rolled back in state-after-state, when racial inequalities remain ingrained in our education system, and when jobs and justice slip away from our communities. Even at this difficult moment, we must continue to stand up and fight for equality for all people.”