Savanna Gill, an 11-year-old student at Milwaukee School of Languages, would like to become a lawyer when she grows up, and ultimately be elected president of the United States. When Savanna’s mother suggested that she attend Girls’ Day, an event intended to inform girls about public service roles, she was willing to participate.
More than 200 middle and high school girls attended the seventh annual Girls’ Day at City Hall hosted by Alderwomen Milele Coggs and Chantia Lewis. Twelve women representing fields as diverse as fire fighting, the judiciary, elected office, non-profit leadership, community organizing, law and communication spoke about their careers. In two sessions, panelists offered advice and encouragement as well as information about their fields and the challenges particular to women in the professional world.
"No one is exempt from challenges and pain. Lots of times, because people face challenges they think they weren’t meant to be successful … but it’s important for young girls especially, to understand that a challenge doesn’t count you out," said keynote speaker Tonya Sloans, counsel to the Committee on Ethics for the U.S. House of Representatives.
A Milwaukee native, Sloans encouraged the audience to look at difficulties as opportunities to grow as leaders. "It’s how we handle the challenges, even at that early age, that gives us a foundation for managing the challenges that we have to deal with in order to get to success as adults," she said.
"The foundation was laid for me right here in Milwaukee. I was involved in a lot of community service organizations as a high school student. And it was because of the support from my community groups and extracurricular activities that I had enough scholarship money to go away to college and … law school at the University of Wisconsin," Sloans said.
She added that she wanted to devote herself to public service because she was the beneficiary of so much community support.
Sloans’ message inspired Andreanna Nance, 17, to "take advantage of everything in the community, the scholarships and … every opportunity that I have," she said. "(Sloans’ words) helped me want to push myself," Nance added. Bound for Tennessee State University in the fall, she plans to study education and become a high school teacher.
Britnee Reed, 13, who attends Milwaukee Junior Academy, said she will remember that Sloans said it is best to focus on your assets when facing an obstacle, rather than on how difficult it is.
Nance and Daniela Camarillo, seniors at Dominican High School, were encouraged to attend the event by Dana Johnson, their school’s coordinator for diversity and inclusion. Midway through the day, Camarillo declared the event a good experience and pointed to several speakers who particularly inspired her.
"A lot of women said today not to give up … don’t think that you can’t do (whatever you aim for). You really can," Camarillo said. For example, she noted that State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, a panelist, advised the girls to believe in themselves and surround themselves with people who support them. During the session she moderated, Denise Thomas of Miller Coors told them they are great women with voices that are worth a lot, Camarillo said.
Brooklyn Fudge, a student at BEAM Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee, said she was impressed that the speakers all chose what seemed to be the right careers for them and that they accepted and loved themselves. A self-described excellent reader, Fudge, 12, added that she likes all of her school subjects and thinks the event will help her decide what career she wants to pursue.
The other panel members were Erin Forrest, executive director, Emerge Wisconsin; Tammy Rivera, executive director, Southside Organizing Committee; Chantia Lewis, alderwoman, 9th District; LaTonya Johnson, state senator, 6th District; Laura Gramling Perez, Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge; Stephanie Hampton, Milwaukee fire captain; Markasa Tucker, office manager, Wisconsin Voices; and Marcella Nicholson, county supervisor, 5th District. Ebony Haynes and La’Ketta Caldwell, program managers at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, were moderators.
Coggs said she hopes that the girls are inspired by the women who spoke, and recognize "that they can do the same thing."
Andrea Waxman is a staff reporter at the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. A professional writer, she is completing a graduate certificate in Digital Storytelling at Marquette University's Diederich College of Communication. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor for a community newspaper and taught English and Japanese in several area middle and high schools.
Waxman has lived in Milwaukee since 1981, but spent most of her early years living in Tokyo, where her father was stationed at the American embassy. She returned to Japan in 1986 and again in 1993 when her husband was there as a Fulbright scholar.
In her free time, Waxman enjoys theater, movies, music, ethnic food, cities, travel, reading - especially the news of the day - and all kinds of people. She is interested in working for social justice and contributing to the vitality of the city.