Encouraging Resilience and Action

Nearly 200 young women of color from more than 20 schools around the city and country gathered on Zoom to explore and celebrate their identities at the inaugural Young Women of Color (YWOC) Symposium, a collaborative endeavor between Loyola Academy and Parker.

Keynote speakers for this day of inspiration and empowerment included Princess Sarah CulbersonRuth Jurgensen and Mary Spio, and students had the opportunity to attend more than 15 workshops, affinity groups sessions and activities on topics such as Interracial Prejudice and Girl on Girl Hate, Who I Am vs Who I Am “Supposed” to Be, Combating Anti-Blackness and Colorism: Finding and Using Your Voice for Change, Our Democracy and more.

Senior student leaders Leila Griffin, Olivia Hanley, Aziza Mabrey-Wakefield and Asha Wright worked together last summer and more recently with their peers from Loyola Academy to make this event a reality. After establishing the Upper School Women of Color Alliance as a new affinity group at Parker, they wanted to create an experience for young women of color mirroring that of the Young Men of Color Symposium established at Parker in 2018. This team worked closely with former Parker Assistant Principal Ruth Jurgensen in ideating and thinking about how they wanted to structure the event. 

For her favorite part of the experience, Hanley offered, “I just think it’s super cool that we were able to bring in all of these amazing women from across Chicago to come and present. Representation is so important, and I think it was great that we found women who are wildly successful in their respective fields to come and teach these workshops. Although Zoom definitely has its down sides, one of the best things about it is that it makes different people and events accessible to a larger audience. This was definitely true for our symposium.”

Griffin shared, “I am so happy that we were able to bring the symposium to fruition. Personally, I think it was important for us to be involved because the student perspective is often overlooked when planning student-oriented events. Plus, the influx of stories about facing racial adversity within high school from students across the country on social media pages showed us that we needed a space to initiate healing. In the long run, our collaboration with Loyola only made the symposium stronger, and I hope the legacy can continue.”

Mabrey-Wakefield stated, “It was an incredible experience getting to know and listen to the young women who came and chose to actively participate in the symposium. There were definitely stressful moments in terms of logistics leading up to the event, but the payoff of it was one I could have never imagined. I am so happy that we were able to provide a much-needed space for young women of color, and I hope that next year’s WOCA heads will continue to open up that space.”

Reflecting upon the success of this event, Upper School DEI Coordinator and event co-sponsor Rolanda Shepard said, “I’m so grateful to have been a part of such an impactful, empowering and engaging event. The months of preparation with our amazing student leadership team as well as the cohort of adults from Loyola Academy all proved to be all worth it. I’m looking forward to making next year’s symposium even better.”

DEI Coordinator Alexis Pantoja, who partnered in bringing this endeavor to life, added, “As I took in all the inspiring wisdom from the keynote speakers, breakout sessions and affinity groups, I couldn’t help but be awestruck with the diverse thoughts that were being shared with our future teachers, scientists, activists and women that will be of great influence on the future. I am so honored to be a part of this team and the impact that we are already making in our city.”

All involved left feeling as if they had taken one small step on the road to changing the narrative and encouraging resilience of the myriad voices and actions of young women of color.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.