Celebrating and Encouraging Young Women of Color

Nearly 200 young women of color from more than 10 schools around the city and country came together on a sunny Saturday in March to celebrate and explore their identities and share connection and community at this year’s Young Women of Color (YWOC) Symposium, a collaborative endeavor between Loyola Academy and Parker.

Consultant, educator and Seattle activist Rosetta Lee set the tone as the keynote speaker, addressing the topic of microaggressions and helping students better recognize and positively navigate them on an ongoing basis.

In addition to attending workshops on topics such Daughterhood through a Feminist Lens, Understanding Your Identities and We Wear the Mask: Self-Love and Sisterhood 101, Middle and Upper school student-participants met in affinity groups to debrief on their workshop experiences and connect with each other. Those in attendance also took in performances by Ballet Folklorico de Chicago, Loyola’s Step Team and Parker’s Slam Poetry Team.

Parker student leaders, including seniors Jaydra Hamid, Chelsea Njei and Noemi Ponce; juniors Nariya Cooke and Litzy Tafolla; and freshman Madelyn Young have been working with their peers at Loyola Academy since the beginning of the year to make this in-person event a successful reality. Students planned and orchestrated last year’s inaugural YMOC almost entirely online, and being physically together helped enhance the feeling of sisterhood and community at the symposium. Parker Upper School DEI Coordinators and event co-sponsors Rolanda Shepard and Alexis Pantoja helped students with the event last year and this year.

When asked about her favorite part of this year’s event, Cooke was excited to meet all co-committee members and participants in person, offering, “I am a firm believer that you can make strong genuine connections with others in-person vs. online.” In looking ahead to next year’s event, Cooke, “… hopes [organizers] continue to provide brave and necessary spaces for participants to explore and celebrate their identities, develop skills for self-advocacy, and form lifelong connections.”

Young really enjoyed meeting peers from other schools and hearing about their shared experiences. She shared, “The discussions allowed me to be open and honest about what it is like to be a young woman of color. Next year I look forward to continuing the discussions we had this year and incorporating new ideas from new voices!”

Reflecting upon the success of this event, Shepard said, “It is hard to pinpoint a specific highlight of this year’s symposium. It’s also hard to quantify the joy, pride, hope and desires I felt into words. Being able to see the light in the student’s eyes as they shared their experiences, 1) realizing they are not alone and 2) receiving validation from peers was priceless.”

Pantoja offered, “As I stood at the opening session and looked at the sea of strong, intelligent, beautiful, creative, young women of color. I couldn’t contain the absolute joy and pride I felt to be part of this planning committee. I’m excited Parker will be hosting this amazing symposium next year on campus. Let the planning begin!”

Rupani collaborated with the Parker team on this year’s event and, with Parker’s Dean of Intermediate and Middle School Student Life Albert Nascimento, offered an Upper School workshop on Self Care, Love and Joy as Resistance at YWOC.

Parker student organizers, participants and adult advisors gathered the week following the event to discuss their experiences and consider next year’s YWOC in light of all they had recently experienced.

Planning is already underway for the 2023 event, which Parker will host. The hope is to continue changing the narrative for young women of color in the Chicago area and encourage the resilience of their voices.

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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.