Connecting and Empowering Women

Women’s Next Level Forum Women of Color brings women together to inspire

On August 1, I was privileged to listen to a conversation about race and the professional world aimed to build, connect and empower. It occurred at the Women’s Next Level Forum Women of Color luncheon, held at the Drury Plaza Hotel in Cape Girardeau.

The event brought together women — and a few men — from Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, Hayti, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Ohio with the goal of gaining insight, awareness and understanding of diverse personal and professional development experiences and applications for minority women in the Southeast Missouri community. It was led by women of color who are leaders in Cape Girardeau.

“My hope today is to bring different women from different communities, connect them, helping them to learn who they are and learn where they want to go by building them personally and professionally,” said Tameka L. Randle, 573 Magazine Woman of the Year and founder and organizer of the forum. “You have to be intentional, you have to know who you are, what you want to do and how can you make a difference and collectively join up with people who can help you push that or progress forward in that agenda.”

Brittany Jacob, weekend anchor/reporter at KFVS 12 opened the forum by sharing her journey of taking a large paycut to move from her job in marketing in Washington, D.C., to become a reporter in Cape Girardeau because she believed it was what God was asking of her. Through her own story, she inspired the women present to pray, do what they needed to do to make it and figure out who they are so they can be that person. She called upon the women to step out and do something differently once they left the forum.

“Sit still and let God speak to you through your passions,” she encouraged. 

Wykeshia Atkins, director of learning assistance programs at Southeast Missouri State University, spoke on a panel that also included Lynn Ware, MBA, MAADC1, counselor at the Gibson Center and Cape Girardeau Public School District board member; and Dr. Loretta Prater, PhD, author, community advocate and former university dean. The women spoke about their experiences as women of color at the professional level, including their perspectives on personal branding, networking and how they got where they are in their careers. 

“One of the things I’m most excited about in the panel is that all three of the panelists are coming from different backgrounds or are in different stages in their careers, and with us having such a wide audience, I feel like there’s something one of the panelists will say that will resonate with everyone,” Atkins said. “With all those different perspectives and the variety of the audience, hopefully something that we say will force someone into action.”

The panelists also discussed obstacles women of color face and overcome, living beyond the stereotypes women of color face and if the way society perceives women of color matters. 

“Let your skill set be your lead,” Randle added to the panelists’ perspectives that, yes, the way society perceives women of color matters, and that women of color have to work harder and prove themselves to attain positions others might not have to work as hard for. “How you present yourself today sets you up for where you’re going tomorrow. Make sure anything attached to your name is good.”

The event was sponsored by author Dr. Loretta P. Prater; Missouri state senator Wayne Wallingford; Drury Southwest Inc.; eye candy; Dr. Victor R. Wilburn, professor and chairperson of The Department of Child and Family Studies at Southeast Missouri State University; Servpro and Saint Francis Healthcare. 

Felecia Anderson, regional educator for Lincoln University in Sikeston, Missouri, cheerleading business owner and juvenile mentor, attended the forum and hopes to bring a similar discussion panel to the young women she works with. 

“I enjoyed women of color coming together, celebrating each other,” she said.

Maxine Montgomery of Cape Girardeau, who also attended the forum, agrees.

“Women play such a vital part in today’s society,” she said. “It was phenomenal: women of all ages, women of all colors coming together like sisters. Coming together as one to build the community, to build one another, to build positivity. And even so in a quiet way, breaking down barriers. And the barriers I’m talking about are biases. So this is what we need.”