Mississippi State University hosted its first Women of Color Summit on Friday, and attendees discussed the challenges the group faces and ways to embrace a culture based on equality, fairness and justice.
Many of the challenges women of color confront on a day-to-day basis are the same issues all women face. Likewise, many challenges that men of color deal with are the same problems women of color must handle. Overall, the presentations and panels offered advice that can apply to all people, regardless of race or gender.
"You be the bigger person; you be the intelligent one ... Be a motivator for someone else," said Felicia Nave, associate provost and associate vice president at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. "Be the best that you're capable of being."
She emphasized the importance of education, support and personal responsibility in a world that, even in the 21st century, fails to offer equal opportunity to everyone. However, inequality is no excuse not to achieve, Nave said; instead, people must identify challenges and face them head on.
"All things are possible if you just believe," she said.
Similarly, keynote speaker attorney Sharon Eubanks, lead counsel in the tobacco litigation that changed the way those companies do business, listed challenges women of color face -- equal pay, equal healthcare and equal employment opportunity, to name a few -- and identified solutions.
People confronting difficulties must adapt and reinvent, Eubanks said. Stay positive, accommodate others and look people in the eye when they're talking -- women of color must take a proactive approach to making the changes they want to see, she said.
"It will help you get the attention that you need to work for a resolution of many of these problems that I've outlined, that women of color face. It won't happen overnight. No revolution is ever won overnight, and it's OK to be patient," Eubanks said. "It's not OK to be complacent….
"The key to really being the lead dog here, to make sure that you get a change of view, is to rely on what Winston Churchill said -- and I have this on a plaque in my office -- Never, ever give up."
Throughout the day-long session of panel presentations and feature speeches, again and again, attendees were advised to stay positive, work hard and take personal responsibility to create the atmosphere everyone wants: fair, just and equal.
MSU alumna Angela R. Hooper-Menifield, independent coach at Beachbody, spoke to the crowd about some of the greatest health challenges facing African-American women.
Not only is the No. 1 cause of death for women heart disease, but also, four of five African-American women qualify as overweight or obese.
"I find that to be devastating," Hooper-Menifield said. "African-American women are more at risk for heart disease than any major ethic group in the United States… We are up to 60 percent less likely to receive aggressive diagnostic testing."
She emphasized making a change starts at home. Not only is it important to teach children healthy eating habits, it's important to eat small portions, not the super-sizes people are served at restaurants.
Overall, like other presenters, Hooper-Menifield said that changes will happen when people -- especially the women of color in attendance -- take personal responsibility for their actions, and they should surround themselves with people who support them.
"No matter what great heights you achieve in your life, most of you aren't going to be able to do it by yourself," said MSU President Mark E. Keenum, who opened the summit's activities. "Be the Bulldog that you've been educated to become."
Keenum emphasized that not only is MSU the most diverse university in the Southeastern Conference, it's also the most diverse land-grant institution in the nation. MSU attracts such a diverse population because it offers such an inclusive community, he said, adding that the university is committed to continuing that tradition.
More than 400 people attended the summit, and organizers look forward to planning another successful, informative gathering next year.
For more information about diversity at MSU, visit www.odep.msstate.edu.