Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School was on spring break Friday, but the halls were filled with enthusiastic young women.
The school hosted the first “SHE LEADS” conference, a day devoted to leadership training and empowerment that brought together more than 200 girls representing every high school in Wake County. Students from the Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy, an all-female public school for sixth- through 12th-graders in Raleigh, organized the event to teach leadership and self-confidence to other girls in the Triangle.
“I hope the participants get the same exposure to leadership that we’ve gotten throughout our high school experience,” said Huong Rcom, a senior at Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy. “High school really sets the foundation. In the future there is not going to be a teacher to advocate for you. You have to advocate for yourself.”
The one-day conference featured dozens of breakout sessions on topics such as self-esteem, financial literacy and professional skills. More than 17 leadership experts and professionals in industries such as event planning, information technology and medicine came to speak.
Each high school in Wake County nominated outstanding young women to attend “SHE LEADS” for free. They included ninth-grader Emmalee Norris, one of several girls from Heritage High School who attended.
“I want to be able to inspire others and learn to help other women,” said Norris. “This conference spreads the idea that you can be a leader, even at a young age, if you try your best.”
Keynote speaker Sandra Dubose, a jazz singer originally from New York who now works as a motivational speaker at events across North Carolina, talked about her struggle with self-esteem. At age 25, Dubose was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that caused her to lose all her hair. She now calls herself the bald beauty queen and encourages young women to feel comfortable being themselves.
“I want them to know how truly beautiful they are,” said Dubose. “These girls have so much potential, but if they don’t have a good sense of their value, ... they can miss out on opportunities.”
College recruiters from across North Carolina also attended the conference to get the ninth- through 12th-grade girls thinking about their next steps.
“They are a strong group of women, and we would all be honored to have them at our campuses,” said Allison Shell, the director of admissions at Campbell University.
Students from Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy are already busy planning next year’s conference. They said planning the inaugural “SHE LEADS” event – and covering all the bases of finding speakers, registering participants, getting donations and publicizing on social media – took a lot of time and effort but was worth it.
“Females in general are underrepresented,” said student organizer Teresa Basaves. “This event is one way for females to realize they have a voice.”