Erica Lanes has always wanted to help young girls in her community by teaching them daily skills and affirmations about love, self-confidence and self-esteem.
After conducting her own mentorship and leadership programs for women of color and young girls over the last decade, she decided to take it to the next step and on a larger scale.
Lanes created the "My Selfie Needs No Filter: Little Ladies of Leadership Conference" for young women of any race or ethnicity between the ages of 13-19, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 24 at the University of West Florida in the Conference Center at 11000 University Parkway. There will be speakers, food and over 20 vendors selling or giving information on glamor beauty, health care, pageantry and more.
"We need to be able to wrap our arms around these girls that are in such a precious age and just let them know that they are supported and that they have the support from community leaders and leaders in their school, leaders in their churches, and that we're here and that we hear them," Lanes said.
Conference speaker Sandra Donaldson believes in the value of empowering and inspiring young women and exposing them to women from their own neighborhoods who have been successful in their careers.
"For young Black girls, they need to have a role model," said Donaldson, president and CEO of Donaldson Edge Consulting LLC. "In many circumstances, the depiction of success is not of other Black women so you have to see yourself in other women. So being able to have that cultural leadership to be able to showcase that to young girls and say, 'Hey, you can win, you can be successful, you can overcome,' and I think seeing that is so important."
"My Selfie Needs No Filter" is an affirmation to young girls that the greatest love you can give is the love for yourself and it resides within you.
Donaldson will use this same message during her speaking session by focusing on "health care is your self-care," which will instruct young women to listen to their bodies and get annual check ups because physical health makes a difference in mental health.
Other participants at the event include Gaynelle Woods, who also goes by Spilletry TheMouthpiece, who feels people spend too much time on young women's outer beauty and not enough on their identity.
Woods has spent time as a substitute teacher, youth pastor, youth counselor and children's care coordinator at Lakeview, all of which has given her an understanding of the dynamics of being a young women.
She used poetry as a form of therapy to help understand who she was as a teenager and navigate the awkward world in which she lived. Woods created Spilletry TheMouthpiece LLC as a creative arts platform to speak on the emotional, mental and behavioral health that we go through as humans.
Woods will have a performance at the event called "Affirm Me," which is set to music to incorporate a variety of the arts to tell a message that words matter. Negative words can manifest in young women, but just as words can tear a person down, the right words can also build them up.
Young girls saying positive affirmations about their hair texture, their culture and history is a step toward embracing who they are and loving themselves.
"I think it is very important for young ladies of color to be able to celebrate themselves and have a space where they can celebrate themselves and see that who they are is enough," Woods said. "Because a lot of times we feel like we're not enough, we're not good enough, so we have to work extra hard to try to prove ourselves in a society that unfortunately doesn't really accept us for who we are. To be able to really own who we are, I believe it comes with the acceptance of owning the color of your skin."
The acceptance of themselves and building a community of other women who will lift each other up is what at the end of the day Lanes wants every girl to embrace when attending the conference.
"I want to be able to change the trajectory, I want to be able to change the perspective and the perception that these girls may have for themselves and for each other,"Lanes said. "It's not about competition, it needs to be about collaboration and being able to empower each other and that is my thing, it is an empowerment conference. And that is how I want them to view it and that is how I want them to leave."
Want to attend?
Registration: Visit littleladiesofleadership.com
Date: Sept. 24
Where: University of West Florida in the Conference Center at 11000 University Parkway
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: My Selfie Needs No Filter empowers young women to love each other