The pandemic might keep us physically apart for a little while longer, but spiritually we remain bound together.
That fact was made clear yet again when the African Leadership Group conducted a high-spirited virtual celebration of International Women’s Day on Saturday March 6.
The event, held over Zoom and Facebook Live, attracted well over 100 people from across the country and from overseas as well. There was music and laughter. There were moving speeches, and the honoring of five local women as “Women of Inspiration.”
“Women’s empowerment is near and dear to my heart,” Tonya Cooper, interim chair of ALG’s Women Empowerment Committee. “There are powerful women doing amazing things in the community.”
The five Women of Inspiration honorees were:
- State Representative Naquetta Ricks, the first African immigrant elected to the state legislature. “Nothing is impossible and if you work hard you can achieve anything,” Ricks said. “I ran three times to get here. It took me seven years. People thought it was impossible.”
- Dr. Anne Keke, an instructor of languages and Restorative Justice Coordinator with the Colorado Early Colleges and a native of Ivory Coast. “My motto in life is every no gets you closer to your yes,” she said. “It really does take a village. A village stood by me. That village is the ALG platform, the ALG community. So it is only normal that I give back, that I pay forward.”
- Tonya Cooper, a native of the Bahamas who has become an integral member of the ALG community. She had a challenging year even by 2020 standards, with health problems and a child born prematurely. “The support and encouragement the ALG community provided to me and my family was truly overwhelming,” she said.
- Mariam Kazadi, an author, speaker, and cofounder of the BBLK app, described as “GPS for finding Black-owned businesses. In her talk she encouraged young women to begin developing skills at an early age. “Engage with other women and support and celebrate one another. Now is the time for us to create our own table and pull up a seat at the table.”
- Judith Donaldson, an ALG board member who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1980. She is an assistant vice president at KeyBank and was an early mentor to ALG founder Papa Dia. “Surround yourself with people who share similar interests,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone.”
Other inspirational moments spiced the evening as well. Rhama Ndao, a brilliant Senegalese immigrant, spoke of how her high academic achievements were made possible not only by her innate intelligence but by a supportive community. She urged parents to be supportive of their children, and to encourage rather than reprimand them when they fall short of a goal. And to young people, she advised: “If people are willing to help you, you have the responsibility to accept that help.”
Mariem Dia, an active member of the ALG community, described how she started her business, Mariem’s Magnifique Collections, during the pandemic and has seen it grow over the course of the year. Mariem, a freshman at Colorado Early Colleges of Aurora, She said having her community and her parents by her slide made her early success possible.
The event culminated with a powerful keynote address by Ikunda Buretta, known to the ALG community as Mama Africa. Originally from Tanzania, Mama Africa has lived in Denver for the past 20 years. She centered her talk on the importance of choosing life even amid the multiple challenges of living through a pandemic.
“We have lost jobs, lives, businesses. But we are making a conscious decision to choose life,” she said. Women have faced especially tough challenges during the pandemic, because in many cases they earn less than men, and therefore when families had to choose who would stay home with children unable to attend school, that duty often fell to women.
“Dreams were shattered. Promotions diminished,” Mama Africa said. Mental health strains often become nearly unbearable. “There has been so much pain in our communities,” she said.
And she finished on an upbeat note: “Tonight despite everything that has happened, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, choose life!”