“As soon as you get, give. When you learn, give.” - Dr. Angelou
by Brandi Jones, Kennesaw State University 2012
Photos courtesy of Jerome Dorn
On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Maya Angelou graced Atlanta, GA, serving as the keynote speaker at the Inaugural Women 2 Women Conference held at the Atlanta Marriot Marquis. Dr. Angelou also serves on the Honorary Board of Advisors for The National Society of High School Scholars. As the Scholarship Assistant for this international honors organization, I was privileged to be one in an audience over 600 strong, a gathering of women of all races and all ages. As the conference’s founder, Sonjia Young, explained, the event was created to relay life experiences and invaluable knowledge about maneuvering through the various facets of business, education, and family life as women.
Sonjia Waller Young prefaced her highly successful event by stressing the critical need to give back, to reach back and uplift younger generations through mentorship. Now a renowned entrepreneur, Sonjia established one of the first female minority-owned businesses in 1982 by founding her conference and event planning company, Eventions, Incorporated. Sonjia is married to dentist and community leader Dr. Walter Young, who with his brother Andrew Young, the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and Mayor of Atlanta, established the Andrew and Walter Young Family YMCA. Walter and Sonjia have four children, and as she explained, it is the continual mentorship of her own children that encouraged her to create a platform for “intergenerational life lessons and legacies.” Sonjia’s 30+ year friendship with Dr. Angelou has helped fueled her vision and inspiration to organize the first Women 2 Women Conference.
In her rousing keynote remarks, Dr. Angelou advocated for the ceaseless nurturing of the mentor-mentee relationship. She explained, “As soon as you get, give. When you learn, give.” Dr. Angelou believes one’s mentality should be, “I’ve learned this already, let me tell you what I know.”
Panels prior to Dr. Angelou’s highly-anticipated entrance included sessions entitled “Protecting Your Most Important Assets: Healthy Body + Healthy Mind = Healthy Life,” “Balancing Life Choices: Managing Family, Finances, Career & Community,” and “Networking & Relationship Building: Key Steps to Take You to the Top.” As Dr. Pamela Thompson described, the panelists provided “sacred stories of women” that pertained to balancing one’s physical and emotional health, business, and family, a feat that often resembles a circus act.
As Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg reminds us in her highly-acclaimed book Lean In, “For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life. For many women, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst. Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and careers. They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they’ll be harried and unhappy. Framing the issue as ‘work-life balance’ –as if the two were diametrically opposed –practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?” Sonjia Young, the panelists, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Sheryl Sandberg all share the common belief that balance can be practiced and eventually attained. After achieving balance, perhaps it is even more imperative that the knowledge which equips one to do so is relayed to the younger generation, so that they will blossom into mentors themselves.
Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, p. 23.