I cannot express how overjoyed I was to be a part of this conference. But I will give you a warning, I did not expect to get the experience I received.
When I got the call to be a part of the crossroads conference, I was so excited! I was just excited to share my story with others in hopes of helping one person. It didn’t matter that I only had 5 minutes to speak. I began to prepare my presentation with the help of a board member from the Women and Girls foundation. I had it down to a T.
The night before the conference, they had a semi-dress rehearsal. I went down to the Sheraton at Station Square. When I got there, I was able to hear the empowering story of one mother and how she discovered her son was addicted to Herione. Her story brought tears to my eyes and I made sure to give a great big hug after she was done. (This truly makes me think, that you never know what is going on in a persons life EVER. So take the time to be kind.) I didn’t even know her name and I told her how empowering she was and I was so proud of her son to be where he is today. I found out her name was Kathy.
On my way out, I was heading to pay my parking lot ticket, when I went to try to grab the door for a women in a wheelchair. I just missed it and she said, “I’m tough on these things.” I laughed and said have a good night. Little did I know that was the amazing Madonna Long, whom I would meet the next day.
As I walked to my car, I ran into Kathy, and I told her I hoped she had a good night and that she would do great tomorrow! She mentioned she had received some emotional news and it was a rough week, and she hoped she could get through her speech. I gave her my condolences and reassured her that she would do fabulous.
The next day came. I headed down to Station Square and was greeted by the wonderful greeters from the conference. They pointed me in the right direction. There I ran into Shirley, who helped me prepare my speech. She handed me a box and inside was a gift. It was a bracelet that read, “Well-Behaved women never make history.” Then I was able to meet Christine Mohammed, Connie Capiotis, and Emma Sandoval. Kathy came in shortly after. It was great to meet and see everyone. But soon enough everything was underway.
The conference was set up in chunks. The first part was introductions by the Women’s and Girl’s foundation president which included Senator Jay Costa, and the Emcee for the day, Latasha Wilson Batch, Charlie Batch’s wife. Afterwards, the first part of speakers went. This included Christine, Connie, and Emma, all whom I met. They were so inspiring. Here is a little about what each of them spoke about:
Christine: In a post 9/11 world, being a Muslim in America forces you to face many crossroads of unfair stereotypes and prejudices. So, imagine converting to Islam in this world and what you may face from family, friends and co-workers. Christine made this bold decision in 2008, and for her, religious freedom is a right that she is grateful for and one that has given her a new appreciation for diversity in America.
Connie: Her fiancee was arrested a few days before their wedding. He had a mental breakdown and committed a robbery and was incarcerated. She had to deal with both the emotional aftermath and the business repercussions since they had been partners in business, as well. Her fiancee’s story is still undecided, but they’re doing everything they can to rebuild their lives. She found strength she didn’t know she had, and is currently back in business and moving forward to be strong for their family.
Emma: Growing up in a low-income, Latino community, Emma thought being poor was normal, that drug addictions were common, and being smart meant she was an outsider. It wasn’t until high school, when she was homeless and ready to drop out of school, that Emma realized the problems impacting her family and community where much bigger than those closest to her. She learned that institutionalized racism, classism, and internalized oppression where barriers that didn’t have to hold her or her community back. Emma realized that communities like hers had a long history of resistance and fighting back against oppression, and that if they united and organized, they could reclaim their communities. Now as a mother Emma has dedicated her life to leading that vision, not just for her own family but for entire communities, families, and for future generations.
They all have such amazing spirits and hearts and I was so glad that I was able to hear their stories. One that I also was able to hear in that first “chunk” was Madonna Long.
Madonna Long: Madonna is a survivor with a positive attitude and has refused to allow herself to be considered a “victim.” She is a wife, mother of three, entrepreneur and activist, who at 18 was in an accident that killed her best friend and left her wheelchair bound. She hasn’t allowed set backs to define or destroy her. Instead she chose to seize opportunities and where there were none she created them.
Madonna story was also so inspiring. After hearing her story, it made me even want to make a bigger change and help our world to be free of sexual violence. I ran into Madonna in the hallway after the first set of speakers and spoke with her for a few minutes. I heard more about her story and she gave me some insight on how to get more involved. She mentioned about learning what our State is doing to prevent sexual violence and what bills are attempting to be passed.
Senator Jay Acosta was at the event, so I took the opportunity to reach out to him afterwards to learn what was going in Pennsylvania.
I have to say, that I was beginning to get nervous once we had a break, before the next set of speakers came forward, which included me. After I spoke with Madonna, I was trying to run somewhere to pump. (I have a 10 month old son at home, whom I breastfeed and it was past my pumping time, so I was starting to have a little bit of pain). Oh, mommy life. Anyway, while finding somewhere to pump, I ran into my MOTHER! She was trying to hide from me but she didn’t do a good job. She and her friend had bought tickets and came to the conference to surprise. It was so great to have her there!!! This would be the first time that she heard me speak.
I then went and got my mic on and waited for the other speakers to begin. Kathy was a few speakers ahead of me, and her story is so powerful. I hope we are able to connect again and help each other for both of our fights.
My husband also was able to sneak in. He stopped by my table and gave me a quick kiss before I went on stage. I honestly do not know what I would do with out his support.
And then it was my turn. This was the largest audience I have ever spoke in front of. Probably around 300+ people maybe? But to get up there, and hear the audience reactions while a spoke. People cheered when I told them that I finally was able to kick my eating disorder, and they reacted when I told them I was raped and left on the side of the road. I have people that I don’t even know reacting to my story, and cheering me on. IT was truly a powerful moment.
I excited the stage, and gave a hug to Madonna. I also was stopped by a few other people including my mom and my husband and received BIG hugs.
I had to leave shortly after lunch but before I did, I had a couple of individuals come up to me and share their story. This is what really gets to me. When someone comes up to me and says “It happen to me.” They don’t have to tell me the details, they have to say those 4 words, and I immediately give them hug. They are such a huge inspiration to me because they came forward and shared with someone. I usually don’t know if this is their first time sharing it or not, and I don’t ask because that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they shared it with someone and they trusted me enough to do so.
I have always wanted to inspire people. But I know now that if if I help or encourage one person, my existence is justified.