Empowering day at the Massachusetts Conference for Women

It feels like the Massachusetts Conference for Women is the best kept secret around. I had only heard of the conference last year when a colleague of mine scored tickets to the conference. I was surprised to learn that 2017 was its 13th year. Despite its age, the show feels like it is just hitting its stride – relevant, inspiring, empowering, supportive, friendly. These are the words I use to describe what the day is like.

The one-day conference opened with powerful keynote speeches by Adam Grant and Viola Davis. Grant is the co-author of the book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, written with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

However, it was Ms. Davis’s keynote that stunned and silenced a ballroom filled with 11,000 women.

Viola Davis

In her speech, she spoke about growing up in abject poverty in Central Falls, RI. She spoke about the racism encountered during her childhood (hers was the only black family in town). Her story about literally running home from school because a group of 8 or 9 boys would chase her all the way home – all the while throwing sticks, rocks, or whatever they could find on the sidewalk and yelling racial slurs at her – made my hair stand on end.

She spoke about growing up with her father being a violent alcoholic, about living with domestic violence, and about being a bed wetter until she was 14.

What a cognitive disconnect it was to see this person – a stunningly beautiful woman, an award-winning actress, a celebrated figure in the upper echelons of Hollywood – stand on stage and reveal such raw terror and sadness.

Her message to the 11,000 women who sat stone silent listening to her? There is no shame. Own your story. To succeed in life, it is all on you and it is in you. Step into who you are.

It is Viola Davis’s speech that was the highlight of the conference for me. Yes, I can tell you about the makeup/makeover kiosks and the women-owned businesses who were selling their goods. I could go on and on about the wonderful breakout sessions covering topics like “how to handle difficult people.” But Ms. Davis’s keynote reflected the heart of this conference. No shame. Step into who you are.

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