Oct. 10, 2004 Never underestimate the power of a woman. When those women gather together in numbers of more than 500 you can bet there's some serious sisterhood happening. That was the scene Saturday morning at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef on St. Thomas, as, for the ninth year in a row, hundreds of women attended the annual Women's Conference. This year's theme was "Women of Conviction Fighting for Just Causes."
"I hope when the women leave here today they will have a change in their future plans and their aspirations," Sen. Lorraine Berry, who sponsors the conference each year along with the Violet Foundation, Inc., said. "They can be whatever they want to be. But they are in charge of their destiny. The woman is in charge of her decisions. These are things you can control."
Keynote breakfast speakers attorney James Carroll and his wife Celia Carroll spoke of losing their teenage son, Jason, to gun violence. In May 2000, 18-year-old Jason was shot and killed by someone who carried a concealed weapon. The Carrolls didn't allow grief to overtake their lives. Instead, they formed the Jason Carroll Memorial Fund and Mothers Against Guns, corporations dedicated to reducing gun and youth violence.
"The Carrolls' testimony was very moving," Janet Alexander, a social worker attending the conference for the second year in a row, said. "I think both of them personify fear that all parents have, which is the loss of a child. They can still contribute in a way they always have. In terms of teaching, working in the justice system, and helping us understand ways to help our children. They've shown that you can become stronger due to those experiences. I've come away with a great promise for tomorrow for youth in the U.S. Virgin Islands."
Alexander, a St. Thomas resident for 33 years, is a self-described "woman of conviction," who said the conference was inspirational. "I think it's dynamic," she said. "It represents a mature point of view as well as a young point of view." Alexander works as a housing coordinator at Ebenezer Gardens, a residence for senior citizens. This year she accompanied three residents of the home to the conference. "They were really inspired by Mavis Brady, who spoke of the first social worker in the Virgin Islands, Maude Proudfoot. Many of them remember her and her contributions."
Other panelists included Ronald Blyden, Alba Harrington, Carol Henneman, Clema Lewis, Tricia Williams-Rogers, Malik Sekou and Yvonne Washington.
This is the ninth year of the Women's Conference, which Berry started after Hurricane Marilyn to give strength and inspiration to the women of the Virgin Islands. "There were a lot of woman coming into my office with a lot of problems," Berry said. "I thought we needed to develop camaraderie among families. I saw a great need in the community because of the challenges we experienced after Marilyn."
Over the years, Berry has seen the group of women attending the conference expand, and is happy to report more younger women in attendance. "It's obvious they want to improve their lives," she said. "Each year has been very successful. Women enjoy the sisterhood, coming out and relating to other women and have a nice meal. They listen to inspirational speakers and people who can help them develop self-esteem and change their lives and attitudes."
The audience of more than 500 women packed a ballroom at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef, and ranged from professionals to women from the housing communities. Berry says she and her staff reach women who would not normally be able to attend a conference and raise money to give them complimentary tickets.
In Berry's closing statement, she encouraged woman to get involved and run for office. "I can't continue carrying the torch by myself. We need to get some women involved," Berry said. "I encourage you to become involved in the community, whether it's for the Senate, a board, church or PTA. Get involved with families and the community. I would like to see more 'women of conviction' run for office. Im serving my 11th term as senator. This is 22 years in the Senate for me. I think I'm a good example of a 'woman of conviction.'"
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