WOW festival celebrates women
2-day gathering at Notre Dame looks at gender equality, accomplishments
Women’s achievements — and the obstacles that still stand in their way — will be the pressing topics at a two-day gathering in Baltimore this weekend.
Today and Saturday, Notre Dame of Maryland University will host the Women of the World festival, first launched in London in 2011. It features more than 150 presenters and performers, including Jude Kelly, the founder of WOW; Deborah Phelps, the director of the education foundation of Baltimore County’s public schools and mother of star Olympian Michael Phelps; and April Reign, creator of the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
“It’s all about celebrating women and their accomplishments and their contributions, but also taking a frank look at the remaining issues to gender equality, in health care, in elected office. The glass ceiling still exists,” said Patricia “P.J.” Mitchell, who serves as the Baltimore community leader and chair of the WOWpartnership board.
The festival’s premise is a major reason it has “resonated so much around the world,” Mitchell said, taking place on five continents and in more than a dozen cities across the globe.
“Why not have those conversations in Baltimore?” she said.
The festival will explore race and LGBTQ issues, careers and financial literacy, and will feature speed mentoring, a feminist corner and TED-style talks called “WOWBites,” said Mitchell, who expects up to 1,500 people to attend each day, most from around the region.
Phelps will emcee the “School Day” program today, which will bring up to 500 10th-grade girls to the campus from around 125 schools across the region. The program will feature a talk from the founder of mentoring program Teen Girl University, Carla Stokes, a performance by Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women step team, and a host of activities including glitter tattoos and food trucks.
“To be able to have such interesting, elite and powerful women on that campus who should be, and most likely probably are, mentoring our young ladies ... is very important,” Phelps said.
Reign, a Howard County resident best known for her hashtag that brought national attention to the lack of diversity in Academy Award nominee pools, will speak Saturday on a panel about black women’s influence on pop culture, along with Jenné Afiya, founder of all-women of color art collective Balti Gurls and Nykidra Robinson, the founder of Black Girls Vote.
“There are so many interesting people doing amazing things — especially women — in the pop culture arena, and that’s what we’ll be discussing,” said Reign.
Mitchell, who has been working with her board for the past two years to help bring about the two-day festival, said an event like WOW is needed to encourage women and to spark change.
“Something like this is good for us. It’s not as big as Light City,” she said, referring to the international light festival that brought nearly 400,000 people to the Inner Harbor this year. “But it’s the same kind of positive energy.”