WOW fes­ti­val cel­e­brates women

2-day gath­er­ing at Notre Dame looks at gen­der equal­ity, ac­com­plish­ments

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Brit­tany Britto bbritto@balt­ twit­ brit­tanybritto

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.”

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