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Young Black Women’s Society of Boston focuses on leadership development

Kassmin Williams
Young Black Women’s Society of Boston focuses on leadership development
This year marks the third annual Next Generation Women of Color Summit, which aims to encourage leadership in girls and women. (Photo: Courtesy of YBWS)

When Alicia Canady founded the Young Black Women’s Society of Boston along with four of her friends, it was because the then 23-year-old saw a need for an organization and network that catered to young women of color emerging in their careers.

The women she looked up to as mentors at the time were women who belonged to organizations focused on those who’ve already reached the point of success in their careers and lives, Canady said.

“That was a moment for me where I said ‘that’s fine if you’ve already arrived, but what about the women who are on their way to that destination? Why aren’t we investing in that group?” Canady said.

Canady, Wachmide LaBranche, Rashonda Ambrose, Nachelle Gordon and India Holmes founded the volunteer-led organization in 2005 with a goal to provide a platform for professional and personal development and civic engagement for young black women.

Since then the organization has attracted a group of dedicated and passionate women who have invested time in seeing the organization reach its full potential, and who have allowed it to serve for the past nine years.

“There are historical organizations around that are doing great things for people of color, but I think what makes YBWS unique is that we’re not connected to a national organization,” Canady said. “For the past almost 10 years, we have funded ourselves. Our membership fees helped support our programming and our organization.”

While the organization has always had a focus on providing leadership development to young black women (targeting ages 21 to 25), the group has honed in on the need for their professional development in recent years, specifically for first-generation women who don’t have a professional network built into their families.

“You hear about a lot of programs and a lot initiatives throughout the city that are focused on just women or emerging leaders, but there isn’t a platform for young women of color in terms of their personal and professional development,” Canady said. “For example, who is telling you when you get out of school how to play the game in the workplace whether it’s nonprofit or corporate? Somebody needs to tell you how to play the game. Who is talking about your personal brand? Who is talking to you about your own personal board of directors or about getting on nonprofit boards and the power of civic leadership? Who is helping you to learn how to speak publicly so you can get promotions and negotiate your salary?”

The organization has scaled back on the number of programs it produces to focus more on each member’s leadership development.

Its core development program is called “ACCESS” and focuses on a different skill each year. The current focus is on personal branding.

The program includes various modules on the subjects and talks with guest speakers. Members participate in an evaluation at the beginning, middle and end of the program, Canady said.

Members also participate in retreats and quarterly meetings and have the opportunity to gain leadership roles within the organization.

Those leadership opportunities have been invaluable for some members.

April Watson has held roles as treasurer and vice-chair of finance and is now co-executive director for YBWS.

“When I started I just really wanted a way to have a positive impact on the city I had come from. I knew [YBWS] had done a lot of community service work and initially that’s what intrigued me about the organization,” Watson said. “But what has kept me in for the past three to four years was the potential for growth and the potential to learn from the past leadership in the organization.”

For the past three years, the group has hosted the Next Generation Women of Color Summit for women of all ages and high school-aged girls.

This year’s event is on May 3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Simmons College. The summit’s theme focuses on the idea of “having it all,” Canady said.

“It’s really about how you define what you’re “all” is, what you’re success is, and what happiness is to you,” Canady said. “We want our speakers throughout the day to use the opportunity to define what they see as “having it all” and for our attendees to walk away at least thinking about how they define “having it all” so they know how it drives the decisions they make — whether it’s in their personal or professional lives.”

Natasha Eubanks, creator of celebrity blog site, theybf.com, is the keynote speaker.

Attendees will participate in three breakout sessions. Two of the sessions will focus on defining each individual’s motivation and pursuing a career centered on passion.

The third breakout session will focus on how some nonprofits are ensuring the urban community “has it all.”

The nonprofit organizations involved in the discussion are the Boston Foundation, New England Blacks in Philanthropy and Big Sister.

The summit will close with a roundtable modeled after daytime talk show “The View.” The roundtable will feature care.com founder Donna Levin. The group will speak about the idea of “having it all” and how their views of it have changed.