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Holding it down

Women of color speak powerfully at Simmons Conference

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Holding it down
Raquel Eatmon speaks April 5 at the Simmons Leadership Conference (Photo: Don West)

On Thursday, April 5, Michelle Obama, Nely Galán, Raquel Eatmon and a number of other female leaders addressed a crowd of 3,400 attendees at the 39th annual Simmons Leadership Conference. The all-day event featured speakers, panels and workshops to equip women with both the motivation and the practical skills to succeed in a world often poised against them.

On the web

To learn more about the conference speakers and see Michelle Obama’s Q&A, visit:

Galán, the first Latina to run a major U.S. television network, Telemundo, kicked things off by discussing her experience as a self-made woman of color.

What made Galán’s speech unique was her emphasis on monetary freedom. “The starting point is becoming economically empowered and financially independent,” she said. Galán was open about business being easier in a capitalist society when you have money. She encouraged conference attendees to invest and hustle, saying, “Don’t buy shoes, buy buildings.”

Eatmon, CEO of the communications company Rising Media LLC and founder of the Woman of Power Leadership Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, encouraged women to be unapologetically powerful. As a black woman in business, she says, she uses her position to educate the industry. “If I’m the only one in the room who looks like me, that’s a platform,” she says. “Everything about my work is about being inclusive. In order to talk about change, the room needs to look like what change could be.”

Eatmon said part of the reason she launched her Woman of Power Leadership Conference in Cleveland is because Ohio is still very segregated. She wanted to bring a powerful black female figure to an area that doesn’t see that enough.

Michelle Obama’s Q&A with Simmons President Helen Drinan was the most anticipated part of the day. Obama spoke eloquently as ever, encouraging women to acknowledge the female participation in the election of President Trump and to work on resolving that dissonance. She said, “Especially in this room, we have to own that reality. To me, that’s the deeper question for us today as women: What happened? What’s going on inside of us, where we’re still afraid to embrace a different vision of leadership?”

Many of the topics during Obama’s hour-long session were less probing, , unfortunately, covering her time as first lady, her favorite travel destinations and her self-care rituals. But where she could, Obama dropped wisdom and words of support for the women in the audience. She said, “There’s a survival sense among women. We’re the ones who hold it down, we know that.”