Young Women’s Empowerment Day Inspires Female Students at Camelot Education’s Chicago Campuses
Part of Camelot Education’s mission is to help students develop positive, enriching relationships with adults both inside of school and with members of the community. Recently, Camelot’s campuses in Chicago held a special, two-day event that reflected Camelot’s approach to education. The program was designed to inspire and uplift the young women who attend our schools.
Camelot’s Excel Academies, part of the Chicago Public Schools Options Schools Network, partnered with DTLR Villa and UGG shoe company for Young Women’s Empowerment Day. The event was aimed at empowering young women who are all too aware of how the media can negatively stereotype black women.
“I had asked one of our female students about these negative images, and she and others agreed that they see far too many of them,” said Ricardo Waddy, director of programming and careers at Excel Academy of Englewood. “So we developed a relationship with DTLR and teamed up with them to organize this special two-day event. UGG shoe company donated new boots for each student who participated. Women from all walks of life, careers, and professions participated in workshops and panel discussions about the issues black women face. The school was filled with positive women. We had 40 empowerment speakers over two days. It was amazing for our students.”
The programs held on December 12 and 13, included panel discussions, breakout sessions between the speakers and students, and a “chat and chew” lunch session for more informal interaction.
Aaliyah Sauseda, 18, one of the students who attended the event said she wanted to participate to interact with accomplished women.
“My reason for being there was to become more comfortable around women who are successful,” she said. “One of the most important things I learned from the event was there are a lot of women who have had hardships, but they encouraged me that I can do what they did and put my hardships to good use. That’s what I really enjoyed; hearing all about their lives and how they got to be where they are.”
John Ester III, DTLR’s regional marketing representative, called the event inspiring for students. “I teach a class at Camelot’s Excel Academy of Englewood through my non-profit,” he said. “It’s a career readiness class that introduces students to unconventional careers that they might not have thought about. UGG joined in because they wanted to bless people who could use a little help during the holidays.”
Ester serves as executive director of The B.I.G. Homie Project – a non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of young males between the ages of 10 to 25.
The empowerment speakers included Essence Smith, co-founder of Chance the Rapper’s non-profit, SocialWorks; Chicago radio station 107.5 WGCI host Frankie Robinson, Lesha Sturdivant, singer, songwriter and founder of Trust God and Drink Tea; Tamala Watkins, a firefighter and EMT; Bonnie Mary, a professional model; Nichelle Smallz, a tax consultant; and Sabre Taylor, a personal chef.
“We saw this event as a great foundation for our young women, and we started working with all our guest speakers and schools to make it happen,” Ester said. “Having women who have been successful in a wide range of careers is what my career readiness class is about; that your career can be driven by your passion, not just a paycheck. When your career is your passion, you don’t mind going to work. That’s what the panel discussions were about; discussing life goals and ways to achieve them.”
Kevin Sweetland, Camelot Education’s regional director of schools in Chicago, said with strong relationships, safe environments, and a new frame of mind, students can begin to see their future more clearly.
“That’s what these two days were all about. We drive academic and social development in partnership with our students and families by meeting them where they are,” he said. “We work to build their confidence so they realize their potential. In our schools, all of our staff members are positive role models. But it’s not just enough to have positive role models internally, the kids need to see them externally too. Everything they saw and experienced during those two days showed them that what goes on in the streets isn’t all there is. They can rise above it.”
Student Raven Boone, 18, agreed with that; the presenters were women who didn’t let circumstances stop them.
“We need to know and hear where they came from and how they did something with their lives,” she said. “I learned that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it depends on where you go. You have to keep pushing past the negative things in your life.”