The Inaugural JP Alumni Summit Built Community, Centered Moms’ Stories.
“I can relate to her so much. I went through a similar situation.” // “Conversation and truth-telling is a revolution.” // “Thank you so much for sharing your powerful story!”
On Saturday, March 13, over 150 current JP moms and alumni gathered virtually together for the first time. The long-anticipated JP Inaugural Alumni Summit had finally begun. Despite being in different states, the participants wasted no time diving into the conversation via chat, embracing the summit’s official theme: Daring Powerfully.
Equally present, however, was the summit’s unofficial theme: By Moms, For Moms. “The summit is an opportunity for alums and moms to highlight and celebrate the journey that we’ve been on so far, to celebrate where our kids are, and to celebrate the resiliency and the support,” says Ethelind Kaba, alumni fellow and secretary of the JP National Governing Board. “If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that people closest to any issue have tremendous power in telling stories for real change.”
Having JP moms facilitate conversations and tell stories themselves served multiple purposes at the summit. The women in attendance connected and shared experiences. They reframed harmful narratives often projected onto single mothers experiencing poverty. They had opportunities to share truths about poverty that only people who’ve lived it possess. And they connected their lived experiences to larger national conversations around justice and equity.
“It’s equipping moms to be the architects of their own story, giving next-level career and leadership opportunities, next-level empowerment,” says Kaba. “This is really the first [event] of this nature in terms of a fellowship program. This time feels like an extension of Jeremiah, but for a different phase.”
The program Kaba referred to is the JP Alumni Fellowship program. Planning the summit was one of the first acts of the inaugural cohort of fellows, 13 former JP moms who now serve as advisors, mentors, and program ambassadors. These alumni were front-and-center on the program agenda, which also included JP President and CEO Chastity Lord, Vice-President of Parent Programming Archana Patel, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, and farmworker- and Latina-rights activist Mónica Ramirez.
The first alumni speaker, Rosa Nin-Seto, set the tone for the day with her Story of Self. In her remarks, she described how the insecurities she felt about her identity from a young age have impacted multiple areas of her life.
“My low self-esteem growing up in the blended Dominican family had primed me to become someone who didn’t value herself,” she shared. “My sisters all had fair skin and hair a little bit more manageable than mine. This made me, at times, feel inferior.”
As Nin-Seto told the story of leaving an unhealthy relationship, growing her confidence, and moving her life forward, several moms communicated their support in the virtual chat. Her lows resonated: I feel that I have been given a short straw many times in life. But so did her successes: I decided that’s not the type of life that I wanted for myself. I decided that I was going to turn things around, and I accomplished it.
“Amazing story! You’re powerful!” // “You’re a warrior!” // “We are survivors!”
“If someone would have told my 19-year-old self that, in just over ten years, I would be an award-winning, policy-changing, program-implementing bad-ass with two kids who are well-adjusted, joyful, and safe, I wouldn’t have believed them,” she said. “Being held in a space that allowed me to build community, establish my family’s sense of home and belonging, and work through my stuff allowed me to see past my pain.”
Sanders concluded her story by reclaiming her life’s narrative and rejecting stereotypes she now realizes were holding her back—something she encouraged the moms in the audience to do as well.
“You are inherently powerful and worthy,” she concluded. “No matter what the voices of society, abusive partners, your family, or your past self may tell you: Your power is yours.”
BRINGING MOMS TOGETHER
The warmth and recognition moms expressed while listening to Nin-Seto and Sanders tell their stories illustrated one of the key summit outcomes: fostering a sense of sisterhood and community amongst JP women, regardless of location.
“We did get to meet a lot of new moms. Everyone had access to [the chat], and all the moms were firing off really good things,” says JP alumni fellow Alex Friese. “That was very effective networking. We also did a lunch Zoom meeting. We each got put in breakout rooms with six or seven other moms from all the different campuses. It was awesome to be able to get to meet with them.”
Another opportunity for moms to connect came during the mid-day breakouts, three concurrent workshops on topics related to parenting, career, and imposter syndrome.
Friese attended the breakout session focused on interpreting the subtext of report cards and advocating effectively for your children.
“Children’s report cards have become incredibly complex, and it seems like every school system has a different way,” she explains. “[The facilitator] posted a slide of the generic phrases that teachers use … and she said, ‘If you ask the teachers, they usually have something to back that up, but they don’t usually produce it unless you’ve asked for it.’ That was the biggest takeaway from that part of the conversation.”
The session, she says, was a blend of expert information-sharing followed by conversation amongst moms asking questions, offering their experiences, and discussing the complexities of advocating for children with special needs.
Angelina Kery, another alumni fellow who attended the summit, says she wished she could have attended every breakout session.
“The summit allowed us to not only network with other moms about our personal stories but also learn about their career background,” she says. “Being able to meet other moms that are working either in the legal field or in the mental health field—that’s a plus. … [The summit] allowed us to connect to other moms or other professionals that might be able to give us insight on a particular career. Being able to access that network [is] a huge, huge advantage.”
“The summit is an opportunity for alums and moms to highlight and celebrate the journey that we’ve been on so far, to celebrate where our kids are, and to celebrate the resiliency and the support.”Ethelind Kaba, JP alumni fellow and National Governing Board secretary
TWO INSPIRING FIRESIDE CHATS
While much of the JP Alumni Summit focused on the stories and experiences of mothers who had participated in the program, two esteemed guests made the day particularly notable: Tarana Burke and Mónica Ramirez.
Burke, who was interviewed by alumni fellow Christine Smith, began by sharing her activist origin story. Raised in New York City, she explained that race and place were central to her family identity and her community.
“My grandfather was very, very clear that we had to know who we were [and] where we came from so we can understand what it meant to be Black in this country,” Burke said. “A lot of that looked like learning history and being really immersed in culture in a lot of different ways. … My upbringing is very much a part of me.”
One of Burke’s many remarks that sparked reactions in the chat was her response to the question, “If you could talk to your younger self, what would you tell her to prepare her for her journey?”
“I would tell her to be more gentle with herself,” Burke replied. “Have the same empathy that she wants to put in the world and apply that to herself, because who speaks softly to little Black girls? We go from discipline in the house to discipline in the school to fighting the street to self-defense. We don’t have a lot of soft places to land, and we aren’t cultivated to be our own soft place.”
Ramirez closed out the summit with a conversation hosted by alumni fellow Nekey Oliver. Like Burke, her activism is grounded in her Story of Self.
“My path is really about my family’s journey and not so much about my own journey because I come from a migrant farmworker family,” she explained. “My family used to travel all over the country picking crops. … My siblings and I were the first generation in my family not to travel the migrant stream.”
Ramirez’s remarks about her long career as an attorney and organizer advocating for migrant women, immigrants, and farmworkers also resonated strongly with many summit participants, including Kery.
“I just loved her interview,” says Kery. “She started at the age of 14 to advocate and raise awareness regarding workplace sexual violence towards female farmworkers. I love the fact that she’s a Latina; to me, I take so much pride. And there were a lot of things that she said that were very powerful. She says that everyone has a voice and shouldn’t be afraid to speak up.”
The theme of connecting powerfully to your voice and daring to use it resonated throughout the summit—in the personal stories, the keynotes, the breakout rooms, and the chat.
“Asking for help is a strength.” // “Take. Up. Space.” // “Testify!”
In her closing remarks, Rosa Nin-Seto explicitly spoke about why she used her voice to share her Story of Self. “I hope that these words will inspire you to pursue your dreams and accomplish your achievements for those you hold dear,” Nin-Seto said. “But most importantly for yourself.”
Summit participants were thrilled to learn that they would receive signed copies of Tarana Burke’s new book, co-edited with Brené Brown, titled You Are Your Best Thing. Published by Random House and slated for an April release, the book is a collection of essays by Black writers, scholars, activists, entertainers, and public intellectuals about vulnerability and shame resilience in the Black community.