JP Summit 2024: The Power of Community

JP’s fourth annual summit — this time in Baltimore, Maryland — assembled nearly 400 JP moms, staff, alumni, and partners.

For the nearly 150 current JP moms and approximately 100 JP alumni who came together in Baltimore, Maryland, March 8-10, many have never traveled far from home, been on a plane, or attended a conference. So when JP St. Paul Executive Director Karla Benson Rutten initiated a campus roll call during the 2024 JP Summit’s opening lunch, the room erupted in vibrant cheers proudly representing our nine locations around the nation. This year’s theme, “The Power of Community,” was in full effect.

JP’s annual summit is a gathering for reflection, conversation, and a celebration of our JP families and alumni. We bring together many voices, including those of student parents, educators, and system changemakers, all sharing a common commitment to tearing down obstacles in the way of economic mobility. It serves as a catalyst for innovative solutions under the banner that community is key.

Throughout the weekend, moms attended informative workshops and inspiring keynote sessions, visited the onsite “bookstore” for a complimentary book of their choice, and participated in the weekend’s scavenger hunt. Often, they simply could be found laughing and embracing each other in sisterhood.

Helping Moms Tap Into Their Power

The weekend featured four workshops, each designed to ensure moms are aware of their rights, the resources at their disposal, and the power they possess to chart paths to the futures they want, despite the obstacles they may face.

In a workshop on being a successful renter and preparing to become a successful homeowner, JP’s housing team reviewed the history of U.S. affordable housing and emphasized the importance of knowing one’s rights as a renter and doing the necessary groundwork ahead of homeownership. The session also featured a surprise appearance from 2023-2024 JP Alumni Fellow Portia Jackson, who shared her personal and professional journeys in the housing space.

Because we support families two generations at a time, it was important that we include a session on investing in the next generation. Exploring the ins and outs of the process, the workshop on 529 plans encouraged attendees to invest in the dreams they have for their children and how saving for their college education can help them realize those dreams.

JP moms, who are college students themselves, also got to delve into the latest on student loan forgiveness, including federal and state-level policy discussions and qualifications for the most recent iterations of forgiveness at the federal level. Moms shared stories of navigating financial aid, lessons learned, and tips for others to try.

As moms consider their post-graduation lives and careers, they had the opportunity to attend a workshop led by Fondation Chanel that connected how we look and feel with how we show up and perform professionally. Participants came away understanding the psychology behind that connection and how they can own it.

Two Dynamic Fireside Chats

“Whenever I have an opportunity to be in a roomful of moms, it’s my favorite thing in life,” said Aisha Nyandoro, founding CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, a nonprofit using a resident-centered approach to dismantling generational poverty. Aisha’s conversation with JP President and CEO Chastity Lord was the first of two fireside chats punctuating the final day of this year’s summit.

Calling to phrases from Aisha’s TED Talk, “What Does ‘Wealth’ Mean to You?” Chastity asked her to elaborate. For example, when asked to say more about the phrase “space to dream,” Aisha replied, “You can’t dream if you are constantly on a hamster wheel putting out fires.” In response to “immoral inequity,” Aisha pointed out some of the systemic ways people are punished for experiencing poverty, like the fact that paying rent on time doesn’t boost someone’s credit score, but being evicted follows them forever.

Ultimately, she hopes that we can broaden our conceptions of wealth. “I want us to lean into a more spacious definition of wealth that includes the fullness of our humanity,” she said.

The second fireside chat featured Stephanie Land, author of Maid, which was adapted into what is now Netflix’s most-watched limited series. Before joining Chastity onstage, Stephanie signed copies of her newest book, Class, which follows her senior year in college. Each attendee received a copy.

“Anybody who wants to go to college deserves to be there,” Stephanie said during a discussion of the value of higher education and the notion of “deservedness” in 2024. Recalling her higher ed experience, she remembered feeling as if she were “getting an advanced degree in irony,” as she took an online P.E. course and was forced to take irrelevant classes that cost hundreds of dollars. She was prepared to have college debt for the rest of her life. Like so many JP moms, Stephanie experienced judgment from others who felt her pursuit of her degree was selfish and futile, but she pushed herself because it was worth it to her.

Chastity noted that college costs have gone up about 170% in the last 40 years. Add to that the poverty tax of being a single student parent, and the immoral inequity covered in the first fireside chat becomes apparent once again. Chasity and Stephanie discussed how financial aid covers tuition, books, and housing but not child care, which is the most expensive piece of a single student parent’s budget.

Amidst all the stigma, systemic barriers, and narratives to the contrary, Stephanie’s advice to JP moms was, “You are enough.”

The capstone of the 2024 JP Summit was the second annual Spark Tank, a first-of-its-kind pitch competition to elevate JP moms and alumni by driving funding to their existing business ventures or new business ideas.

This year, 37 mompreneurs applied, and 16 finalists received coaching and feedback and were invited to Baltimore to pitch their businesses during the summit, where they got additional coaching and feedback.

Of those 16 finalists, four winners were chosen, including a crowd-selected Inspiration Award winner. We’re honored to present those winners here.

First Place and Inspiration Award: Bianca Scott, Founder of ESPI Properties, LLC

Bianca Scott earned the first-place prize of $10,000 for her pitch on ESPI Properties, LLC, and she received an additional $2,500 for winning the Inspiration Award. ESPI Properties helps low-income families transition into home ownership, a key part of achieving economic mobility, by providing educational services to private property owners and tenants.

Second Place: Juanita Breedlove, Founder of BUKidz

Juanita Breedlove took home $5,000 for her second-place win. BUKidz is a full-service beauty salon and school, offering beauty services, courses, and products to families and children with textured hair to combat hair discrimination at work and school.

Third Place: Brittney Strickland, Founder of Celebrating Milestones

After presenting her business, Celebrating Milestones, Brittney Strickland won $2,500 to help it grow. Celebrating Milestones aims to support families of those with developmental delays by providing resources to help reduce achievement and opportunity gaps.

Fourth Place: Lorrianne Williams, Founder of Liz and Marc Enterprises

For her pitch on Liz and Marc Enterprises, Lorrianne Williams won $1,500 to invest in her business. Liz and Marc Enterprises makes sustainable and organic handmade soaps inspired by the Williams family matriarchs.

All four of this year’s winners — as well as the 2023 winners — will receive individualized business coaching through The Acceleration Project, which will advise them on ways to tackle their challenges and create action plans for their growth. The first-place winners will also participate in a more intensive boot camp to help them further develop their businesses.

Each of the 37 mompreneurs who threw their hats in the ring this year has received resources local to them that are dedicated to supporting small business owners. They will also participate in four specialized workshops from We Sparkle — each designed to help them manage, sustain, and grow their businesses.

We could not be prouder of all our Spark Tank participants, who are using their gifts and skills to level up their families and improve their communities!

“I had a wonderful time [at] this event. It was needed for me spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It gave me a peace of mind and a will to continue to fight.”

JP mom

The Power of Community

As everyone parted ways at the end of a weekend filled with learning, joy, and community-building, moms went home restored and ready to continue their plans with new vigor.

“I am so grateful for the experience and the ability to rest,” said an alumni mom. “I left more confident in what I need to do to create a better future for my little one.” A current JP mom took away a similar feeling of confidence: “I had a wonderful time [at] this event. It was needed for me spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It gave me a peace of mind and a will to continue to fight.”

Because being a single mom can feel incredibly isolating, it’s significant that moms felt seen too. “Representation matters and I feel more grounded,” one mom said after the summit. And another already has her mind on reconnecting with more moms in 2025: “The JP Summit/Spark Tank experience was nothing short of amazing,” she said. “I cannot wait for next year and the adventures and connections to come.”

We are incredibly proud of the JP community, which we are dedicated to growing each year. Stay tuned!

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