JP Virtual Alumni Summit 2022: More Than Enough
The second annual JP Alumni Summit was all about JP moms’ individual and collective power. This is the movement.
The empowering song “Be You” by 2012 JP alum and 2022 Alumni Fellow Ashley DuBose was one of the first to open the virtual, second annual JP Alumni Summit, held on March 19, 2022. The track set the tone for the day and continued the unofficial theme of 2021’s inaugural summit: For and by JP Moms. It also aligned perfectly with this year’s official theme, More Than Enough. JP Vice President of Parent Programming Archana Patel took that energy and ran with it. As a collective, the 143 JP moms kept that energy throughout the day.
“Today is about you,” Patel welcomed the virtual gathering. “Today is about women, about mothers, about the backbone of our society, about stories, about our triumphs, our wellness and our power. It’s also about our leadership and our ability to create that which we need. This summit exists because we needed it, and it wasn’t anywhere else, so we made it.”
What these moms made is a space where they could feel seen and heard. During the stories these women shared, after every presentation, the chat lit up with sisterhood and understanding. “This is a space where your identity, your race, socioeconomic [status] can be front and center. This is about you,” said JP President and CEO Chastity Lord during her opening remarks. “I want you to pack up all your identities and make sure that you are centering them in each and every conversation today because this is your space. This is your healing space. This is your affirming space. This is your reminder of your power.”
That recognition and reclamation of power—individual and collective—is the movement that JP moms and alumni are building. This summit wasn’t about feel-good stories, rhetorical questions, or quotable quotes. It was filled with real-life, practical discussions that JP moms could apply to their individual contexts and to collective thinking and work. Every session they led and participated in pointed to community, empowerment, and action. And each attendee will continue the day’s learning with free copies of books to be discussed at virtual book clubs with the authors this fall.
Sisterhood and Community
Individualism is another central narrative of our society, Lord reminded attendees. People are encouraged to “do you” and “get yours.” But no advancement has ever happened in this country without people coming together. “This community can be as powerful as we make it,” she said. “This community can help reframe a conversation around what it means to be a single parent. It can reframe the conversation around the tools and resources that are necessary for a mom to be able to bet on herself and her child.”
So when 2021 JP alum and 2022 Alumni Fellow Erika Rodriguez shared her Story of Self—including leaving a toxic relationship with her children’s father and choosing herself and her kids—it resonated with so many other moms. “You are such a great mom Erika! So proud of you for choosing YOU and your babies <3” one mom celebrated. “Thank you! It’s like you were telling my story,” another related. In a world that shames unpartnered moms, JP moms know they are not alone in the barriers they struggle against, and the community they’re building offers strength.
“You are such a great mom Erika [Rodriguez]! So proud of you for choosing YOU and your babies <3”
The significance of community was also clear in the session “Help Us Build a Parent Nation!” with Yolie Flores, national campaign director for Parent Nation, which works to create a society that better supports parents. Functioning primarily as a sharing space, the session began with moms identifying the ways in which the systems they interact with are broken. In an especially poignant moment, several moms in the chat shared how hard it is—nearly impossible—to get necessary support for children with special needs or with mental health concerns, and COVID protocols only made it worse. But one of the most important community-building aspects of the session occurred when these moms began imagining what their lives would be like if systems operated in the ways they should and thinking about how to come together to make it happen.
Community was also front and center in sessions on finance and wellness, with moms commiserating around finding time for themselves and committing to doing something for themselves before leaving the summit.
One of the most powerful elements of the summit was the seamless connection between the community being nurtured and the empowerment in moms’ stories, from each Story of Self to the anecdotes shared by facilitating fellows and guests. In each case, these women bet on themselves so that they could, in turn, bet on their kids.
In her Story of Self, 2021 JP alum and 2022 Alumni Fellow Ashley Breding explained how she’s now in her dream career as a registered nurse, and her clients tell her that she gives them hope, encourages them to love themselves, and makes them feel heard. “It is apparent that I’m becoming the person I needed when I was younger—for them and myself,” she explained. “I am proof that you can rise up and become your wildest dream. You can become your childhood hero.”
Becoming a parent taught her that she could do hard things and make hard choices, she said, and she’s come out on the other side stronger for it.
Rodriguez’s story was similar. “I chose myself,” she shared with the gathering. “I chose to find a way, and I chose to become that girl I wanted to be.”
Each of these stories shuts down the false narratives of single mothers as “bad decision-makers” and “bad parents.” Each of them made hard choices to put their well-being and their children first, even if it meant letting go of partners and more so-called stability. The same is true for the other JP moms in attendance that day, and those shared experiences of claiming power helped foster sisterhood in this growing community.
“Love hearing self stories because it makes you realize that even though all of our stories can look very different, there are many similarities and that brings so much strength and hope to one another”
Because JP moms and alumni are building a movement, the key components of community and empowerment must combine with action, and the day’s two featured interviews brought it all home. “Be You” singer Ashley DuBose, also an actress, entrepreneur, and real estate investor, facilitated the first interview with MSNBC’s Alicia Menendez, author of The Likability Trap: How to Break Free and Succeed as You Are. Discussing the book, the two moms centered the double standards women face in the workplace, especially mothers, and how both over-concern and under-concern with being well liked can multiply those double standards. In the end, women have to be there for each other.
“We need to be honest about the bias that we’re running up against so that we then can begin to really contend with it,” Menendez said. “It’s not just about this group of women contending with it. It is about finding allies and co-conspirators and people who will stand next to you in those meetings and really have your back.”
They also discussed the importance and responsibility of bringing others along. “I think sometimes we’re so busy looking for our own mentors, looking for our own sponsors, we forget we can be mentors,” Menendez reminded the group. “Find someone who needs that investment; invest in her.”
With the summit’s final interview, JP moms shifted from the workplace to the community with a core theme: Each woman must learn the histories of the systems at play in her life and her place in them before she can learn to fix them. 2019 JP alum and 2022 Alumni Fellow Ifrah Abdalla is a great example. Having witnessed and experienced inequitable systems in her community and the particular ways women encounter them when they survive domestic violence, Abdalla helped found two initiatives: Weaving Opportunities Vocalizing AntiRacist Narratives (WOVAN) and Rahma’s Refuge, a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence—and named for her mother. Abdalla led the closing interview with Mia Birdsong, family and community activist and author of How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship and Community.
“I don’t think we can underestimate what it means for us, when we’re experiencing trauma, to be able to find shelter—literal and figurative shelter—with people who feel like they can be our kin,” Birdsong said in response to Abdalla’s work. “So I’m just really inspired by what you’re doing, and I’m just excited for what that’s going to mean for women in your community.”
The heart of both Abdalla’s and Birdsong’s work is the need for systemic change led by those most affected by those systems, and that’s exactly what they talked about. In the United States, a host of systems come together to keep women like JP moms—unpartnered, people of color, and disproportionately experiencing poverty—struggling every day, having to choose between their own growth and wellbeing or that of their children. But we have to be honest about the narratives that would have us believe otherwise.
“We end up telling the story that basically is like, ‘If you want to succeed, you have to work hard,’” Birdsong said. “And then for all the folks who struggle and don’t succeed, then they think that they’re the problem when, in fact, the problem is that we have all these systems set up as barriers to people succeeding.”
JP moms are necessarily writing new stories. Changing the old, harmful ones is crucial to changing the destructive systems they fuel. Birdsong encouraged the summit attendees to tell their stories to make the change that is sorely needed. “If you are called to it,” she said, “it is so important to be part of changing those systems and changing the narratives about who you and women like you are because you’re the best people to do that.”
Archana Patel closed the day with a reminder of what the JP movement is all about: “We know that the systems are broken, but we are not. We are more than enough, individually and collectively. And as moms, in particular, we are here to be the changemakers, not just for our children but for generations to come.”