Thursday, March 12th, I had the pleasure of attending Voyages Prep HS’s women’s day luncheon. I was invited by Leah Williams, who I met at a women’s empowerment brunch the Saturday before.
Voyages Prep HS is a transfer HS in Elmhurst, Queens. The population is over-aged and under-credited students who failed at the traditional high school setting. In an effort to lift the spirit of their girls, some of who are single mothers and live in low-income communities, they are had their first ever Women’s Day to inspire the girls and show them that through hard work and determination they can succeed at being strong and beautiful contributors to today’s global society.
Upon arriving to the school and into the space set for the event, I was greeted by wonderful ladies and students as they continued to complete the set up for the day. This was a day not only to empower the ladies, but to make them feel good. There were beautiful tables set up for the girls.
To start the day off, Leah, who is on the advisory board of the young women’s group did her greetings and introductions. There were of course the girls who currently attend the school, along with returning students (one who graduated as the valedictorian and recently received her associates degree, and on her way to her bachelors.), teachers, other advisors, school safety, and the guest speaker Tiana Von Johnson. Once the ladies came in, signed in, received a lovely bag, and sat attentively, it was time to eat and mingle before moving further.
After the food was served and the ladies had a chance to talk to one another, Leah returned to introduce the speaker of the day.
Tiana Von Johnson started by sharing her story with the girls. She shared her successes with them. She grew up in a broken home in the Bronx. However, she had a different mindset. She never wanted to follow the crowd, rather go down her own path. She learned how to be her own boss from a very young age. She went to work with her father every Saturday while most of the other kids were outside playing. She learned how to save the $10 she made every week, and it taught her valuable lessons. And the same followed her for the rest of her life. And because of this, she was determined to go to school.
She received her Bachelors degree by the age of 20, Masters by the age of 21; and by the age of 25, she was making $70,000 a year. She was grateful for her accomplishments, but she wasn’t fulfilled. She wasn’t passionate about the work she did.
Tiana then went on to ask the girls what they were passionate about. Allowing them to speak on their goals and what they eventually wanted. She then went on with her story, letting the girls know that she became a millionaire by the age of 30. She wanted to go back to school to receive her PHD, but was told she was too young. So she continued to work and reapplied at the age of 37, and she was accepted. She wanted to show the girls how she continued to work and make things happen for herself.
When she reached $100,000 a year in her career, she decided to quit her job. She wasn’t fulfilled. She enjoyed the money, but wanted to do what she was passionate about. She did all of this while being a single mother of 2. She then became a producer she was her own boss. And because she was her own boss, she had to separate herself. To focus, sometimes you will have to separate yourself. And this is something she wanted to get across to the girls. It’s important to know when to separate yourself in order to reach your goals. She’s been through some things, as many of the girls have, but she was determined to reach a certain level of success.
After she spoke for a while, she showed a video which displayed her many accomplishments and success. She was the first young African American female broker on Wall Street. But she was focused and determined. She’s doing it big now because she was determined enough to quit her job and do what she loved.
Tiana then made it a little more interactive for the girls. She asked them to share what they aspire to do. Which allowed them to declare some of their goals and aspirations, and put it into the atmosphere. They were also asked if they had a game plan. Which led to one of the worksheets set out for them. It was called Envisioning the Life You Want. Which helped the girls to see exactly where they wanted to be in life. Not just thinking about it, but actually visualizing it.
The next activity was where Tiana asked everyone to close their eyes and think about the person they loved. After some time, she allowed the girls to share. Many of them mentioned their mother or their children. But none of them mentioned themselves. Which says a lot. She wanted them to get to a place where they loved themselves enough to pursue their dreams.
Then they used the following sheet to draw or write out the things they wanted into the box created for them. Many of the girls drew money, houses, and he businesses they hoped to open one day.
Tiana then opened the floor for questions, where she was able to further encourage the girls. Below are a few of her answers:
- I was able to reach my goals being a single mother because of my work ethic. I was driven.
- Time management was big for me. I encourage you all to invest in a journal. Write your goals for the week, month, and year. This is how you stay organized.
- People will try to take advantage of you when you’re in a situation like this. When you grow and become a brand, you have to protect your assists.
- After you realize your passion, you may have to reach out to others to push you along the way. I reached out to my pastor and educators.
- I was able to keep pushing when I saw my vision but faced opposition because I was reminded of my past. Every time I found myself in a position where I wanted to quit, I remembered the place I didn’t want to return to.
Below are a few nuggets she was able to leave with the girls:
- Push when no one believes in you.
- From this point on think about whether it contaminate me or contribute to my growth.
- Shift your mindset for what’s good for you.
- Don’t demand respect, command respect. You want your presence felt. Marking your territory. Focusing on what you have to do for you.
- Invest in yourself.
- You have to have the will to win.
- Prioritize relationships.
It was amazing to be able to see these young girls have an opportunity to experience a day of encouragement and empowerment at a young age. These are the types of events I attend as an adult, so it’s great to start early. They were given tools that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Tools that will help them pursue their dreams. And to see the excitement was great. I over heard a conversation where a young girl was recording and when asked, she said “yes, I’m recording. I want to be a millionaire!” This event will be life changing for them. Special thanks to Leah Ross-Williams for he invite.
(Leah Ross-Williams and Miss Jones)
(Miss Jones & Tiana Von Johnson)