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More 60 Black girls representing 12 Madison middle schools gathered together on Monday to celebrate their Black girl magic, exploring who they are and who they can be.

The Madison Links held their ninth annual conference for middle school girls, with this year’s theme being “Yes I Can! Yes I Will!”

“Overall this year’s conference is about focusing on the key areas of self-motivation, academic achievement and positive body images,” event chair Camille Carter told Madison365.

In order to drive that focus Carter and the Madison Links focused on bringing game-changing women of their fields to workshop with participants.

Angela Byars Winston, professor in the UW Department of Medicine, kicked off the conference with a keynote titled “African-American Girls Succeeding: Supporting and Living Wakanda.”

The “Black Panther” themed speech spoke on the importance and power of understanding self.

T’Challa, the main protagonist in the billion-dollar Marvel film, is strong because “he knows who he is,” Byars-Winston told the audience.

Though her talk used the fictional world of Wakanda, Byars-Winston drew from her own very real experiences as a trained psychologist working with young women and girls struggling with eating disorders.

“Most of the time I spent working as a therapist with young ladies was around a profound sense of emptiness,” she said. “We spent a lot of time trying to fill in the blanks of I am, who am I, who do I want to be?”

She left each girl with a declaration of “I am” statements to use as motivation moving forward.

“You are a generation of changemakers,” she told them.

The conference continued with four workshops exploring self actualization through high school preparation, careers in STEMM and social issues.

Memorial High School Multicultural Services Coordinator, JoAnne Brown, continued the Wakanadan-inspired lesson on self-discovery in her workshop, “Using the Black Girl Magic Within You!”

“There was a question that kept being asked in Black Panther,” Brown said during her workshop. “The question was who are you.”

Brown had participants fill out worksheets and share with one another who they are and who they will be.

Girls shared aspirations of studying health sciences, playing basketball and being the first in their families to go to college.

“Before you do anything you must ask yourself, who you are,” Brown said.

Other workshops focused on elements that can be found in “Black Panther,” like a computer science session lead by Dr. Tracy Lewis-Williams, associate professor at UW and the first African American women to earn a doctorate in Computer Science from Virginia Tech.

Lewis-Williams’ taught participants basic coding skill, claiming she got into computer science because she was “bossy” and liked being able to tell the computer what to do.

A workshop lead by local author Julia Saffold explored the power of inner qualities and barriers to self-confidence, while members of the Madison Links talked to girls about the mental effects of bullying a few doors down.

“We really looked for trailblazing women who could transfer the message of positive body image and success,” Carter said.

Written by Jordan Gaines

Jordan Gaines

Jordan Gaines is a cultural critic and Madison365 contributor.

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