About 60 African-American middle school girls from throughout the Madison area will come together at Fountain of Life Church on Madison’s south side on Monday, March 12, as the Madison Metropolitan Chapter of The Links, Incorporated will host its annual “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” Conference to promote healthy lifestyles options. It’s a day of empowerment and encouragement for Madison’s African-American middle school girls.

“We started this conference back in 2007. It’s always been focused on middle school girls and we’re always looking for more and more collaborators to expand our reach into the high school level,” Camille Carter, Chair of the Services to Youth Facet Committee for the Madison Links, tells Madison365. “We’re really trying to grow the event.”

Camille Carter

The “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” Middle School Girls Conference will emphasize the importance of academic achievement, promote STEM careers and engage participants in techniques for building self-esteem and addressing bullying.

“For the event, we bring in four to five presenters and a keynote,” Carter says. “We typically bring in community leaders to share stories on motivation and academic excellence for the girls. We talk about age-appropriate issues that the young ladies are experiencing like positive body imaging and bullying.”

Last year’s “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” event featured small group sessions with themes like “Anti-Bullying: Be An Upstander,” “Discovering Your Hidden Potential – Film Clips/Hidden Figures” “Conflict Resolution: Mind, Spirit, and Body,” and “Academic Achievement in Middle School and Beyond.” Some of the girls at the event got to serve on panels and talk about their own experiences.

“There’s always a very strong reception from the girls who need to discuss these issues and are excited to have a platform to really focus on it,” Carter says. “It’s always been great feedback from the girls.”

The Links, Incorporated, founded in 1946, is one of the oldest and largest of predominately African-American, not-for-profit, service organizations in the nation with a membership of more than 12,000 professional women in 274 chapters located in 42 states. The Madison Metropolitan Chapter of The Links, Incorporated – or just simply “The Links” – has been serving the Madison community and supporting Madison’s African-American students for 33 years. The “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will” conference is one of their signature events.

The Madison chapter of The Links, Inc.

“The conference should prove to be an enriching experience for our attendees as they will have the opportunity to interface with exceptionally talented women in our community who have a vested interest in their success and who want to eventually see them as strong contributors in society,” says Julia Holman, president of the Madison Links.

This year’s “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” conference will feature keynote speaker, Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, who is a professor in the University of Wisconsin Department of Medicine’s Division of General Internal Medicine.

Angela Byars-Winston

“We are very excited to have Angela keynoting. We can’t underestimate the power of exposing these young minds to highly accomplished women like Dr. Byars-Winston, who became the first black tenure-track, full-professor in the UW-Madison Department of Medicine in September of 2017,” Carter says. “She has an impressive story to tell. Her daughter, who is also a middle-schooler, will be attending the conference, so that will be exciting on multiple levels.”

In the past, Carter has been a facilitator and presenter at the conference. It’s been an interesting transition for her to organize the “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” conference this year.

“The organizing of the event is always a challenge. There is so much involved in that,” she says. “But I have really enjoyed being a spectator and also a facilitator at this event in the past. I’ve facilitated financial literacy at a couple of our leadership conferences and those are always very rewarding because you really get a chance to directly connect with the girls at the workshops. So, I do miss that.”

Dr. Jasmine Zapata with young women at last year’s Links’ “Yes, I Can” Conference.

The “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” conference is supported through a grant from the Madison South Rotary Foundation and a partnership with MMSD. In addition to the keynote by Dr. Byars-Winston, the girls will participate in four workshops and general sessions that allow them to share their insight on a variety of topics.

It’s a chance for girls across the city to hang out with friends but also with a lot of girls they haven’t met before.

“We invited all 12 of the middle schools [in Madison] to send 7 girls so they really get a chance to cross-network across their peer group throughout this city from other middle schools,” Carter says.

“It’s a space for girls. We want to spark their curiosity. We want them to believe that they can be great and be high achievers,” adds Carter.