The Madison Metropolitan Chapter of The Links, Incorporated Annual “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” Middle School Girls Conference is a day of empowerment and encouragement for Madison’s African-American middle school girls. This year, it will be held on Tuesday, March 12, at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Madison’s south side.

“This will be our 10th annual conference. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years already. It kinda snuck up on us,” says Camille Carter, chair of the Services to Youth Facet Committee for The Links.

Camille Carter

The “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” Middle School Girls Conference is a day of engagement, learning and networking for middle school girls from schools throughout the Madison area.

“Every year, the Madison Metropolitan Chapter of The Links puts on this conference for middle school girls across the Madison Metropolitan School District,” Carter tells Madison365. “This year, the schools are selecting 8 girls (from 12 schools). In the past it has been seven girls; so we are growing. We bring them out of their school and into our conference for a day of motivational speaking and enriching workshops and fellowship with one another.”

The Madison Metropolitan Chapter of The Links, Incorporated – or just simply “The Links” works with partners in the community to close the achievement gap and prepare local youth for the global workforce as healthy citizens, as well as expand and support Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education and promote the integration of the arts in schools.

The topics covered at their annual “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” conference range from STEM, wellness and body image, mental health, anti-bullying to academic excellence.

“Our conference this year takes a holistic approach, focused on body and mind, and will prove to leave the girls with gems of information that they can practically apply in their lives,” says Julia Holman, president of the Madison Links, in a statement.

Internationally, The Links, Incorporated, is comprised of approximately 15,000 women of color from all walks of life and age brackets, who share a common and genuine vision of friendship and service. The Madison 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.

Madison Metropolitan Chapter of the Links, Inc.

This year’s conference will feature keynote speaker Gail Ford, a Precollege Assistant Director for the UW-Madison’s PEOPLE Program.

Gail Ford

“Gail has spoken on the potential for education to break the cycle of generational poverty. We’ve had her as a facilitator workshop presenter in the past and this year’s she’s coming back to be our keynote speaker,” Carter says. “So, she is back by popular demand and we are excited to have her.

“In addition to the keynote, we will have workshops covering topics like anti-bullying, financial enrichment, mental health and conflict resolution and academic success,” Carter adds.

Middle school can be a very difficult age and that’s what makes this conference so important.

“Reaching this age group is so very important. We like to work with the same cohort of girls year after year so we get to know them and we can develop a relationship with them,” Carter says. ” Last year, we graduated our eighth-grade girls so this year we’re starting fresh and new with a subset of sixth graders.

Dr. Jasmine Zapata with young women at a previous Links’ “Yes, I Can” Conference.

“The transition to middle school is very important for these young ladies because peer groups become very important and bullying and all types of emotions come into play around this age group so we have identified that working with middle schoolers, we can have more impact on really making a change and a difference in the social skills and academic projections in many of these girls,” she adds. “That’s why we’re really wanting to work hands-on with this age group.”

The “Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will!” conference is supported through a grant from the Madison South Rotary Foundation.

“I really enjoy watching the girls at this conference. They are so excited when they hear the speakers and they realize that this is a conference for them with their hobbies and their interests in mind,” Carter says. “It really is a pleasure to see how appreciative they are that someone additionally cares about their success. That’s what I love.”