Dr. Sagashus Levingston says that she is getting really excited about her Infamous Mothers’ Talkback Conference, an entirely virtual event called “Welcome to the Spaceship: Technology, Business and Love,” that will be held April 23-26. The inspiration for the event came from an Afrofuturism talk from the 2018 Infamous Mothers Talkback Conference.
“We call it ‘Welcome to the Spaceship’ because we understand that sometimes you have to leave a place and distance yourself from it so that you can feel safe and so you can think without the barriers and the baggage of more traditional spaces,” Levingston tells Madison365. “So ‘Welcome to the Spaceship’ is about this concept of leaving earth and leaving a lot of the oppressive things that we associate with being in more traditional spaces and establishing things on our own terms so that we can come back and implement some of those thoughts and be an agent of change.”
Infamous Mothers is the revolutionary movement that Levingston started to give a platform for marginalized African-American women to tell their amazing life stories. ‘Welcome to the Spaceship’ is a diversity, equity and inclusion conference that will center these women’s voices.
Levingston says that they chose technology, business, and love as conference themes because “infamous mothers” are often underrepresented in these areas. She laid out the vision for her conference on her webpage promoting the event like this:
It’s the year 2027 and Infamous Mothers is expanding the face of leadership across all industries. In public spaces, we are creating cutting-edge tech companies, curing diseases, changing policies, making social impact, employing hundreds of thousands of people AND helping to close the wage gap. In private, we’re breaking “generational curses,” experiencing the love of our dreams and parenting on our terms.
The Talk Back conference, she adds, “is a personal and professional development opportunity that centers the voices of women we call Infamous Mothers – women often spoken at, spoken to and spoken for but rarely invited to speak.”
Infamous Mothers held its first conference in February 2018 at the Marriott Hotel in Middleton and the attendance and response were amazing. Levingston was getting set to launch the second conference when the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States.
“We did all of this work to finally get this conference off the ground and we have been building for two years, and now it’s happening in the middle of COVID-19,” Levingston remembers. “I panicked a little bit, but then I prayed and pulled myself together and I realized that maybe the timing was perfect for this.”
Levingston made some adjustments to the conference and added a COVID-19 track.
“We asked people to pivot if they thought it made sense to pivot and we added a youth component because the youth are at home right now and there is concern about their mental health and there is concern about them being inspired,” she says.
Last summer, Levingston announced that she was launching Infamous Mothers 2.0, the next step in her movement that is focusing on media, technology and programming. “Welcome to the Spaceship” fits perfectly into the 2.0 mindset.
“We knew in 2018 after the [first Infamous Mothers Talkback] Conference that in order to make this conference more accessible to people that we were going to have to make it virtual,” she says.
“Instead of calling a hotel, [costing] $60,000 or $80,000 to host a conference in that space, why don’t we use a space that will be more equitable for all of us and meet us exactly where we were – in our kitchens, in our living rooms? We can care for our children while we’re getting this training. We want to be as flexible as possible,” Levingston adds.
“Welcome to the Spaceship” is a conference for women that Levingston calls IMpreneurs – infamous mothers who are entrepreneurs. It’s also for IMprofessionals.
Levingston says that many times in her own life she has been in the impossible position of having to choose between leaving her children to get the professional development she needs to take care of her children or staying with her children and then not ultimately getting the professional development which would help her improve the quality of life for her and her children. This virtual conference, she hopes, will eliminate those barriers.
“We wanted women to not have to choose in that same way,” she says. “So we asked ourselves: What would be something that would level the playing field for them and how can we make it high quality in the same way you would find at an in-person conference?”
In this space, women are invited to speak and “talk back” as workshops facilitators and keynote speakers.
“A lot of our speakers are mothers who are primary earners for their household,” Levingston says. “We can’t keep asking them to work for free. The radical idea that we have for this conference is that we will pay every single person that presents.”
Levingston is excited about the youth component that they will have for the conference.
“I’m really proud of this. We just ended up getting this collaboration with the ‘Black Excellence.’ Our goal is to get 150 youth at this event for the ‘Welcome to the Spaceship Youth Edition.’ We knew that we always wanted to add youth to the event, but we were so busy trying to get the adult stuff off the ground,” Levingston says.
The Infamous Mothers Talk Back 2020 conference is about reclaiming space in the areas of love, technology and business. So far, there are more than 43 sessions and 20 speakers.
“For us, we needed to create a space and place for people. We had a virtual conference space built out and customized for people,” Levingston says.
“In my ideal world, we would have 500 attendees. We keep adding sessions and speakers. It’s going to be big. It will be fun,” Levingston adds. “We are talking back to people who shape policy, influence the startup world, invest in companies, influence decisions in both the public and private sectors as well as academic institutions.”
The virtual conference keeps gaining momentum.
“Now that people are seeing it, I think they’re getting it. They are excited. They are signing on,” Levingston says. “For some people, it took a while. They were like, ‘what is a virtual conference?’
“We hope that people will get an escape. We hope that they will be inspired. We’re hoping that people will network and build community,” she adds. “We’re trying to get people to be future-minded and with that future in mind, think about what steps need to be taken to get us where we are trying to go.”
To register for “Welcome to the Spaceship: Technology, Business and Love,” click here.