The atmosphere was electric as more than 395 young girls and women were inspired and empowered to take control of their mental, physical, and spiritual health at the 12th Annual “Saving Our Sisters” Conference in Wilmington, Delaware. In observance of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Bethel AME Church and the Beautiful Gate Outreach Center (BGOC) hosted the “girls only” day-long conference at the Downtown Wilmington Doubletree Hotel. This year’s theme was “Rise Sister Rise!” and each participant between the ages of eight and 17 were addressed as “princesses” and those 18 years of age and older were called “queens” as they entered the conference hall.
Using their creativity, Queens and Princesses created their own name tags, before visiting the photo booth, having breakfast, obtaining health screenings and learning about health information and resources specific to women and girls. There was time for shopping in the “Rising Sister” Parkway as vendors shared their clothing, jewelry, and other specialty items. Throughout the day, the standing room only crowd was treated to empowering messages by guest celebrity speakers TV Judge Karen Mills-Francis and America’s Got Talent top performer Megan Piphus. Other speakers for the day included: Reverend Christina Dennis; Delaware Division of Public Health Director, Dr. Karyl Rattay; Bethel’s First Lady Renée P. Beaman, RN; and Tangy Major of “Tangy’s Song” (BET HIV Documentary Award Winner). Workshops for the day covered the following topics: HIV prevention, and treatment; mental health, self-esteem building and positive relationship development. The 2017 conference ended with a fashion show with former Channel 6 ABC news reporter, Lauren Wilson, serving as Mistress of Ceremonies featuring mothers, grandmothers and their daughters as well as a four-generational family of women leading us in a pledge to rise and make good decisions as women and girls.
One Queen inspired by the day’s workshops and information said to First Lady Beaman, “Thank you for providing a day that kept us engaged, and uplifted while making us aware of important information about HIV/AIDS and other issues impacting young girls and women.”
Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Silvester Beaman, Bethel AME and the Beautiful Gate Outreach Center were selected 12 years ago as one of six northeast HIV Community based organizations asked to roll out the “first” National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10th to the Delaware community. This first event consisted of a noon luncheon for female leaders (faith based, elected, and or corporate). This event was so successful and generated community interest in the rising incidence of HIV among women and girls, but it was held on a school day which eliminated the participation of girls. BGOC then created an opportunity specifically for girls to educate them about HIV prevention, treatment and testing resources. The response to each event was overwhelming and prompted the team to annually host a day conference for young girls and women focusing on HIV education, treatment, self-empowerment, and relationship building. Over the past years, Saving Our Sisters Conference speakers have included Keisha Knight-Pulliam, Rolanda Watts, Jasmine Guy, Cassie Davis, Dr. Pernessa Seele, Vanessa Williams and many others. The team is already planning next year’s conference scheduled for March 10, 2018.