Local female leaders came together during Women’s History month at the fourth annual Memphis Women’s Summit at the University of Memphis University Center to discuss the future of women in Memphis.
The Junior League of Memphis sponsored the event to inspire women to become active in their communities and succeed professionally.
“It’s all about reaching out in the community and helping others,” said Dominique Dawes, the keynote speaker and Olympic gold medalist. “Once you get outside your comfort zone, you realize how comfortable you really are.”
The Junior League of Memphis strives to encourage women to be active and leading figures in their communities and views women as “catalysts for lasting change in the Mid-South.”
The event boasted several seminars for the approximately 350 attendees about career, finance, self care and leadership.
The seminars were taught by local female leaders including Kontji Anthony, a co-anchor at WMC Action News 5, Alexandra Matlock, the CEO of ContigoCreative, and Heather Hunt, the director at NEXUS Leaders.
Discussions at the seminars included financial security, stress and health management, becoming a leader both professionally and in the community and knowing when to listen and learn.
The most anticipated event was the keynote speech from Dawes.
Dawes went to her first Olympics at the age of 15 and won her first gold medal at 19. She came from what she called “not the kindest environment” and put all her energy into being an Olympic gymnast.
Although she struggled with her familial situation, she did not let her upbringing hinder her.
“Perspective is key,” Dawes said, “You need to start your day in the right perspective — grateful for your gifts.”
Dawes shared the obstacles she had overcome, particularly the judges who didn’t like the way she looked. Because she was born bow-legged and black, Dawes said she faced criticism based on her appearance.
“My caucasian coach fought for me tooth and nail to make sure that the judges treated me the same as everyone else,” Dawes said.
Her coach pushed for Dawes to go beyond her limits, because there were people who were trying to keep her off the team, and only Dawes could put herself on the team.
Dawes’ speech showcased the importance of realizing one’s own character and reaching out for help because no person is perfect.
Dawes has shared her story of empowerment for women and people of color in many different groups, but being a devoted mother has cut into her ability to travel.
“I am a stay-at-home mom of four, so I’m not on the road like I used to be,” Dawes said, “But (the Junior League of Memphis) reached out to the speaker’s bureau and thought that I would be a very good fit, and I feel very blessed.”
Dawes ended her speech by telling the audience how to fail. To fail, one must strive for perfection, compare oneself to others, rely solely on oneself and be inflexible.
“It is so easy to let obstacles stop you and get you stuck,” Dawes said. “I think it’s good to take some time, step back and say, ‘Hey, what kind of lesson or benefit can I gain form this?’”
The lesson Dawes tries to teach is a simple one — don’t be too big to ask for help and have good people around you when you need to ask for help.
“Don’t try to be someone else,” Dawes said, “Embrace your strengths and don’t make excuses. Now, as a mom, it is about focusing on how I can be a good role model for my kids at home. For me, as a mom, to get my kids to do it, I have to do it, stoo.