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Sunday, April 14, 2024

UC Berkeley hosts 38th annual Empowering Womxn of Color Conference

The conference celebrates womxn’s history in a way that is inclusive and creates space for future generations of womxn to flourish

 

By DANIELA DULA MEJIA — features@theaggie.org

 

On Saturday, March 11, UC Berkeley hosted its 38th annual Empowering Womxn of Color Conference (EWOCC). Since its founding, the conference has been run by womxn of color, for womxn of color. According to its website, the EWOOC uses the term “womxn” to include “all who experience life through the lens of womxn in body, spirit, identity past, present, future and fluid.” 

EWOCC has become a well-established tradition and it is the longest-running conference of its kind in the nation, according to its website. In previous years, the conference has hosted many civil rights activists as keynote speakers, including Angela Davis and Eline Brown. 

Elena Ojeda, an EWOCC co-coordinator, started attending the conference in 2021 when she was looking for a community that reflected her own identity. 

“It’s a great space to meet people, and it’s great to meet friends,” Ojeda said. “It’s a very welcoming space, and the topics and workshops were all great, and it just gives you something to talk about with someone who you might not know.”

This year’s conference took place at UC Berkeley’s International House with the theme “Flourish: Nourishing Ecosystems of Joy.” Opened its doors to attendees at 8 a.m. on March 11 marked the event’s return to a fully in-person conference after the COVID-19 pandemic. As visitors trickled into the auditorium, they were welcomed with live music from local performers, including an indigenous healing drum circle with the Wakan Wiya Two Spirit Drum group

After the morning celebration, attendees participated in workshops that focused on themes of joy, healing and economic success. 

Giselle De Santiago, a third-year English major at UC Davis, attended the conference as a volunteer and participated in the workshop “Nourish the Seeds of Intimacy” with Facilitator Dominique Cowling, a mindfulness practitioner who focuses on “empowerment and self-determination of populations made vulnerable to violence and oppression,” according to her website

“The Empowering Womxn of Color Conference was something that helped me spiritually grow,” De Santiago said. “Through one of the workshops I was able to practice visualization and being okay with silence and being okay with vulnerability with people who I honestly didn’t know.” 

De Santiago said it was nice to be in a space where everyone “understood that most of the time, our space is taken up by other people, and this was our time to reclaim it.”

In the afternoon, there was a keynote presentation from Taína Asili, a New York-based Puerto Rican singer, speaker, filmmaker and activist. Asili interacted with audience members as she described how she uses music as a tool to resist oppression and fill people with joy.

“My parents — and also punk rock — taught me to imagine the world I wish to see despite the boundaries, limitations and discriminations before me,” Asili said in her presentation, “to envision that other world of liberation, that ecosystem of joy, and move towards it through music and art as my vehicle.” 

Oluwaseun Adegbite, an EWOCC co-coordinator, said Asili’s speech was well received by the event staff. 

We felt like [Asili] really encompassed our theme […] transmuting all the issues that we face and transmuting into something that you can enjoy and that uplifts you and makes you happy,” Adegbite said. 

Asili created an engaging and fun atmosphere with attendees by asking them questions and passing out notecards so the group could compose a song together. Attendees shared some of their favorite liberation songs and sang as a group. 

The conference concluded with a panel Q&A with local community leaders and healers about how attendees can cultivate and maintain joy for themselves. One of the panelists, Nakia Woods, spoke about her experience as a Black former student at UC Berkeley. She said Black students were often policed for expressing joy at public events on campus. 

“It’s not really safe for women of color to experience joy in public,” said Alex Badaoui, the panel coordinator for the EWOCC. “I think that there [are] not a lot of spaces to be vulnerable either. And we created that space to do it together.”

Woods and other panelists reminded attendees that everyone should still experience joy freely, even in the face of adversity. 

“We have to be the example of how we want to see others interact and create community and let that feeling linger with individuals so they can spread it throughout others in their lives and in their network,” Badaoui said.

The conference was an opportunity for women of color to learn from community leaders who have shared experiences and benefited from the spaces created. Each year, EWOCC continues to create a space that welcomes returning community members, like Ojeda, and draws in new attendees, like De Santiago. 

“It taught me a lot, and I’m really excited to go back next year,” De Santiago said. 

Written by: Daniela Dula Mejia — features@theaggie.org