Hawthorne Elementary School student Heaven Thomas wants to be a dance teacher. Her classmate wants to be a surgeon or a therapist. They have big dreams, and credit going to the Black Girl Magic conference for the second straight year as a step to reach those dreams.
More than 400 girls who identify as black, African American or biracial connected with and heard from black women leaders at the second annual Black Girl Magic Conference Friday at Madison College.
The conference included more than a dozen breakout sessions that focused on a variety of topics, such as medicine and nursing to hair and fitness.
The event aims to provide a space for young black girls in Madison to connect with each other, as well as leaders in the Madison community they can aspire to become.
"I liked being able to be in a room full of people that's my color because it makes me feel like I'm important and that I'm not the only one who is that race or that color," said Koriyanna Fitzpatrick, a fifth-grade student at Hawthorne and classmate of Heaven's. She's also the one who wants to be a surgeon or therapist.
"All my teachers and family members tell me I'm good at speaking to people and solving problems for them and solving problems by myself," Koriyanna said.
Rosa Thompson, a teacher at Hawthorne who is the founder and organizer of the Black Girl Magic Conference, said the event provides spaces for girls to experience excellence in their own communities.
"This conference is important to me because I wanted to highlight black excellence in our community and create a space where our girls can come together, be together, celebrate each other and have a place that's unique to them and have a celebration of who they are," Thompson said.
The conference also included guest speakers such as Dr. Jasmine Zapata, a pediatrician at UW Health who is also an author and motivational speaker. Zapata's opening remarks focused on overcoming adversity by leaning into the ideals of Black Girl Magic, including confidence and resiliency.
"There's a whole community and village out there that is just for you," Nancy Hanks, the Madison School District's chief of elementary schools said in remarks to students. "You are not alone. Just look around and you can see that ... we are rooting for you and there are so many people here and in MMSD and the city that are rooting for you."
Students also had a chance to meet TeKema Balentine, the 2019 Miss Black Wisconsin. Balentine, who also is a coach for the East High School track & field team, said it's important to have mentors who look like one's self.
Their important place in the community is key message for the girls, Thompson said.
"I hope girls take away a sense of pride in who they are and a sense of belonging, a sense of support," Thompson said. "There's all these black women and girls in our community that support them and their dreams."
The inaugural conference in 2018 had about 100 participants, while 2019 featured four times the original size of the conference. Thompson said registration filled up in just three days. She noted that her goal for future years, if she's able to find sponsors, is to have the event include any black or biracial girl in MMSD who wants to attend.
"If I could tell these fourth- through seventh-grade girls something, it would be that whatever they're going through, they'll get through," Thompson said. "These are some tough years and fourth- through seventh-grade is hard. They're trying to figure out who they are, what their friend groups are and their social relationships and they'll get through it, and if they need somebody, they have so many people here that they can reach out to."
For Koriyanna, there were plenty of lessons to learn from the Black Girl Magic Conference.
"Something that I learned was to believe in who you are," Koriyanna said. "It's important to believe in who you are and to not think what the person next to you thinks about you."
Heaven, the aspiring dance teacher, said she enjoyed getting to be at Madison College and meet new people in a fun environment. The breakout sessions included getting a chance to learn about famous and historically important black women like Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Misty Copeland and Shirley Chisholm.
"I want to be a teacher, but I also want to be a singer as well and think I'm going to make songs as I grow in my teenage years," Heaven said after attending a session called "The magic of hair." "Those are some of my dreams. I also want to be a speaker at the Black Girl Magic Conference."