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Students follow along as Keena Atkinson, WERQ instructor, leads the group in a fitness dance during the Black Girl Magic: Loving the Magic in You conference at the Goodman Community Center in Madison in 2018.

More than 400 black girls from Madison schools will get a chance to connect with each other and black women leaders from the community on Friday at the second annual Black Girl Magic Conference. 

The conference, set to take place at Madison College's Truax Campus, is much larger than the inaugural event that hosted 100 fourth-through-seventh-grade students in 2018.

Rosa Thompson, a Hawthorne Elementary School teacher who founded the conference and organized this year's event with 10 other committee members, said the schedule includes a variety of breakout sessions and presentations focusing on a range of topics from fitness and hair to architecture and coding. 

Thompson, who runs a program called Natural Circles of Support for students at Hawthorne, got the idea to start a conference after hearing people at a seminar for Natural Circles of Support float the possibility of having one in the Racine Unified School District. 

Natural Circles of Support helps schools address racial disparities with programs that focus on and promote the successes and strengths of black students and other students of color.

Last year's conference only included students who were in Natural Circles of Support at their schools.

"After that, I got a lot of interest from people saying 'We wished we would have known about this so we could be a part of it,' so this year I decided I was going to open it up to anyone in MMSD who identified as black or African-American or multiracial," Thompson said. 

Some of the sessions will be similar to last year's conference and are back by popular demand, such as fitness instructor Keena Atkinson's WERQ class, a hip-hop cardio workout class. 

Twelve of the 13 breakout sessions will be led by black women. One session will be led by American Family Insurance that will focus on dreaming big. 

"I wanted to give (the students) an opportunity to be surrounded by powerful black women in our community," Thompson said of the conference's speakers. "A lot of times they don't get to hear or see what these women are doing. There are people we can aspire to be in our community. You don't need to look only to extremely famous people. We have black girl excellence goals right here in our communities."

Thompson graduated from Madison schools before attending college at Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college. She said it was the first time in her life she was in spaces surrounded by people who looked like her and had teachers who looked like her.

"The curriculum was so focused on the education of African-American students and it was definitely life-changing," she said.

"I wanted my girls to experience something like that," Thompson said. "You don't have to graduate high school and go to an HBCU to have, even if it's just for a day, to have something tailored to black girls and introduce them to a variety of interests and let them know that being a black girl isn't just one thing. You can have a variety of interests and act in a variety of different ways and talk in a variety of different ways and still be a black girl."

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Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.