Five Berkeley High School students were among 140 East Bay girls at a young women’s health conference convened Friday afternoon by State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, at Mills College in Oakland.
“It’s about giving young women a place to come together and learn from each other,” said Rose Thomas, a BHS sophomore who worked with Aroner’s office to plan the event.
The attendees, drawn from middle schools and high schools in Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, Albany and Emeryville, heard from several local speakers, watched a performance by hip-hop artist Mystic and attended workshops on body image, addiction and leadership, among other topics.
Aroner said she staged the event to give young women a safe space to talk about their bodies and an opportunity to speak up about the issues that affect their day-to-day lives.
“We cannot talk about young people without having them in the room,” she said.
Aroner said she picked up on at least one pressing issue in the course of the day’s discussions: young people need easier access to mentors.
Participants said they appreciated hearing from speakers who had personal experience with issues like addiction or teen pregnancy.
“It’s not easy being a mother at a young age,” said De’onna Barconey, an Oakland middle school student, describing the lesson she learned from a workshop entitled “Young Women, Young Mothers.”
Thomas, who observed an addiction workshop, said recovering addicts had a strong impact on the students who attended the session.
Alameda County Juvenile Court Commissioner Trina Stanley, D-Oakland, spoke to the young women about her own experiences as a child, living with various family members and spending time in a foster home. She told the girls to remain resilient – as teenagers and adults.
“Maybe you don’t have the perfect hair and the perfect outfit – those are short-term experiences,” she said. “But they can prepare you for the long term, for other isolating experiences.”
Stanley, in a message echoed by other speakers, told the girls to remain true to themselves and their own values. That message appeared to stick.
“It’s up to us to make our own decisions,” said Oralia Toris, a student at Oakland High School, describing the theme of the day.