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Girlz Talk empowers, enriches local youth for college, life

Artist Shannon Young gives a make-up demonstration to

Artist Shannon Young gives a make-up demonstration to Tasheanna Wilson, 12. Young was one of about 400 girls from the area to attend the Girlz Talk Conference at Hofstra Universityon Saturday. Credit: Howard Simmons

About 400 girls came to Hofstra University on Saturday for the seventh annual Girlz Talk Conference, an event aimed at empowering, educating and setting up young women for success.

Middle school and high school students from across Long Island attended workshops on topics that ranged from healthy eating to the college application process. They also had the chance to engage in candid conversation with professional women who gave tips on career planning and spoke about some of the challenges they have faced.

“The goal is for girls to see the excellence that is around all of us and be inspired,” said Jacqueline Harris, the program direct of the youth empowerment series. “We try to find leaders to come and share their stories to show these young women that they can do anything they want and that they have a support system.”

The event, which is sponsored by the Freeport-based Cedarmore Corporation, began as a pet project for Cynthia Perkins-Roberts, a television executive who died in January. Perkins-Roberts of Westbury had two daughters who she would bring with her to youth empowerment seminars in  the city and decided that there was a need for something similar in Nassau County, her husband, Jeffery Roberts said.

“She did it as a way to give back, and although she’s now passed, this was her dream and it continues on,” Roberts said.

The event also included a panel discussion on women in media, featuring News 12 reporter Averi Harper, a radio host and current and former Newsday reporters who talked about media portrayals of women of color and the struggle to include more diversity in their coverage. 

There were also seminars on entrepreneurship, how to responsibly use social media and on financial literacy called #MakingMoneyMoves, which introduced the teens to investing and saving for retirement.

Elvira Taku, a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, sat in on a discussion about the college experience given by members of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. Taku wants to study medicine and said she found the advice given by the sorority members helpful as she decides on a college. 

"I've been to [this event] every year since I was in the sixth grade, and every year they get better," said Taku, 16.

Cheryl Wills, an anchor on NY1 and author, was the keynote speaker Saturday. Wills told the story of her great-great-great grandmother, Emma Wills, a former slave who, although illiterate, fought to receive a pension to support herself and her nine children after her husband’s death.

“I am determined to let these students know that you come from people who were banned from schools, like my family,” Wills said. “I don’t want them to take these precious gifts of education for granted.”

Near the end of her talk, Wills invited Nathalia Montero, 12, onto the stage and gave her a signed copy of one of her books, "The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills." Montero said she was moved by Wills’ story and cried as she gave the NY1 anchor a hug.

“It was really powerful to hear her talk about her grandmother and everything she did to help her family,” Montero said.

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