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Girls seek opportunities at empowerment conference

By Vicky Nguyen

Contributing Writer

MONTEREY PARK — At 13, Genesis Holmes isn’t sure what she wants to be when she grows up.

She wants to become a singer, a brain surgeon or work in sports medicine.

Holmes was one of an estimated 400 girls ages 11-18 who attended the “I Matter” Girl Empowerment Conference Nov. 10 at East Los Angeles College.

The conference was designed to expose young women to post-secondary education opportunities and to create more female leaders in the community.

It wasn’t the first conference Holmes has attended as she seeks out mentors and stories from adult women.

“Closed mouths don’t get fed,” Holmes said. “If you don’t speak up, then how are you able to get solutions or some choices?

“I want to [hear] a lot of their stories. I’ve been through a lot, and I’m barely 13. Some adults sometimes forget how they were when they were teenagers. As they grow up, they either have children or work with children, but they don’t really go back in their mind and remember.”

The empowerment conference was put together by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. The Los Angeles Community College District, Cal State Northridge, Planned Parenthood and the Red Cross were among the organizations present at the conference.

Miguel Dueñas, associate dean of student services at East L.A. College, was pleased with the event, citing the diversity and the excited expressions of the girls he saw at the beginning of the conference.

“It was an amazing event. There was great presence of true leadership in the room,” Dueñas said.

Marianna Guzman, 17, has attended several girl empowerment conferences and said the conferences have taught her she can achieve her goals despite circumstances.

“You can be poor, you can have nothing or no one, but still get to do what you want to do,” Guzman said. “I’m not like the richest person, and I don’t get to do as much things as other people would be able to do. To me, it kind of shows that it’s fine that I’m at this point right now.”

Tiffiny Blacknell, a 15-year veteran of the Los Angeles County public defender’s office, was the keynote speaker. Blacknell discussed her journey to graduate from law school and to become a lawyer. In order to do so, she had to overcome not just being a child of the crack epidemic surrounded by drugs and gangs, but self-doubt and the doubt of others.

This is the fourth Girl Empowerment Conference sponsored by the Department of Parks and Recreation. The conference’s name, “I Matter” is in reference to the mantra Meliza Hernandez, recreation services manager for the department, started at the first conference in San Gabriel last year.

According to Hernandez, she started to chant “I Matter” as a response to ongoing themes of sexual violence and abuse she saw happening at the time.

The day included multiple speakers, workshops and a campus tour.