Damini Awoyiga is one of four winners of a 2019 writing contest for young women hosted by The Philanthropist and the Girls Conference.
When I first arrived at the Alexa McDonough Institute (AMI) Girls Conference I noticed several groups of girls and women, but the group that really stood out to me were the women in the military. I was really fascinated by them because I am interested in joining the military when I grow up. I was also amazed to see that I wasn’t the only person of African descent at the conference.
After I registered, I was anxious to see if any of my friends would be at the conference. When I walked into the room I spotted my friends Zoe and Camilla sitting at a table, so I went and joined them and we all started talking about school and the upcoming conference. There was a positive energy in the room because there was music playing and girls were laughing and talking around the room.
The event started with an acknowledgement of the Indigenous people’s land. This symbolizes an act of reconciliation. I like how Canada is trying to make amends with Indigenous people. We acknowledge the Indigenous people’s land at my school too.
The keynote speaker was Mam-Mary Yassin from Starfish International. She came all the way from The Gambia to speak to us about how we can change the world. I wrote down a lot of her quotes, for example “the sky is not the limit.” This quote makes me feel like I can go past the barriers that are set for me.
I went to four workshops at the conference. The two that really resonated with me were “word, voice, power” and “feminism and radical body positivity.” At the former, facilitated by Halifax-based poet and activist El Jones, we wrote about things we love, and things we have accomplished and overcome. This workshop inspired me to start writing spoken word poems.
A few weeks before the conference I had been practicing a spoken word poem called “Black Girl Fly,” by another poet known as Funmilola Fagbamila. I asked El Jones if I could present my spoken word to the audience and she said yes. When I got on stage in front of more than 350 people, I was very nervous and every part of my body was shaking. As I started to read the poem, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I felt like I was walking on air when I finished presenting the poem.
I really liked it when Sophie Trudeau and Governor General Julie Payette talked to us from a pre-recorded video about things we can do to change the world, but I wish they could have been in the auditorium with us, live.
At the conference, I think I improved my confidence when I went up on stage and presented my spoken word in front of the audience. I think I already have lots of confidence because I sing at my school’s talent shows. This has given me a lot of experience standing and presenting in front of people.
The conference inspired me to want to take on more leadership roles in my school and community. At my school, I am one of the senior Playground Activity Leaders (PALS). PALS is a group of boys and girls that are chosen to help out at Excel (an after school program). I had to apply by writing an essay and getting my teacher’s signature.
I am also a leader at my parent’s youth group known as Generation 1 Leadership Initiative (G1LI). This is a support and educational group for kids of African descent. At G1LI we learn about science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). I always take a leadership role in group activities by coaching the younger kids. For G1LI’s 2019 family dance event, I organized a face painting booth for young children. G1LI is also a place for kids to connect and express themselves.
I like to make cards for my friends and people on my street, I also bake for formal events like parties, potlucks, and get-togethers. I love to see my friends and community members smile.
I would highly recommend this conference to any other girl because it was fun, interactive, inspiring, and I learned a lot. I would definitely like to come back next year.