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Courage ignited

Women’s leadership conference creates student award, inspires attendees

By Memorial University

More than 450 people attended Memorial University’s second annual Reimagining Leadership conference on women’s leadership on March 2.

The full-day event at the St. John’s Convention Centre featured inspirational talks, music and networking.

With the theme of Portraits of Courage, attendees heard and shared stories of courage and inspiration.

“You decide what you do with your disappointment.” — Perdita Felicien

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Smart told her story of trauma recovery after being held captive as a child. Indigenous fashion designer, Sage Paul, shared her words of wisdom about bravery. World champion and Olympian, Perdita Felicien, spoke of reaching triumph through hardship.

“There will be moments that will bring you to your knees,” Ms. Felicien said, as she addressed the crowd with open arms. “There will be moments you are on top of the world and come down, but then you will go back up. You decide what you do with that pain. You decide what you do with your disappointment. It’s up to you.”

‘Some sort of place’

Sage Paul spoke about her upbringing, living in poverty.

Sage Paul wears all black and stands at a podium on a darkened stage.
Sage Paul
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

She told the audience that a sense of community and culture gave her a sense of belonging.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, a lot of us were living in poverty and trying to gain some sort of place in this world.”

Elizabeth Smart shared the horrific details of her abduction and being dragged into the wilderness of Utah as a child and shared insight on how she moved forward.

“It’s not what happens to you that defines who you are. Ultimately, you define who you are by the choices and decisions you make.”

Elizabeth Smart stands under a spotlight, speaking to an unseen audience. She is wearing a black blazer with a yellow shirt underneath. Her hair is red. She is half-smiling.
Elizabeth Smart addresses the audience at Reimagining Leadership: Portraits of Courage.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Musical inspiration and N.L.-themed panel

Throughout the day, attendees enjoyed music from award-winning performers.

Powerhouse vocalist Michelle Doyle (B.Mus.’98) began the day with a powerful performance of the Eurythmics’ “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” and ended the day with a soaring rendition of Miley Cyrus’, “The Climb.”

Canada’s first Inuk opera singer, Deantha Edmunds, performed “Avani” (Up North), which encouraged listeners to “reach to the ends of the earth, the top of the mountain calls for you to rise above, dawn to dusk, with faith and trust. Tutsiak, IssoKangitumut, katinngak! Avani!”

Newfoundland traditional trio, Flower Hill; Kelly McMichael, who was recently shortlisted for the Polaris Prize; classically trained flautist, Rozalind MacPhail; Canadian Folk Music Award and MusicNL-nominated Paige Penney; and Nigerian singer/songwriter, Ife Alaba, also performed.

Kelly McMichael stands at a microphone singing. She is also playing guitar. She is wearing a gray blazer. She has red, curly hair and wears glasses.
Kelly McMichael
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Moderated by Leila Beaudoin (BA’09), a panel of speakers from Newfoundland and Labrador featuring Kanani Penashue Davis (B.Ed.’18); Dr. Zainab Jerrett (PhD’98); and Christine Goudie (PhD student) spoke with raw honesty, sharing personal stories of hardships and how those experiences caused them to summon strength and triumph in their lives.

Student award established

The presentation of a new award for a woman student who exhibits the qualities the conference celebrated was yet another highlight.

More than $5,000 in donations from the sale of commissioned jewelry and from professional headshots from last year’s Reimagining Leadership conference, Portraits of Resilience, funded the award.

Adela Kabiri is on the left, wearing a black hijab. On the right is Dr. Vianne Timmons, wearing a brown leather jacket. They both have a hand on their hearts, and are looking into the audience.
From left are Adela Kabiri with President Vianne Timmons.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Adela Kabiri, a PhD student in sociology at Memorial, is the inaugural recipient.

Ms. Kabiri is a scholar, human rights activist, leadership trainer and journalist. While living in Herat, Afghanistan, Ms. Kabiri worked in several media outlets including the broadcast manager of Youth Voice Radio, a human rights reporter for UN Radio (IRIN) and editor-in-chief of Pegah newspaper.

Prior to coming to Canada in 2009, she was a master trainer at the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) in Afghanistan. During her time there, she trained 160 Afghan girls in writing and leadership.

“[Afghan girls] are the victims of extremism and immoral politics of the international community.” — Adela Kabiri

When the Taliban took over the streets of Kabul in the summer of 2021, Ms. Kabiri was forced to flee. She has faced many challenges while resettling in Canada.

“Living in a new environment, new culture, with new people, is obviously challenging,” she said. “Your whole life is packed into two or three bags, you feel that you are separated from all those who you had a relationship with during your lifetime and the close members of your family should be with you. One of the biggest challenges is that there is no hope of returning to your homeland.”

She also believes that the challenges she faced during her journey to Canada became opportunities thanks to the kindness of Newfoundland and Labrador people.

“My despair turned into hope and my fear and anxiety turned into encouragement. I am grateful to my supervisor, Lisa-Jo Van den Scott, and all other professors and friends who co-operated with me during this hard time.”

She continues to help by offering online sessions designed to build confidence among Afghan girls who are facing the brutality of the Taliban regime.

“As an educated woman who has been affected by extremism in the past, I feel it is my responsibility to support the rights of all the underprivileged in the world. Afghan girls are the ones who live in total deprivation. They are the victims of extremism and immoral politics of the international community. I want to help them not lose their self-confidence, keep them hopeful and help them right their situation and try to reach an equal society.”

‘Inspired by the words’

President Vianne Timmonss, who delivered messages throughout the day, said, “By awarding Ms. Kabiri, we are not only honouring her bravery, resilience and fortitude, but we are also recognizing all Afghan women, who despite barriers, continue the fight for freedom and equality.”

Throughout the day, attendees could purchase a piece of custom-designed jewelry, created especially for Portraits of Courage by Tors Cove-based artisan, Jaqueline Edmunds, of Hillside Fine Craft.

As well, photographers Jane Brokenshire and Chelsey Lawrence offered pay-what-you-can portraits. One hundred per cent of the proceeds will go towards the student fund supporting women’s leadership.

“The day was filled with inspiring words, empowering music and dynamic conversations,” Dr. Timmons added. “And the room was filled with such positive energy. I feel inspired by the words of our amazing speakers and I am proud to have brought such a celebration of courage and bravery to our province.”

Next year’s event will be held on Feb. 29, 2024.

Three musicians stand on a stage. Sandy Morris is on the left, playing a guitar, Michelle Doyle is in the centre, singing, and Bob Hallett is on the right, with a guitar.
From left are Sandy Morris, Michelle Doyle and Chris LeDrew.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

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