Second annual 'Durham Women Take No Bull' talks raising next generation of female leaders

A large group of women gathered Thursday morning for the second annual "Durham Women Take No Bull" at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham.

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Hannah Webster
, editor
DURHAM, N.C. — A large group of women gathered Thursday morning for the second annual “Durham Women Take No Bull” at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham.

The event, hosted by the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, celebrated International Women’s Day with two multi-generational panels, a performance by local dancers and a keynote address.

The lively Jes Averhart, executive director of Leadership Triangle, served as moderator for the panelists and discussions.

Youth dancers from Empower Dance Studio started the morning with an energetic dance performance inspired by female power.

Markeytta Witherspoon, a dancer’s mother, said she was thrilled the girls were invited. Empower Dance Studio, founded by Nicole Oxendine, teaches dance as a tool to strengthen confidence, positivity and friendship among girls.

“I’m very glad the girls were able to come out today and show people what they are all about,” Witherspoon said. “It’s good for our girls to see the women before them having this conversation and see women empowering other women.”

Averhart led a one-on-one conversation with Jordan High School junior Aminah Jenkins, a young activist who recently organized the high school’s walk-out over school safety and stricter gun laws. The 16-year-old was a crowd favorite, discussing her passion for issues facing women and minorities.

“I read an article that said ‘It can be very difficult to raise a feminist,’ but I want to say that it’s just one step. Simply talk to your kids. Having a conversation is the way we are going to change this world,” Jenkins said.

She currently works with Made in Durham, a community partnership focused on supporting Durham youth in secondary education and building a strong local workforce.

As Jenkins considers several Triangle universities for college, she hopes to combine her love of math, debate and activism into a career that will impact the Durham community she loves.

“I just enjoy helping people and making a change, and I think my career is going to come from that. I’m confident in myself and the world around me that I will find what I need to be doing in a place that I can make a difference,” she said.

The event continued with two discussion panels – one with experienced female professionals and millennial female professionals.

Panelists included:
  • Lori Jones-Gibbs, Senior Vice-President, Community Development Banking – The Carolinas – PNC
  • Dr. C. Nicole Swiner, Durham Family Medicine, author “How to Avoid the Superwoman Complex”
  • Heather Denny, CEO – McDonald York Building Company
  • Heather Pownall, Director of Business Development – AICPA
  • Ellen Shannon, Chief Operating Officer – Shannon Media
  • Lori O-Keefe, President & CEO – Triangle Community Foundation
  • Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, Founder – Bee Downtown
  • Nicole Oxendine, Owner, Empower Dance Studio

Thursday’s event concluded with lunch and a keynote address from Zim Ugochukwu, entrepreneur and founder of the digital traveling platform Travel Noire.

Attendee Alisa Herr, founder of United Digital Agency, said she was inspired by the focus on creating a better world for the next generation of women.

“The support of other women is so important. It takes a village, and Durham women are some of the most supportive women out there,” Herr said. “This event in particular is really empowering. I loved it last year, and I knew I wanted to come back.”

While the discussion covered a variety of topics such as workplace diversity, female mentorship and the #MeToo movement, a constant theme was women in business and female entrepreneurship.

“I’m here because I think it’s really important to grow and support the female business community in the Triangle and in Durham,” said Lisa Jemison, who works in Research Triangle Park.

“I think that Durham is really strong with our female representation. I think we’re around third in the nation, but there’s a lot more work to be done and these kinds of initiatives help women learn from each other. This is how we’re going to grow and create actual change.”


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