Photo: Ladies at one table at the women’s conference September 23 pose for a photo during their art session. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
The Gadsden/Etowah Chamber of Commerce hosted its seventh annual Advancing Women to the Top conference at the Gadsden Museum of Art on September 23.
This year’s theme was “The Masterpiece of You,” and one speaker led a collaborative art session rather than lecturing during her presentation.
Nanda Patel, former owner of the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Gadsden and Fort Payne, led the open-ended creative project. Patel is an active member of the Chamber and a sponsor of the women’s conference.
Attendees were tasked with illustrating a quote or phrase that held meaning for them on an individual square of fabric. Patel explained that each square would eventually be sewn into a large quilt and auctioned to raise money for a charitable cause not yet determined.
The panels were decorated with images extrapolated from Bible verses, quotes from famous figures and other sayings like, “Anyone can be anything they want,” “Love yourself so that you can love others” and one quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., that read, “We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
One woman’s artwork quoted Maya Angelou’s words: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Another quoted A.A. Milne: “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Chamber staff collected the fabric squares after the allotted time had passed from the over 150 attendees.
Aiko Pickering, communications coordinator for the Center for Fair Housing and founder of The MOnthly Project and Monthly, discussed how poverty affects menstruation and vice versa in her presentation titled, “It’s all our battles. Period.”
The MOnthly Project is a nonprofit dedicated to combating period poverty in the South. Monthly is a for-profit social impact business owned by Pickering that offers gender-inclusive and environmentally sustainable period panties and underwear.
“There’s so much power in social impact,” said Pickering, who explained that many workers from Gen Z and Millennial generations have polled as wanting to work for a company with a strong mission or social impact. Consumers also want “to buy into” social change and purpose.
Pickering’s goal as a native of Mobile is to “make waves all across the South and not just in Alabama.” She said she has been overwhelmed by support from her community, locally and statewide.
The conference named its 2022 FIERCE Award winner, BethAnne Mashburn of The Alley, The Factory and The Loren Group. The Young FIERCE Award went to both Jazmin Lopez of Jazmine Lopez Insurance and Makenzi White, who was unable to attend.
The FIERCE and Young FIERCE awards honor Females Inspiring and Engaging in Rare Courageous Efforts in their professional fields of work.
“There aren’t enough women’s events (in the area),” said Chamber Vice President of Operations Will Mackey. “This is kind of the reason we started this. It’s grown since then, but (the heart of the program is) just having an all-day conference where women have a chance to network, to uplift each other, to empower each other.”
For more conference photos, see the gallery below: