By Olivia Samples

This past October I had the privilege of being able to attend the In Solidarity We Rise conference in D.C. with the Networking Project. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my expectations were exceeded by far.

The night before I left for the conference I was crying and upset because I wasn’t sure that I could keep doing this work. It deeply affects me, personally and it gets hard to keep fighting the same battles again and again. I was so tired and almost ready to step away from this work. But once I attended sessions and got to know some of the women who were there, my passion for these issues and for girls of color was renewed. I felt more confident that I was meant to do this work than I ever have which is an amazing place to be.

The first day of the conference was pre-conference intensives. I got to attend a session where I learned how to start and manage a non-profit which allowed me to meet and work with such interesting people. This session kicked off the conference in an amazing way. It made me really consider my career path and how I can help Monsoon and the Networking Project grow.  At the end of the day there was a reception where we were able to network. I met some interesting women who were doing such amazing work in their communities. The reception also included a performance by Girl Be Heard where young women performed poems, songs, and performances about their experiences. The performances were so inspiring and came from young people which made it even more powerful.

The second day, we had an opening ceremony at breakfast. Native women wore traditional jingle dresses and performed a ceremony which was a prayer for us and the conference. The ceremony was powerful and beautiful and moved me to tears. I thought it was wonderful and telling that the organizers of the conference thought that the ceremony was important enough to include. They also performed a closing ceremony where they prayed for the water and gave us tobacco to plant back home as a prayer.

After the opening ceremony it was time for us to present “Research as a Weapon for Advocacy.” We had a group of more than 30 people attend our presentation. We presented on how the project came to be, the research methods and how people could use this tool in their own work. We also simulated the community forum that we did in Des Moines to show people how this type of research can be done and why it can be beneficial. People were very interested in our research and the outcomes of our findings which made me so proud of our team. We had to get people’s emails because we didn’t have enough reports to hand out; which is a great problem to have.

The sessions I attended all touched me deeply and made me increasingly excited to come back home and get back to work, which is rare. But when you are working on projects and for organizations that you love it sometimes doesn’t feel like work.

I also got a chance to stop by the Healing Room during the conference. It was a large space with dimmed lights and calming music that you could go to take a break. There were stations where you could pray for your ancestors or lost loved ones. There were stations for other healing and self-care acts as well. There were healers in the space who could read your cards or show you breathing techniques. I found so much peace in that space. I was so glad I took the time to visit. I was also so impressed that the conference made time and space for the healing to happen. In this work, it’s too easy to forget to take care of you and I was so glad that in the midst of all this work, we got to have a space just for peace.

The conference itself also made me feel so much peace. I felt right at home with my sisters of color and in this work. I still feel the positive energy of my time at the conference. I was also so energized by the amount of amazing women doing work for girls of color. As a woman of color myself, I kept thinking about how much I appreciated all of the organizations that I was a part of when I was young. I also thought of my little sister and was at ease to know that there are amazing women fighting for equality and justice for girls like her.

I was also glad to become closer with my co-worker Itzel! We got to spend a lot of time together and got to know each other better from having this amazing shared experience. I got to spend time with amazing women of color and got to bring back a great friendship with Itzel.