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PORTSMOUTH, NH — The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire (BHTNH), in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in Manchester, will host the 14th Annual Black New England Conference (BNEC), a two-day online event on September 25 and 26, 2020.
This year’s conference will celebrate, examine, and make visible Black women’s leadership and activism in fights to make positive change in our society. In keeping with the theme of this year’s conference, “Black Women Rock: Leading the Charge for Social and Political Change,” the event will have panelists and keynote speakers who are influential Black women and trailblazers in their communities.
The lunchtime keynote presentation on Friday will be given by Sheryl Lee Ralph, the Tony-nominated actress and activist who created the DIVA Foundation devoted to AIDS advocacy.
A passionate AIDS activist, Ralph is the founding director of the Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware (DIVA) Foundation. Her organization was founded in 1990 as a living memorial to the many friends she lost to HIV/AIDS as an original cast member of the Broadway musical DREAMGIRLS. The DIVA Foundation focuses on bringing awareness, testing and rearmament to HIV/AIDS and combating the stigma, especially as it pertains to women, girls and young people. Ralph is the recipient of the first Red Ribbon Award from the United Nations for her unique use of the arts in her HIV/AIDS activism.
Friday evening’s conference keynote will be delivered by Susan L. Taylor, founder and CEO of National CARES Mentoring Movement and Editor-in-Chief Emerita, Essence Magazine.
After more than two decades as the chief editor of Essence magazine, Taylor left publishing to build National CARES Mentoring Movement, an organization devoted to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty among African Americans. Taylor is the editor of eight books and the author of In the Spirit; Lessons in Living; Confirmation: The Spiritual Wisdom That Has Shaped Our Lives, which she co-authored with her husband, Khephra Burns; and All About Love.
Two trailblazing women will participate in Saturday morning’s panel, FIRED UP & READY TO GO: Black Women and Electoral Politics. Panelist Andrea Jenkins is an American policy aide, politician, writer, performance artist, poet, and transgender activist. She is known for being the first black openly transgender woman elected to public office in the United States, serving since January 2018 on the Minneapolis City Council.
She will be joined by Senator Patricia Ann Spearman, who has served in the Nevada Senate since November 2012, and is currently the Democratic co-majority whip. She was the first openly lesbian member of the Nevada legislature, where she currently serves as Chair of the Commerce and Labor Committee; Vice-Chair of Health and Human Services Committee; and Member of the Growth and Infrastructure Committee. She has introduced multiple bills including bills that provide equal pay for women and minorities; support for LGBT rights; and support for veterans, and has also supported gay marriage and abortion rights. Senator Spearman volunteered for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 and was a member of the advisory boards for Harry Reid and Steven Horsford.
Thompson is a proud third-generation native of Washington, D.C. She is an early childcare development expert, and a well-known blogger and social media influencer in DC and across the country. Considered a Black cultural pioneer, she created the concept of “Black Girls Are Magic,” which has roots in her life as a little girl growing up with her mother, grandmother, and aunts. Black Girls Are Magic became wildly popular in 2013 after Thompson began using the phrase online (which was later shortened to the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic) to uplift and praise the accomplishments, beauty and other amazing qualities of Black women.
The lunchtime address on Saturday will be given by U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley(MA). Pressley is a trailblazer in Massachusetts politics. A member of the Democratic Party, she has served as the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district since 2019 and is the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Pressley defeated the ten-term incumbent Mike Capuano in the primary election and ran unopposed in the general election. She had previously been elected as an at-large member of the Boston City Council in 2010, and was the first Black woman elected to the Boston City Council.
For the past 13 years, the Black New England Conference has been an annual two-day event where academics, artists, activists, and community members share insights and research on Black experiences, past and present, in New England and beyond. The BNEC is both an academic conference and a celebration of Black life and history. Because of this year’s virtual platform, the BNEC offers an opportunity for the public in New England and beyond to explore pertinent contemporary issues as well as gain awareness and appreciation of African American history and life in order to build more inclusive communities today.
Sponsors of this year’s conference include Southern NH University, NH Charitable Foundation, TD Bank, Eversource, University of New Hampshire, Eastern Bank, Centrus Digital, New England Blacks in Philanthropy, Geoffery E. and Martha Fuller Clark, Northeast Delta Dental, NH Women’s Foundation and Bangor Savings Bank.