The Level Up - Women's Empowerment Summit in Houston

by Marilyn Brown

Join Marilyn on a transformative journey to Houston alongside Candice, where they attended the Level Up Women's Empowerment Summit orchestrated by Proctor & Gamble and YWCA USA. This brief yet powerful intro sets the stage for Marilyn's positive and impactful experience, highlighting the profound influence the summit had on her personal growth and empowerment.


Visiting Houston was such an incredible experience. It was a pitch competition/empowerment summit that was put together by Proctor & Gamble along with YWCA USA. P & G was gifting a cash prize of $25,000 to an individual entrepreneur, who needed funds for their small business. I was overly excited to watch the pitch competition, all I could think of was the many episodes I watched of “Shark Tank.” I love listening to the creative ideas people have come up with that they think the world could benefit from. There were five finalists. They all had fascinating ideas! But we all know, there can be only one winner, right? Well, says who!? I was so happy to see that they split the cash prize amongst all the finalists. They were all winners! It was such a moving experience.

The Empowerment Summit was the next day. Candice had texted me that morning and told me I had networking duties. So, I started the day out nervous and anxious. Why? Because I am extremely introverted. Not to mention that when I share spaces with women who seem to have it all, well-educated, career, financially secure, no run-ins with the law, it makes me uncomfortable to mingle. Because in my mind, we have absolutely nothing in common, and for sure, I will be judged for my past shortcomings. I have carried this shame and guilt with me for over 20 years now, as a black woman who has experienced incarceration. 


During the Summit, Candice and I set up a display of our candles, so folks could purchase them if they wanted to. There were a few speakers who got up to talk about some of their life experiences and what they were doing today to make a change. There was a woman who had us do a vision board exercise. It wasn’t the typical vision board process, however. We talked about some different life areas' focuses. Social, religion, family, finances, just to name a few. We were to decide which one we felt like we needed to work on the most. It only made sense to me to do mine on my social life since I struggle with anxiety when I’m being social in certain places. Easy. Did my board and was so proud. I enjoyed the exercise a lot because it made me start to think about the different ways, I can help myself get better at this. This was great. Well then, the MC asked if anyone was willing to come and present their board. Before I knew it, I had raised my hand. I really wanted to do it, but I raised my hand before I thought about standing in front of this crowd of educated, financially secure, well-to-do, women. And the anxiety came. But it was too late. As the MC was approaching me. I’m silently cursing myself for impulsively raising my hand. Then she asked, “Would like you like to present here, or upfront?” Well, standing here wouldn’t be so bad, I’m thinking. But, before I could get it out, the host said, “We’re going to do them from up here!” It was no longer my choice at this point. I had to do it. Or risk looking like a childish fool for raising my hand and then declining. Now I’m on the way to the stage. Shaking, nauseous, stomach in a knot. I figured the sooner I get started, the sooner it’s over.   

I did it. I presented my board. & I lived haha! I started by letting them know that I was nervous, and I shared with them why. I told them as a woman who has experienced incarceration, I had been carrying all this guilt and shame with me, since my very first incarceration at the tender age of 15. I then went on to tell them that that’s the exact reason I chose social as my life area focus. I told them I chose it because it’s important to me to feel more confident in myself when I’m in these spaces. I want to feel more secure in myself when I'm amongst honorary women. To feel that I belong there, too. Regardless of some of my life choices that lead me down a certain path, I deserve to be there. The standing ovation was insane! I couldn’t believe it. I dreamed of days when I would be standing on a stage and changing the lives of those listening.

After the summit, Candice and I returned to our table. Before I could get out the door, several people stopped me to thank me for sharing my story and encouraging me to be more confident in myself. Telling me that I was amazing and beautiful and so much more. Even the vice president of YWCA USA came to me with tears in her eyes, thanking me for sharing my story. She told me she was proud that I am a part of the YWCA family. Unforgettable, life-altering experience!  


Stay tuned for Marilyn's next blog about her adventure in the Big Apple, New York City!