Amidst the recent media storm surrounding celebrities labeling themselves — or denouncing — feminists, the Girls Inc. Los Angeles Celebration Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton provided more kindling on the subject on Wednesday. Honorees Eva Longoria, Mara Brock Akil, Nancy Dubuc and Sheri Salata each made powerful speeches about the impact of the organization and their responsibility as females in the entertainment industry.
Brock Akil, creator and exec producer of TV shows “Girlfriends,” “The Game” and “Being Mary Jane” made the afternoon’s longest and most impassioned speech. After touching on issues plaguing young women such as domestic violence and sex trafficking, she posited that the root of these problems is “a mindset that sees girls as the convenience for others rather than contributors to help shape the human condition, a mindset that has girls wondering whether they should call themselves a feminist.”
“I’ll make this easy for all of us,” she said. “We should all be feminists. It’s congruent with being human.” This statement was met with an electric response from attendees.
Brock Akil also enlisted the help of men and boys in the cause of feminism, echoing the sentiment of Emma Watson’s speech at the United Nations in September. “Harriet Tubman needed abolitionists to help free slaves. The LGBT community needed heterosexuals to help overturn DOMA and get state laws to allow same-sex marriage. Martin Luther King, Jr. needed Lyndon B. Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964. We need you, ladies, to go get the men to fight the mindset that we’ve been fighting forever.”
Salata, president of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and Harpo Studios, followed up Brock Akil’s words by encouraging attendees to make helping others their life’s work. “The chances we are given to reach out with an ET-like finger and do the little things and the big things that change the trajectory of someone’s life forever, it’s how we become booster rockets for another’s joy, for their success, for their destiny.”
Specifically referring to the mentorship provided by Girls Inc., Salata urged everyone to help young girls answer affirmatively to “the spiritual question of, ‘Am I worthy?’ And particularly with girls, to be able to answer that question as early as possible profoundly changes what happens in the world.”
Longoria espoused the importance of education in the Latina community. The “Desperate Housewives” star wrote her master’s thesis about Latinas pursuing education in STEM fields, and her philanthropic endeavors through the Eva Longoria Foundation aim to provide Latinas with the resources necessary to prepare them for college. Longoria expressed her gratitude for having grown up in a family full of educated woman, citing her nine aunts, three sisters and 42 female cousins as lifelong inspirations.
Dubuc, president and CEO of A+E Networks, expressed her concern over the effects of social media on young girls. The mother of an 8-year-old daughter, Dubuc weighed in on the “bossy” debate. “Girls who are not perceived as likable do not do as well. But that’s a double standard. You see it when the men who are ambitious and hard-charging and competitive and tough are labeled as such. Women who have the same attributes are labeled much differently, and that’s a problem.” She also sang the praises of all-girl schools.
In addition to speeches by the honorees, four Girls Inc. alumnae shared their heartfelt and, at times, tearful testimonies, crediting the organization with everything from college admission to overcoming domestic violence. Each of these young women was paired with an honoree, resulting in dynamic speeches that worked in conversation with one another.
The annual luncheon’s chairs were Nicole Avant, Giselle Fernández, Cheryl Saban and Jennifer Salke. Shaun Robinson hosted for the ninth year running.
Girls Inc. was founded during the Industrial Revolution and works to provide girls with the tools they need to be “strong, smart and bold” through mentoring and educational programs.
Upwards of 630 people attended the event, and approximately $64,000 was raised for Girls Inc. during the program alone.
(Pictured: Sheri Salata, Mara Brock Akil, Girls Inc.’s Judy Vredenburgh, Eva Longoria and Nancy Dubuc)