Reaching the Summit

On March 25, English and women and gender studies teacher Jessica Berg organized the annual Women’s Summit. This year’s event featured multiple panel discussions about the Equal Rights Amendment and advocacy topics related to the next generation.


Manika Porchezhian

Keynote speaker Kate Kelly gives a speech about her advocacy, her book and her organization called “Ordinary Equality.” She shared how her life has changed from being a committed Mormon to advocating for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and other human rights. ““[It] was so interesting to hear her story, it was really moving,” senior attendee Arria Budram-Dawkins said. “I was kind of tearing up when she was speaking. She’s so very powerful, and it’s an inspiration to so many people.”

At 10 a.m. on an average Saturday, most kids are at home sleeping, resting from the tiring school week. On this particular Saturday, though, senior Arria Budram-Dawkinswas more than willing to be at school in the library, eager for the annual Women’s Summit. “I enjoy [going] because I’m able to help set up and meet a lot of different people who have a real impact on our community,” Budram-Dawkins said. The group of guests consisted of people from plenty of different backgrounds:  members of the Phoenix community, local election candidates, group representatives, and speakers came together due to their shared interest in learning about the Equal Rights Amendment and equal rights activism.

English and women & gender studies teacher Jessica Berg hosted the  “Rise To” Women’s Summit for the 2022-2023 school year. Attendees discussed progress on the goal of making women equal to men in society, noting how women are often given less opportunities, paid less money, underrepresented, and put at countless disadvantages. With focus on equal rights and the importance of the next generation’s involvement in striving for them, the summit featured speakers, organizations, and nonprofits that were present to educate those who attended.

As a place for students to learn about equal rights and to hear various peoples’ experiences as they have worked to fight for equal rights, this annual event has made its way into the hearts of the Phoenix and the Rock Ridge community. Buta Biberaj, Loudoun’s Commonwealth Attorney, was there to support women and anyone who doesn’t have the upper hand, as well as to act as a moderator for one of the panels. “My takeaway from this community that Jessica Berg has built with the summit is the fact that we bring people in who might feel like they’re alone or isolated, and we’re their people,” Biberaj said. “I hope that’s the takeaway people come away with — we’re stronger for our experiences.” 

Berg, the founder of the summit, started off the event in the library with a personal speech that mentioned her own daughters. After some heartfelt words, she introduced student August Thomas, who introduced the keynote speaker Kate Kelly, host of the “Ordinary Equality” podcast who advocates for the future of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

The ERA has been present in U.S history since 1972. It was passed within a year, but failed to pass in the year 1982. The ERA is still being fought to be implemented within our federal laws, but has been gaining ground  through the country on a state by state basis. Now, 38 of 50 states have ratified this amendment into their state law.

Kelly spoke not only about her beliefs about the ERA, but also her history and her fight to even be able to support the amendment in the first place. One specific equal rights activist that Kelly shined a light on was Pauli Murray. Murray was the first Black person perceived as a woman to become an Episcopal priest in the U.S. While s/he was most involved in the civil rights movement, s/he also fought for the rights of women as well as LGBTQ+ individuals, fights in which s/he was considered a trailblazer.

After returning from break, the first panel for the conference,“The state of the ERA,” took the seats at the front of the room. This panel consisted of four women–Lisa Sales, Kate Kelly, Krysta Jones, and Abby Garber–along with moderator Katherine White to discuss the history, current standing, and importance of the Equal Rights Amendment. “As students, it is so key to understand that the equal rights amendment will help us protect Title IX, will help us end sexual discrimination at schools, and will help us have that judicial standard,” Garber said.

While discussing the history of the amendment, such as the events of Seneca Falls, the panelists also addressed what advocates of the ERA are attempting to do in terms of interacting with the government. While working with the White House, state legislators, members of Congress, and more, they have been attempting to affect the Senate but have unfortunately not been that successful. “If we can’t change their minds, what do we do to change their seats,” Virginia NOW president Lisa Sales said. “…we also have another resolution to affirm and validate the ERA that is now in the House and we’re looking at some creative measures to try to get that out of the now Republican-controlled House.”

After a break,  attendees gathered once more to witness the second panel: “Conversation with the Next Generation.” This group consisted of four people involved with young activism–Nick Gothard, Rhea Simon, Cameryn Hunter, and Imani Brooks–and moderator Buta Biberaj to discuss issues that are important to the next generation of leaders. Panelists spoke about challenges that they have faced as younger leaders, such as not being taken seriously by those who are older in their organizations. Similar to the rest of the speakers, they also focused on not only the ERA, but also equal rights in general as they explained to students what they can do to help the cause, especially as they would be the ones to make change in the coming years. “I’m hopeful that this next generation also embraces it and I think [the current] generation does, [they] don’t look at each other in one way or another,” Biberaj said. “[They’re] just like ‘oh we’re part of it all,’ continue with that.”

Next was a candidate and elected official spotlight, where multiple candidates for election explained their campaigns. Afterwards, everyone moved to the cafeteria, where they were given the chance to eat lunch and interact with the different organizations that had tables set up there. The event ended with the announcement of raffle winners before passionate closing remarks from Phyllis Randall, the Chair At-Large of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.

A perfect mix of educational and fascinating information, the Women’s Summit is sure to retain its status as a staple of Rock Ridge.