Female empowerment group stresses self-worth

Featuring the unique stories of 11 female panelists, the show “That’s What She Said” had an authentic and welcoming feel from the very beginning. While sitting among nearly 700 audience members in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts’ Colwell Playhouse on Saturday, I noticed that the stage setup was simple: 11 chairs, three microphone stands and a music stand. This setting provided a safe environment for stories to be shared and appreciated.

The show began with a humble and humorous introduction by Kerry Rossow, Jill Youse and Casey Wakefield, creators of “That’s What She Said.” They also are the founders of She Said, a business with the goal of empowering women in the community. Though their nerves were apparent, it was endearing to see three women overwhelmed with excitement and anticipation.

“The women that you’re going to meet tonight can be your sisters, girlfriends or neighbors,” Rossow said. “This show is dedicated to you and to all the women who inspire us. Thank you for the women who paved the way for us and for the women who we lost along the way. Tonight, let’s have a great time and rock the show for those ladies.”

Shawn Love, a Christie Clinic orthopedic surgeon, was the first speaker of the night. She spoke with such conviction and power that I held onto every word she said. She emphasized that believing in oneself is essential in finding one’s identity and self-worth.

This idea also resonated with panelist Peyton Stewart, a sophomore at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who encouraged audience members to “pay attention to who you surround yourself with, what interests you have and the thoughts you have, because you are truly all that you have.”

Similarly, panelist and professor at Columbia College in Chicago, Keesha Beckford spoke about inner versus outer beauty and how body image is connected to the idea of self-worth and beauty. Instead of “Searching for the Skinny Mirror” as the title of her segment implied, Beckford reminded the audience that true beauty comes from within.

“We have to believe in our own beauty, our own strength, our smarts, our capabilities, flaws and all,” Beckford said. “Because holding those things and ironing those things can never be found in a mirror.”

With humor similar to that of a stand-up comedian, Rossow tied these two ideas — self-worth and beauty — to a lesson she learned when she lost a bet and ended up “Naked on Healey Street,” which was the title of her talk.

“Find those women who will hold you to your word … and who will fly their freak flag right next to yours loudly and proudly,” Rossow said.

Another theme of the night was finding empowerment through healing and acceptance, despite uncontrollable happenings in life.

Panelist and clinical counselor Nicole Knepper explained her battle with ADHD in her talk titled “45 Minutes.” Author and actress Angela Shelton Kail expressed the hardships in dealing with the traumatic experiences of rape, incest and neglect in “Use Your Sword.” Author Nicole Leigh Shaw stressed the importance of appreciating the positive things in life, despite undesirable conditions.

These women brought a message of hope and empowerment: Use your wounds, traumatic experiences and hardships to accept reality, and make the most of what you have in life, as the struggle you are battling does not have ownership of you in the end.

Honored guest Vennie Y. Ewing ended the show with a reading of Baz Luhrmann’s 1997 single “Everybody’s Free,” as a choir performed a gospel song in the background. The ending was a beautiful sight and sound. It was a rare moment for me – to be in an auditorium with a group of women of various backgrounds, ethnicities and ages, all focused on this last reading. And this was the value of the show — creating unity and peace among a diverse crowd.

Stephanie can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: A previous version of article incorrectly stated that there were 10 chairs on the stage. There were 11 chairs. The Daily Illini regrets the error.