Heels in the Battlefield Conference Uplifts and Inspires Attendees


By Adianna Alston | For AC JosepH Media

WILLIAMSTOWN — The annual Heels in the Battlefield Women’s Conference sought to empower women within the community yet again through informative presentations by guest speakers, engaging conversations that attendees were able to contribute to and more.

The conference, sponsored by the Gloucester County Chapter of the NAACP, was held at the St. Matthew’s Baptist Church Community Development Center this past Saturday. This event serves as one of the premier women’s conferences for women of color in South Jersey.

One of the highlights of the program was a discussion centered around Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize-winning book “The Bluest Eye,” which follows the journey of a young Black girl and the challenges she faces in regard to racism and abuse.

In recent years, the novel has been banned from the curriculum of various schools including Washington Township High School which resulted in mixed reactions from the community. Some support the ban, deeming the topics discussed as inappropriate, while others oppose the ban, arguing that while some of the topics may be uncomfortable, they should still be addressed.

This conversation, moderated by Tiffany Walker and spearheaded by Dr. Irene Mintz and attorney Yolanda Garcia Balicki, focused on topics of symbolism and stigmas within the novel. Mintz and Balicki also addressed issues surrounding mental health in the book and used the moment as an opportunity to discuss concerns regarding mental health in the community as well as advocate for mental health awareness.

The conference also featured a panel of four powerhouse women from the community: Christine Hoffman who serves as the Gloucester County interim prosecutor and an assistant attorney general, Heather Simmons who serves as the very first female Gloucester County commissioner in its 336-year history, Robyn Walton who is the senior vice president of government and external affairs at Inspira Health Network and Abigail Ayitiah who works as a clinical nurse manager at Samaritan Hospice.

Each of these women spoke to the importance of servant leadership in their communities and what it meant to them to serve as powerful female leaders within their varying roles. They also placed an emphasis on the need for and power behind collaborating with one another in order to enact key and sustainable change.

There was also a discussion surrounding each of the panelists’ top professional priorities and pressing issues within the community which included health equity, education, gun control, and fighting disparities.

Dr. Melvin Pierson, the second vice president of the Gloucester County Chapter of the NAACP, followed the panelists with a riveting presentation entitled “The Mouth is the Gateway to the Body,” where he discussed the connections that the mouth has to the rest of the body.

He revealed the many links between oral health and other health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. This information was unknown to many participants and allowed them to gain a greater understanding of their own health and the health of loved ones.

The conference concluded on a high note with an all-female fashion show featuring pieces from JPratt Boutique. The crowd was energized as each model showed off dazzling outfits ranging from more casual attire to upscale, formal clothing. 

Various vendors were also in attendance including Lukeshia Walker, an entrepreneur and published author.

“I’m always for supporting Black women and just women in general and empowering them. So, I wanted to come out and support today’s event,” she said.

Walker strives to empower and inspire women daily through her business LW Coaching Institute where she offers life and business coaching.

“I cater to women and I try to help women to live out the life that they love — to not follow someone else’s dreams, to live out their own dreams,” she said.

This event has continued to improve each year and has received a lot of positive feedback from the community.

“It has grown tremendously with the support from the community, the sponsorships, from the attendance, even our vendors have grown. It’s been an amazing journey,” said Loretta Winters,  Gloucester County NAACP president.

Gina Burton, who serves on the executive board of the Gloucester County NAACP, offered some reflections on the significance of having opportunities for women’s empowerment.

“I think too often individuals lose their voices and they lose their sense of self and by having events and programs such as this, it gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate and to be able to engage and look at how we can actually do better for ourselves,” Burton said.

This conference continues to impress as it allows for new connections, new knowledge, and new perspectives. Members of the community are already looking forward to next year’s.

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