Different times and a different world in which we live made no difference on Tuesday afternoon.
The Texas Women’s Foundation’s 35th annual luncheon, presented by the Dallas Mavericks and Toyota, may have been conducted in virtual style, but it still had the same passion and the same profound message to about 1,500 online viewers.
Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall, a co-chair of the event, appeared in the Zoom call with TWF president and CEO Roslyn Dawson Thompson, along with vice president and chief procurement officer Bonnie Clinton of Toyota.
The well-done virtual luncheon was highlighted by a wide-ranging interview with America Ferrera, renowned actress and activist who also has published an anthology of stories “American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures.”
It was meeting designed to encourage, empower and motivate women and girls in Texas. The event was a huge success on all three counts.
At the heart of the message from Ferrera, as well as Marshall, was that women have to help each other overcome the fact that often the climb to the executive ranks can be a lonely one for women.
“One of the things that really resonated with me is when she (Ferrera) talked about being in a room with people who saw things differently, didn’t have the same background or experience and were asked to agree or act in a way that didn’t feel right or authentic to her,” Marshall said. “I know there are many, many of us in this giant virtual room today who have had the experience of being ‘the one.’ The one woman. The one Black person…or Latinx person…or Asian person…or Indigenous person.
“And like America said, when everyone else in the room is not like you, it takes a lot of courage and self-awareness to do what America said she learned to do. She said: I had to learn to have conversations with people in a way that invited them in to be part of the solution.”
Ferrera, born in Los Angeles to Honduran parents, has been in dozens of films and television shows, including The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ugly Betty and How to Train Your Dragon. She said the challenges are even greater at this particular time in history. But so are the potential gains.
“I think we are in a moment in our history as a nation that has unprecedented struggle – and unprecedented opportunity,” she said. “Talent is universal and opportunity is not.
“I think how we think about inclusivity . . . it’s to be thought of as not just something that’s good for somebody else but something that’s good for me. When you are empowered, I am empowered. When you are safer, I am safer. And I think we see in this very media time what that looks like in real life. If my black brothers and sisters are not safe on the street, I’m not safe on the street.
“So our inter-connectedness really is about what’s good not just for them, but for all of us. For me. So when I’m out there doing something for you, it’s really going to come back and benefit my community and my children, the bigger good. You have to invest in people for your greater good to come to fruition as well.”
Ferrera said the entertainment industry is like many others. It’s not easy for women to break into and certainly not easy to rise through the ranks once you get a foot in the door.
Whether you’re an actress, director, photographer or whatever, it’s been a journey to get women to work together, she said.
“In my industry, and I imagine it’s very similar in many others, women are very isolated from one another,” Ferrera said. “You are so often the only one in the room. And the way you are sort of trained to think about other women is as competitors and not necessarily as your compatriots and partners and sisters in arms that are going to help you change the system.
“If you’re strong and bold enough to get yourself in a position of power in a decision-making room, it’s a pretty lonely place to be as a woman in our industry because you’re not going to be in the room with five other people who share your experiences. And I think that’s true for women in all professions and industries.”
Marshall knows that route all too well.
“We are in a time that demands we meet each other in a place of mutual respect, and sit down together to work toward solutions that benefit not one, but all,” she said. “The Dallas Mavericks are here powering this wonderful event – and I’m thrilled to be co-chair of it – because the vision and values, heart and soul of Texas Women’s Foundation are so close to our own. We believe in this work.
“We believe now is time for us all to acknowledge that disparities and injustice have kept some people far away from the rooms where it happens, to quote Hamilton. And now, it is time for us to work together, with respect and mutual support, to ensure there’s a place in the room, and a place at the table, for all Texans.”
The annual luncheon had a much different vibe than last fall, when more than 1,500 people attended the event at the Hilton Anatole Hotel.
But the energy and the messages were still strong.
“The beauty of generations is that one generation makes a sacrifice so the next generation can go further,” Ferrera said. “My parents . . . what they wanted for us was success and that’s what they could dream about. And now we’re at a place where we can say, what does success even mean? Does it mean just getting in the room or does it mean who you can be once you’re in that room.”
Marshall could not have agreed more.
“That is our call to action today – activate,” she said. “Be the one who engages others in conversations, courageous conversations that work through differences in race, gender, lived experiences and perspectives toward the goal of inviting everyone to be part of the solution. Activate, to create Texas for all.”
She closed the event with a virtual pledge that she asked all attendees, wherever they were, to repeat with her:
“I will educate myself and others.
“I will activate for courageous conversation.
“I will advocate for change that creates a stronger Texas for all.”
And she had one final request, that people donate to the TWF to “make life better for Texas women and girls.”
For more information, visit https://www.txwf.org/ .