Essence Girls United is a Gen Z and millennial-focused division of Essence Magazine that gives young girls and writers a space to voice their thoughts, be who they are, and create a name for themselves in the media industry. Since 2020, they’ve hosted an annual summit where the press, social media influencers, celebrities, industry leaders, and the public are invited to arrive in their hottest looks to network, meet new people, and imagine themselves as the future of the publication.
The theme of this year’s summit was “Era of Disruption,” which encourages Gen Z and Zillennials (late millennials/early Gen Z) to “spearhead their paths, ideas, and trends, breaking the mold of what society deems acceptable.” Celebrities like Jordyn Woods and Jodie Woods, BIA, Muni Long, Pretty Vee, Aaliyah’s Interlude, and Mariah the Scientist were in attendance. Located in Atlanta’s PC&E, this was my very first summit and will, for sure, be one of my most memorable.
I wasn’t alone, either — the guests I spoke to shared my excitement. “I enjoy going to events about female empowerment because I want to meet other like-minded women, especially in my field, media entertainment,” stated Samara, a recent graduate from Syracuse University. Janiyah, a freshman from Georgia State, and Jayla, a sophomore at Clark Atlanta, were looking forward to meeting other college students living in Atlanta.
The 40-foot step-and-repeat at the entrance featuring the Girls United logo and bright lights made me feel like a celebrity arriving at a big event. As anticipated, the line here grew quickly once doors opened at 10 a.m. Immediately after that was the Coca-Cola Mix and Mingle Mocktail Bar. As someone who doesn’t drink Coke often, I couldn’t get enough of the CZO Spritzer. Cheers to the menu’s designer!
It was so lovely to see the variety of age groups in attendance; it showed me GU truly knows its audience. Jeanine Botwe-Brown — lawyer, mentor, speaker, and founder of Seating, an organization for women interested in careers in law and entertainment — was most looking forward to networking with others at the summit. “Some amazing entrepreneurs are going to be on some of the panels,” she said. “This is going to be a great platform to continue learning more about your industry!”
With color-coded decorations and lighting, the Disruptor Summit was a content creator’s paradise. Vibrant outfits, vibrant people, and vibrant personalities in a vibrant space combined flawlessly in the dull rainy weather. Music played as people danced, networked, and created content.
Rechelle Dennis, former UCLA national champion gymnast and cofounder of Girls United, told Her Campus that she wanted attendees to walk away with one thing: “Disruption. Being able to go out and have the confidence to disrupt whatever it is they’re doing. Whether it be in their lives, their careers, their profession — I want them to be able to take this out into the world and apply that.”
“We really wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just panels and conversations that you would just sit and listen to, but things that were actually actionable; where you could take this advice and apply it to what you were doing. That’s why we have workshops,” she continued. Her favorite activity at the summit was the speed mentoring, where, in just three minutes, guests received career advice from industry professionals and influencers.
The interactive activations allowed for the perfect balance of work and play. We made flower crowns, I had my teeth blinged out with Swarovski crystals by @brightaesthetic.as.me, and I got an airbrush tattoo by Brown Sugar Babe at the Beauty Block Party. Pairing that with panel conversations like “On Strike” led by GU’s Lead Writer Kenyatta Victoria featuring Marley Dias, J. Simmone, and Kamarie Brown felt like leaving school on Friday and attending a birthday party on Saturday. Attendees were even able to get some shopping in with vendors like Sincerely Fearless and Tordrobes LLC.
My favorite part of the day was speaking with writer Kenyatta Victoria. Her story inspires me: She attended the 2022 summit as a freelance journalist. This year, she hosted panels as Lead Writer for the 2023 summit.
She beamed with pride when I asked how she felt to be at this year’s event in such a different capacity and what she thinks next year at Essence Girls United might look like. “It feels very surreal. It hasn’t hit me yet; I haven’t cried about it. It’s been very rewarding. I realized it is OK to be unfiltered and raw and to expand on a bunch of thoughts. It’s been a great space to just be myself. I’m excited to see how we’ll go up next time — I feel like we did our big one this year!”
In alignment with this year’s theme of disruption, my biggest takeaway from this entire experience is a quote from the President and CEO of Essence Ventures, Caroline Wanga, during her panel discussion “Disrupt or be Disrupted.” She closed by reminding the audience that “if you can’t be who you are where you are, change where you are. If you cannot be who you are, the world goes without.” Changemakers have to be authentic and willing to turn things upside down to make way for those following in our footsteps.
I look forward to what Girls United has to offer for next year’s summit as I am prepared to move mountains to make sure I’m there. For young professionals and students interested in the media industry looking to shake things up and be disruptive, this is a great place to be to network and create lasting memories.