For some, March presents an opportunity to honor Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. For others, the month spurs them to celebrate all things literacy through National Reading Month. For United Way for Southeastern Michigan, March is a time to celebrate both through its annual Women of Influence Summit, which convenes community and business leaders to support women and programs for early childhood and education.
“This was the birth child of our Women United Affinity Group,” said Dr. Darienne Hudson, President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “This is a group of women leaders from around the community who were determined to have an event that supported children’s health and wellbeing, and every year it gets bigger.”
Held on March 3, this year’s Summit was United Way’s first in-person one since the pandemic. It was also the most successful since the event started seven years ago. According to Hudson, the event often drew about 350 attendees and raised $100,000 before the pandemic. But this year’s attendance and funds raised surpassed that, with more than 600 people and $287,000 raised.
Hudson credited this success to the community and business leaders who volunteered, attended, and engaged at the event, as well as the support from the event’s 30 sponsors, including presenting sponsor Walker-Miller Energy Services LLC.
“The Women of Influence Summit is open to everyone. It’s not 600 women; it was 600 people,” said Hudson. “Everyone has a responsibility of celebrating and uplifting women in our community. We all have a role to play in turning around the trends that we see in literacy for our young people, and we can all work together to make our Region more literate.”
The Importance of the Women of Influence Summit on Women and Childhood Literacy
Hudson shared a couple of reasons why the Women of Influence Summit is important. One reason is that it helps elevate women, which she states is crucial given women are often the nurturers of youth and the “heart of [United Way’s] child care strategy.”
This elevation was demonstrated during the event through the keynote speaker, New York Times best-selling author Jacqueline Woodson, and the marketplace of women-owned businesses in the Detroit Region, including:
- Bath Savvy Naturals
- Bon Bon Bon
- Mend on the Move
- Motor City Spreads
- Rebel Nell
- Soul Roots Wax Co.
- Source Booksellers
- The Lip Bar
- The Peacock Room
The second reason is that the event supports childhood education and literacy. According to Hudson, “we’re in a really devasting place right now as it relates to literacy in our state.”
Hudson shared that only 33% of 4th-grade students in Michigan are proficient in reading and only 5% in Detroit. Additionally, only 19% of Wayne County households and 36% of Oakland and Macomb County households have a print-rich environment, meaning they have more than 100 books. This means most of the youth in Michigan are in book deserts.
“[The data] is really a call to action to people who didn’t attend. You have to come next year. We really want to lift the dire needs that we have in terms of literacy,” said Hudson.
Other Ways United Way Impacts Childhood Literacy
In addition to the annual Summit, United Way hosts events throughout the year to close book deserts and improve childhood education, ranging from book drives to free little libraries and service projects. It has even partnered with the Detroit Lions and Boys and Girls Club to create a reading nook.
“We want the diversity of experience and life opportunities pushed into our schools. Business leaders from all walks of life, we want to welcome them into our schools in helping us with our literacy efforts,” said Hudson. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, if ever there was one, for our Region, and it’s going to take every person within our reach helping us change what’s happening with literacy in our schools.”
Learn more about United Way for Southeastern Michigan and its childhood education and literacy work at unitedwaysem.org.