By Brooke A. Lewis Houston Chronicle Houston Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Speakers at the NFL Women's Summit included astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas. The gathering focused on female empowerment, equal pay, confidence and ways to find your passion.
Who here wants to change the world?
That question was posed this weekend to about 250 teenage girls from school districts across Houston who participated in the NFL Women's Summit. Many raised their hands while they snacked on breakfast pastries at tables inside the Citadel event hall.
The two-day conference featured speakers such as astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, female cast members of the musical "Hamilton" and activists. The gathering focused on female empowerment, equal pay, confidence and ways to find your passion.
"No matter who you are, when you're doing something that's breaking ground and out of the norm, you will have naysayers, " said Maya Penn, who is the CEO of her own eco-friendly fashion company at age 16. "But what you have to remember is why you're doing this."
Houston teens were nominated by their schools to attend the summit and had to apply. Many of the teenagers chosen were both academically successful and school leaders.
The NFL is hosting the summit for the second time, after a successful run during Super Bowl 50 in northern California. The conference serves as a way for the league to connect with its female fan base. It also follows criticism of the league in recent years for its handling of players' conduct off the field, including domestic violence.
"We wanted to make sure that these young women could really garner insight around what are the skills needed for success and how can they apply them," said Johanna Faries, vice president of marketing and fan strategy at the NFL. "It's our hope that they are entertained, inspired and are pushed to think differently. "
Jade Young, one of the teens selected for the conference, already has big dreams. The 15-year-old attends Pro-Vision Academy in Sunnyside, a charter school originally started as an after-school program for boys but that now accepts girls in grades 5 to 12.
She currently plays volleyball, but wants to be an actress someday. After hearing from speakers Friday morning, Young said she felt inspired. She reflected on some of the difficulties in her life so far, growing up with her dad in and out of her life and an older brother who went to jail.
"I had to learn on my own that you need to be independent, you need to work for what you want by yourself," Young said. Aaliyah Mouton, a junior at Pro-Vision Academy, is a cheerleader, runs track and also excels academically. But in middle school, she said, she was a completely different person.
"I was always in trouble," Mouton said. "I didn't like going to class. My grades were D's and F's."
When she got to Pro-Vision, she said, her attitude changed. Her teachers pushed her and she felt like she was surrounded by a family. Now she has dreams of running her own interior design business and also modeling.
As the two girls sat and listened to speakers who worked for prestigious places like NASA, the White House and the NFL, they felt empowered.
"It doesn't matter your age, you can do anything that you want to do or put your mind to," Young reflected. "They're inspiring me to continue with my passions."