By Keelin Everly-Lang
Women for One is hosting its third Truthteller Tour April 28 with a goal of inspiring and empowering women, this time in Kirkland, WA.
The conferences feature speakers that share personal stories of survival and triumph over difficult or inspiring situations in their own lives. Attendees will have the chance to connect with other guests and with the speakers themselves through the structure of the conference. Founder Kelly McNelis is also leading a weekend retreat after the conference based on her book, “Your Messy Brilliance”, to expand the experience. General admission is $35, and the VIP version that includes a reception is $75.
From the outside, the conference itself could look like “a Ted Talk or a performance to an audience”, but McNelis said that instead “when you come in, you’re as much a participant in the event as the women who are speaking and releasing their story”.
McNelis originally planned to have between 3-5 speakers at the conference, but after receiving over 100 submissions, the team narrowed it down to 7 instead. In deciding on the speakers, they looked for the strength of the story and potential to connect with the audience, as well as a diversity of experiences.
The keynote speaker at the event will be Reema Zaman, author of memoir “I Am Yours”. The book is “the story of her unwavering fight to protect and free her voice from those that sought to silence her”.
In addition to speakers, participants will get a chance to learn about many nonprofit resources, talk to the women who shared, create community and get inspired to share their own story. A portion of the proceeds from the conference will be donated to Washington Women in Need.
Telling the truth can be an extremely courageous act, especially when done by many people together in a way that forms community. Several recent social movements have stemmed from telling the truth publicly about personal experiences, whether that is talking openly about sexual assault and harassment in #MeToo and #TimesUp, or sharing experiences of police brutality and racial discrimination through #BlackLivesMatter. These personal truths can change the culture of an entire society, as it has with the LGBTQ rights movement. The more people come out, the more it gives others the freedom to do the same.
Maria Thomas is one of many who shared her story on the Women for One blog, and also spoke at the most recent conference in Colorado. She explained that telling her story on stage “gave me the confidence to get out of that story.”
While she had previously spent time on stage being an advocate in health and medical fields sharing her experiences with hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating), the story she shared with the audience this time around was even more personal. Her story this time was about a suicide attempt, and how she healed from it. Sharing that story “took a weight off of my shoulders.”
“It was very freeing to me to be able to share such a raw and powerful story” she said of the experience. “We can be changed by our past but we don’t have to be reduced by it.
Women for One began as a small blog where McNelis says she “wanted to connect with other women around the themes of authenticity and discovering our voices.” Originally the blog was a platform for women to share their personal stories of truth, whatever that meant to them. McNelis said she wasn’t looking for women who were already writers, instead she wanted women with real experiences.
Telling the truth means something different to everyone, but for many, it can be a catalyst for change and confidence. McNelis inspires women to embrace their whole stories and find ways to be authentic through all her work, including a recently published book, called Your Messy Brilliance.
The first moment she really knew she was making a difference was about a year into the creation of the blog. A woman from the Middle East had submitted her story about recovering from an acid attack. This rendered her unable to speak, but through the blog she could still share her story.
After each person’s story is published on her blog, McNelis sends them a gold token to represent the connection they have to all the others around the world who are on the blog as well.
After receiving the token, this woman wrote to McNelis, saying “ I don’t have a physical voice anymore, because of what my husband did. I have a [trachea] tube, and I’m hanging my ribbon on my [trachea] tube to remind myself I have a voice.”
Representing women from over 50 countries, the community of Women for One represents a diverse array of experience. McNelis explained that she wanted to create space outside of political aggression, especially in this country and the current atmosphere.
At the upcoming conference and retreat, and in all her work, she invites everyone to strive for that open mind. “We need to elevate the conversation to that space of understanding, instead of judging and being divisive.”