Women to Watch

Two-day WOW festival aims to celebrate, inspire women

Women's achievements — and the obstacles that still stand in their way — will be the pressing topics at a two-day gathering in Baltimore this weekend.

Michael Phelps


"It's all about celebrating women and their accomplishments and their contributions, but also taking a frank look at the remaining issues to gender equality, in health care, in elected office. The glass ceiling still exists," said Patricia "P.J." Mitchell, who serves as the Baltimore community leader and chair of the WOW partnership board.

The festival's premise is a major reason it has "resonated so much around the world," Mitchell said, taking place on five continents and in more than a dozen cities across the globe.


"Why not have those conversations in Baltimore?" she said.

The festival will explore race and LGBTQ issues, careers and financial literacy, and will feature speed mentoring, a feminist corner and TED-style talks called "WOW Bites," said Mitchell, who expects up to 1,500 people to attend each day, most from around the region.

Phelps will emcee the "School Day" program on Friday, which will bring up to 500 10th-grade girls to the campus from around 125 schools across the region. The program will feature a talk from the founder of mentoring program Teen Girl University, Carla Stokes, a performance by Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women step team, and a host of activities including glitter tattoos and food trucks.

"To be able to have such interesting, elite and powerful women on that campus who should be, and most likely probably are, mentoring our young ladies ... is very important," Phelps said.

"I look back over my career and the mentors who impacted my life to be able to give me the confidence to be able to pursue things that maybe I didn't think I could pursue or knew I wanted to pursue," said Phelps, who has worked in education for nearly four decades. "I just think we need to lay that groundwork or framework for our women today."

Reign, a Howard County resident best known for her hashtag that brought national attention to the lack of diversity in Academy Award nominee pools, will speak Saturday on a panel about black women's influence on pop culture, along with Jenné Afiya, founder of all-women of color art collective Balti Gurls and Nykidra Robinson, the founder of Black Girls Vote.

"There are so many interesting people doing amazing things — especially women — in the pop culture arena, and that's what we'll be discussing," said Reign, who added that she is interested in spending the remainder of her day at other discussions, including "Is Feminism Failing Women of Color?" and "Creating New Futures for Youth."

Mitchell, who has been working with her board for the past two years to help bring about the two-day festival, said an event like WOW is needed to encourage women and to spark change.


"Given everything Baltimore's been through, to have an event that shines a positive spotlight is really important, and I think that's why we're getting such great support," she said.

"Something like this is good for us. It's not as big as Light City," she said, referring to the international light festival that brought nearly 400,000 people to the Inner Harbor this year. "But it's the same kind of positive energy."

If you go

9:30 am. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Notre Dame of Maryland University, 4701 N. Charles St. $20 each day.