The 2019 Women’s Leadership Conference, coordinated by the Howard County Chamber on March 7, spotlighted women leaders, their effect on regional business growth, and straight talk on how to get over hurdles and stay inspired.

Keynote speaker Rayna DuBose, a basketball and football coach at Marriotts Ridge High School, opened the day with her personal story of overcoming shattered dreams to become a driving force to help others, whether they are on the court or in the workplace.
DuBose, now 35, graduated from Oakland Mills High School, and received a full-ride basketball scholarship to Virginia Tech. She was playing in her first season when viral meningitis put her into a 97-day coma. She woke up a quadruple amputee, still finished her degree, and launched a career as an international motivational speaker.

Her name, she said, is no accident: “A ray is an infinite line in one direction. For me, that direction is up.”

She challenged those in the audience to not only address their insecurities but turn them around. “I have learned in my amputee journey of 17 years that my insecurities fuel me.”

Fueling yourself means acknowledging that, sometimes, your direction is not something you can control. “Do you think this was the particular path I would have chosen? Little did I know that this would turn out to be my greatest superpower: mental resiliency.”

DuBose spoke on the theme of the conference: The Power of Perseverance. “We don’t know how strong we are until we go through something that makes us not give up,” she said. “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races in life. Without struggle, there is no progress.”

Mediocre? We don’t think so

Towanda Livingston, senior director of the Philadelphia Office of Economic Opportunity, told the audience: “I know you didn’t wake up to be mediocre. You woke up to be awesome.”

Livingston, former director of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s Office of Supplier Diversity & Inclusion, said her own background could have counted her out – but she wouldn’t let it.

“My mother had me when she was 16 and my father was a heroin addict and died a heroin addict,” said Livingston. “Today I’m here to talk about getting your mind right so you can get your grind right. I had the gender that hindered. I didn’t have a silver spoon, in fact, it was a tarnished steel spoon.”
Standing still is not an option, Livingston said. “I don’t believe in watering dead plants. Once you taste the sweetness of excellence, it’s hard to be back to mediocre. When I work with mediocre people, I go home and take a shower because I don’t want to know them.”

Scared? Not so much

Denise Shelton, owner of Community Bridge Inc., a Washington D.C.-based facility management company established in January 2002, remembers when her company was a startup and she was worried about being able to pay her employees.

“I was very nervous because I didn’t know if the payroll was going to clear.” Shelton, who had retired from the corrections sector in 2002, I called her former director, who was now her mentor, and said: “I have a payroll tomorrow and it’s going to wiggle its way through. It’s $8,000.”

Shelton’s mentor told her that, someday, a $300,000 payroll would scare her as much as the $8,000 payroll scared her now. “And we’ve never missed a payroll in 17 years which I think is a great thing,” she said.

Shawn Nance, Shelton’s daughter and president of Community Bridge, spoke about working with a tenacious mother. “You wonder if you can measure up,” she said. “From the time I was two, my issue wasn’t am I going to make it, it was how am I going to make it? I do know it is very hard to live up to the expectations that your parents put in front of you. My struggle was: am I good enough?”

Now with 240 employees, Community Bridge is a successful company with leadership that is willing to change from deep within. “Personal growth is hard and it’s painful,” said Nance. “Anybody who tells you something different hasn’t really grown.”

How did I end up here?

Sharon Breckett, a serial entrepreneur and technologist, is president and CEO of Tiresias Technologies. In 2018, she was elected to the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee, becoming the first trans person in Maryland to be elected to any office.

“I had a political awakening,” Breckett said. “For the first time, I found myself running for office. It’s a very bizarre thing when you go to the polls and your name is on the ballot. I won, which is even stranger.”

Breckett doesn’t believe that the path to success is a straight line. “I’m on this panel to offer you guys some advice and wisdom – but how the heck did I end up right here?”