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Empowering the Leaders of Tomorrow


At one point or another, we have all sought advice or guidance from someone about our college or career pathway. Being able to network with professionals in your desired career field can lead to an abundance of opportunities, which is why it is encouraging to see a new initiative that is focused on connecting young women with local professionals and promoting a pursuit of secondary education.

EmpowerHER College Signing Day (EmpowerHER), co-created in part by Cyekeia Lee, Director of Community Collaboration at The Kalamazoo Promise (The Promise), and Demetrias Wolverton, Director of Mission Impact at the YWCA Kalamazoo, aims to do just that. Inspiration for EmpowerHER stemmed from a phone call in the middle of the night to implement a college signing day for young women. From there, they decided to tap into the former First Lady’s effort to inspire post high school education among the nation’s youth.

“I did a bit of research around Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative and wanted to model our event around her mission to inspire students to complete their education past high school,” Lee explained. “We have made strides with women accessing post-secondary education programs, but women still aren’t finding themselves in leadership positions.”

The event is made up of breakout sessions with presentations by speakers that the participants can relate to. This year’s keynote speaker is Hailey Mangrum, a Culturally-Based Fraternal Growth Consultant for Phired Up Productions.

At this year’s event, 30 women from different career fields in the community will speak to the participants on how they navigated their own career pathways, as well as discuss opportunities available to them. These professionals include lawyers, executive directors, social workers, military recruiting officers, and more.

Colleges from around Michigan will also attend this year’s event. As Lee explains it, their presence at EmpowerHER helps the young women discover what they want to do after high school and educates them on scholarship opportunities outside of The Promise.

“Some girls don’t know where they want to go after high school,” she explained. “We want to expose them to the different options that are available to them, including scholarships. They have The Promise, but they can also receive financial support for housing or books.”

Ultimately, EmpowerHER’s goal is to ensure that these young women feel supported by the Kalamazoo community and are encouraged to see what the world has to offer.

“We don’t want them to feel limited in their career pathways,” Lee shared. “If they see women who have made it, we want them to understand that they can make it there too.”

To say that the attendees from this last year’s event are “making it” in college would be an understatement. More than 15 attendees from last year’s event have GPAs at or above 3.0, a statistic that Lee is extremely proud of.

“One participant from 2019 didn’t think she deserved to go to college,” she said. “Now she has a 3.4 GPA at WMU.”

As far as future goals are concerned, EmpowerHER is concentrated on expanding its event capacity and growing to be more inclusive. Currently, the event has the capacity for 100 girls, but Lee hopes to one day fill an entire ballroom with juniors and seniors from Kalamazoo Public Schools.

EmpowerHER’s 2020 event will be held on Saturday, April 18, at the Delta Marriott. Sponsorship and tabling opportunities are still available, and inquiries can be sent to

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