At the age of 13, college professor and book author Elaine Richardson was raped. The experience spun her life out of control and as a young teenager growing up in a poor neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, she soon spiraled into a world of prostitution, abusive relationships and drug addiction.
“As someone who got involved in juvenile delinquency, prostitution and drug addiction, I went through a lot of not feeling good about myself as a young person,” said Richardson. “It is possible to recover from very traumatic experiences and do something with your life.”
In her book “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life” Richardson shows how her life changed after she decided to go to college. As a single mother, she eventually earned a doctorate in English and applied linguistics from Michigan State University and now shares her story through performances around the country.
“A lot of people feel out of it once you make some very bad out of bounds decisions; its very hard to see your self in a new light and come back from that,” Richardson said. “I had a negative self image and I think it’s easy to get a negative self image of yourself as a Black girl, as a poor Black girl. You get a lot of messages about yourself that are not empowering.”
Richardson is one of many inspirational women who will be travelling to Pittsburgh in August for The Bev Smith Show Presents “A Challenge To African American Women” conference. The four-day event beginning Aug. 28, will tackle issues in health, education, employment and spirituality.
“I think there are a lot of things vying for the attention and identity of adolescent girls who will one day become women and anything dealing with the protection of young African-American girls and women is important to me,” Richardson said of her desire to be a part of the conference.
In addition to her position as professor of literacy studies at the Ohio State University, Richardson serves as a mentor to young women to give them hope for the future. She’ll share this message of hope as the keynote speaker at the conference’s opening luncheon on Aug. 28.
“We talk about how Black girls and women are being portrayed in pop culture. They’re getting a lot of ideas of what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be popular from popular culture. They’re looking for their identity,” Richardson said. “You have to define yourself, not let other people define you.”
The goal of the conference is to create a working community plan to present at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference in September 2013. Conference participants will attend a series of workshops and course, and the event will conclude with a commemorative gala.
“Hopefully people will understand that we have to mobilize ourselves and educate ourselves and try to come together to make a difference,” Richardson said. “There are so many things if we were educated about them, we could act and that’s what we want to see happen at this conference. I look forward to networking with a lot of positive uplifting women and building a coalition.”
For more information on the conference visit www.bevsmithconference.org