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EspeciallyMe: Unstoppable!

EspeciallyMe™ Founder and Executive Director Patricia Houston surrounded by conference volunteers. Archive Photo: Courtesy EspeciallyMe.EspeciallyMe is not afraid to address real issues as demonstrated by the people chosen to speak to its participants over the years. This year is no different. The keynote speaker for the 18th Annual EspeciallyMe™ High School Conference, focusing on African American high school girls is Kemba Smith-Pradia. The theme is “Unstoppable!”

Smith-Pradia gained national attention in 1994 when she was sentenced to 24.5 years in federal prison, without the possibility of parole, for a first time non-violent drug offense. She served six and a half years in federal prison. Her case drew support from across the nation and the world in a crusade to reverse a disturbing trend in the rise of lengthy sentences for first time non-violent offenders. She was granted executive clemency in 2000 by President Bill Clinton after he reviewed her case and determined that an injustice had been done. 

On March 30, 2016, the wife, mother, national public speaker and author met with President Barack Obama at the White House. She and other commutation recipients from the George W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations were invited to the White House by the president to discuss the reentry process and resources needed to lead a fulfilling, productive life.

Kemba Smith-Pradia“Kemba exemplifies what we are capable of doing when we are focused on a goal and believe in our capabilities. She continues to work for those who she feels deserve another opportunity at life,” says Patricia Houston, EspeciallyMe™ executive director and founder. “In 2016, Kemba Smith-Pradia is still sharing her story to help educate young people in the importance of making good choices and how easy it is to get caught up in the criminal system's ‘war on drugs.’”

Smith-Pradia also served as the EspeciallyMe keynote in 2006. For more information on the conference, which takes place on April 23 at Gateway High School, visit EspeciallyMe.

Below is an article originally published at Canady’s Corner in March 2012 that further conveys the mission and commitment of EspeciallyMe. 

EspeciallyMe Annual Conference a Year-round Affair for Founder

April 28, 2012 marks the day when nearly 150 volunteers and mentors will connect with an estimated 500 high school girls to teach them how to listen to their inner voice and understand right from wrong in their daily lives.

The 14th Annual EspeciallyMe High School Conference The conference aims to steer them away from peer pressure and the tendency to emulate stereotypical images in the media. Meeting the challenge requires year-round commitment from Founder and Executive Director Patricia Houston. 

“Every single day there is a thought, somebody to contact and something to be done” in preparation for each young lady that attends the conference, and for the countless people they will inevitably touch as they move throughout their lives. On the big day, it all begins with a smile.

“Nobody should stand off by themselves,” says Houston, who annually tours college campuses from Greeley to Colorado Springs training mentors (high school students to business women) on how to conduct the workshops and interact with the participants at the conference. “We are teaching young ladies to feel welcome and to feel special.”

The participants bring perspectives from a range of family dynamics, including two-parent homes, single-parent homes, homelessness and parental roles where they may be the ones raising their brothers and sisters.

“We know that the message resonates with all the girls,” she says. “You can be a millionaire today and broke tomorrow. Value comes from ourselves not the money we have.”

Through the years, the conference keynote speakers have included African American women from a broad range of backgrounds. The list, to name a few: Claudia Jordan, Colorado’s first African American female judge; Shoshanna Johnson, the first African American female prisoner of war, Laila Ali, professional boxer and entrepreneur; and Wilma Webb, former First Lady of Denver.

With the demand from parents and educators, in 2007, EspeciallyMe began a biennial conference targeting middle school students. An estimated 500 girls participate in that event every two years. Also to meet a growing request, both high school and middle school conferences feature workshops for parents who want to attend. The subject matter is coordinated so that when parents and children go home they can be on the same page when they discuss the day’s experience.

Houston started the conference when she saw that there were a lot of messages in the media and the community saying what not to do, but few showing young ladies what to do. Today, no matter where she goes in Colorado, she runs into participants or people who have heard of the program. “I love that EspeciallyMe has become a household name.”

She adds, “We get a lot of emails and requests for information from other organizations on how to start similar programs. That’s great. We can’t have too much for our girls. If one person goes to two things, that’s a double blessing.”
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is a weekly online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way.