CWA Alumni Conclude 2-Day Symposium -On Diversity, Equity, Inclusion; Celebrates Women in Leadership

The College of West Africa Alumni Association, USA (CWA-AA, USA) has concluded its 1st Annual Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Symposium held March 24 – 25, 2022 in Monrovia which was attended by a cross section of students drawn from grades 10-12 of the school and brought together a variety of speakers across the public and private sectors of the economy as well as celebrated women in leadership in the country where they shared their path to success in their respective organizations.

The two-day symposium highlighted women in leadership from multiple industries including  Ms. Harbelda J. Williams (Brussels Airlines), Ms. Gbomai L. Bestman, (EgyptAir Airlines), Ms. Ethel Knuckles (International Bank Liberia Ltd), Mrs. Marion Wreh-Socree and Ms. Louise B. Caesar (Firestone Liberia), Hon. Dr. Rosana GDH Schaack, (Representative Rivercess County and Chair of the House Committee on Gender Equity, Child Development and Social Services; and Chairperson of Women’s Legislative Caucus of Liberia), and keynote speaker Mrs. Brenda Brewer Moore (Kid’s Education Engagement Project).  The College of West Africa high school’s outgoing Student Council President Ms. Denisa P. Jarjay also shared her story as a leader.

Ms. Harbelda J. Williams, Station Manager of Brussels Airlines, Liberia shared her aviation industry journey which saw her progress from travel agent, check-in agent, operations agent, and deputy station manager to now station manager.  Ms. Williams credits her late mother who taught her to keep pushing and never give up in life.  She challenged the students to be themselves and embrace their uniqueness and not try to be someone else but rather their authentic self.  Ms. Williams graduated from the United Methodist University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.  She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Management at the Cuttington University Graduate School.

Ms. Gbomai L. Bestman, a graduate of the College of West Africa high school and currently Country Director of Egypt Airlines in Liberia shared her experience at overcoming adversity early in life as she emigrated to the United States and would go on to attend Morris Brown College and Howard University, and graduated from Howard with a B.SC in Health Sciences with a concentration in Health Management and how she on leveraged the entrepreneurial skills gained from her mother to found Compassionate Nursing and Healthcare Agency in Silver Spring, Maryland USA. Her pet project, the Gbomai Bestman Foundation focuses on decreasing the maternal and infant mortality rate in Liberia.

Ms. Ethel Virginia Knuckles, another product of CWA is Chief Financial Officer of International Bank, Liberia Limited one of Liberia’s leading banks, and is currently the only female CFO in the Liberian banking industry, shared key parts of her life story and journey to success in the financial industry stressing the importance of demonstrating initiative, being focused, and results oriented as ways of helping to ensure your work gets noticed and rewarded. She holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Brooklyn College, New York and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Kennesaw State University in the USA.

Ms. Louise B. Caesar, Community Affairs Manager at Firestone shared her path into management at Firestone Liberia without a college degree and stressed that education is important as is experience and determination to succeed and not to take no for an answer. Encouraging the audience, she added that, “achievements come about from numerous sacrifices and services rendered to a dream and working diligently with competence will reward you.” Having the desire to teach early in life, Ms. Caesar started home tutorial classes for children. She was schooled at the then Firestone Staff School, Tubman High and graduated from Harbel Multilateral High and served as volunteer Teacher’s Aid in some government and private schools in and on the outskirts of Firestone.  In 2019, Ms. Caesar was transferred to the Firestone Community Affairs Department as a Community Superintendent and was promoted to Community Affairs Manager in 2021 responsible for Managing Community Engagements and Consultation Teams. Ms. Caesar shared that she has four children and four grandchildren.

Students also heard from Mrs. Marion N. Wreh-Socree Human Resources and Social Services Director (HRSSD) of Firestone Liberia who shared with them what her mother taught her without formal education and her exploit in the marketplace. As Human Resource Manager of Firestone, she controls 27 schools in the Firestone Liberia School System. She holds a BBA in Management from the African Methodist Episcopal University in 2002 and a LLB from the University of Liberia in 2011.  She is a wife and a mother.

The keynote speaker was Mrs. Brenda Brewer Moore, Founder and CEO of Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP), a charity with a mission to promote reading in Liberia, where only a few schools have libraries.  Along with other social advocacies including sexual abuse against children, KEEP is positioning Liberia to invest in literacy by enabling communities to create public school libraries, and jointly take responsibility for learning outcomes of students. Mrs. Brewer shared her story with the students of having to overcome failure multiple times along her path to success including changing career interests and goals until she ultimately found her calling while in business school.  Over the years, Mrs. Brewer has been a vocal advocate against violence against women and children and has used her voice to raise awareness on rape and abuse by not only publishing several articles but also supporting and producing two movies on rape and abuse titled “Stolen Childhood” and “The Fight” which were launched in August 2020.  Mrs. Brewer is a published author and social blogger.  She has written 4 children’s books and several of her articles have been published on widely read media platforms.  Mrs. Brewer has an Executive Master’s in Business Administration and 18-year experience in Human Resource Management and is the proud mother of two children.

Hon. Dr. Rosana GDH Schaack, Representative Electoral District #1 Rivercess County and Chair of the House Committee on Gender Equity, Child Development and Social Services; and Chairperson of the Women’s Legislative Caucus of Liberia shared her story as a person with a disability and a woman in leadership.  Recounting her life growing up in multiple places, Rep. Schaack shared her rough path to winning her legislative seat as a woman running in an overwhelming male political system where the financial resources available to women are far less than those available to men and where bias against women and people with disabilities present real challenges to success.  Rep. Schaack shared the challenges faced by women and girls in her home District and the work she is focused on the House of Representative including efforts at increasing the representation of women in the legislature.  

Ms. Kate Thomson, Deputy Head of Mission of the British Embassy Monrovia attended the opening ceremony of the symposium and shared remarks with students about the important role diversity equity and inclusion play in life and leadership as well as the need for an increased focus on gender equity, women’s equality and women in leadership to help ensure continued success for women and girls into the future.

The outgoing College of West Africa Student Council President Ms. Denisa P. Jarjay shared words of wisdom and inspiration to her fellow Foxes encouraging them to work hard, never give up, and not to let their gender determine their future success.  That they can be great in everything that they do as long as they put their time and mind to it.  Ms. Jarjay thanked her schoolmates for all of their support throughout her presidency.  

The President of the College of West Africa, Rev. Paye Cooper Mondolo addressed the symposium and expressed his support for diversity, equity and inclusion in advancing a learning environment where CWA and students do their part to ensure everyone feels valued, respected and included. 

Mr. Samuel Wolo, President of the College of West Africa Alumni Association USA (CWA-AA USA) who presided over the symposium on behalf of Association, opened the two-day symposium by bringing greetings from the officers, board of directors, and members of CWA-AA, USA.  The Association, founded in 1992, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. 

Launching this first of its kind diversity equity and inclusion symposium, Mr. Wolo expressed how excited he and the Association were to spend this valuable time with the students and the presenters talking about the critical role diversity, equity and inclusion play in our everyday interactions, experiences, ways of working, perspectives, viewpoints, and even the rich history upon which Liberia was founded.

He expressed thanks and appreciation to Rev. Mondolo, the students, and all of the companies, organizations, and individuals who joined CWA-AA, USA as diversity equity and inclusion allies and in celebrating women in leadership.  CWA—AA USA is in the process of sponsoring a diversity equity and inclusion (DE&I) Club at the school and a DE&I Resource Center. 

Reflecting on the symposium, Mr. Wolo said, “it was so wonderful to spend two full days interacting with the students and seeing the high level of engagement from them on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion first-hand.  They truly embraced these topics, absorbed them with enthusiasm, asked questions, actively participated in the interactive exercises, and before day one was over had begun sharing the learnings with their classmates and others via phone and texts.”

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