White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett addresses the White House's "Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color." (Courtesy of the White House)
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett addresses the White House's "Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color." (Courtesy of the White House)

A daylong White House summit to empower low-income women of color began and ended with a major splash as leaders from foundations across the country gathered to launch “Prosperity Together,” a $100 million, five-year funding initiative aimed at improving economic conditions for America’s most vulnerable group.

The initiative specifically targets women and girls of color.

“We’ve made great strides to protect the middle class from poverty since the president has been elected, but too often, women and girls of color face limited opportunities,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, told a cheering audience at the summit on Friday, Nov. 13.

The summit, which focused on empowering and increasing opportunity for women and girls of color and their peers, brought together a range of stakeholders from the academic, private, government and philanthropic sectors to discuss ways to break down barriers to success and create more ladders of opportunity for all Americans, including women and girls of color.

The Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, which recently conducted extensive research on women and girls of color, served as host of the event that featured 24 other American colleges and universities, seminaries, research programs and institutions.

Combined, these institutions made voluntary commitments of $18 million for the next five years to conduct and share the data.

“Women ourselves are not homogeneous,” said Teresa Younger, the chief executive officer of the Ms. Foundation. “We have different experiences at different levels.

Women in the work force are essential to our families and to the entire country, yet women still make considerably less than men,” she said.

Younger also noted that women make “78 cents to the dollar that a man makes, however, African-American women earn 16 cents and Latina women earn 55 cents of what a white non-Hispanic man makes.”

During the summit, the Council on Women and Girls identified five data-driven issue areas where they said interventions can promote opportunities for success at school, work and in the community.

They include: sponsoring and fostering school success and reducing unnecessary school discipline; meeting the needs of the vulnerable youth; improving on exclusive STEM education; sustaining and reducing rates of teenage pregnancies; and economic prosperity.

“These dollars will go towards funding innovative programs and strategies happening in communities across the U.S. and will create pathways for economic security for low-income women in their families,” Younger said.

In a September address to the Congressional Black Caucus, President Obama said women and girls of color have made significant progress in recent years.

The growth in the number of business owned by Black women outpaces that of all women-owned firms, Obama said.

“Teen births are down and high school graduation and college enrollment rates are up,” the president said, according to an excerpt of the address posted by the White House. “However, opportunity gaps and structural barriers still remain.”

White House officials promised that the women’s forum, “Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color,” would address those challenges outlined by Obama and also examine ways in which to build on the progress that’s already been made in America.

That the Obama administration has prioritized dealing with the issues of economic equality and violence against Black women and girls and acknowledging that major change is necessary is, itself, a big boast to the cause, said Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor and the director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University.

“Without that foundation of research, we can’t know how to make meaningful interventions in the lives of women and girls of color in a way that ensures we are advancing equity,” she said.

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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