Women Share Struggles, Gain Insights at Conference

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Glowing with pride on a day reserved just for them, sisters, mothers, aunts, wives, daughters and grandmothers showed up downtown Saturday for a special powwow.

Nearly 500 women, some clutching note pads and others juggling babies, attended the first day of a two-day conference called "Universal Woman '97--A Celebration of Diversity."

Sponsored by KKBT-FM (92.3), the conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center is designed to give women of all ethnic groups hints on health care, self-esteem, maintaining careers and raising families.

During one panel called "The Superwoman Syndrome," a cadre of professional women laughed and traded stories about balancing work and children and still finding quality time with their mates.

"There are a lot of things that can distract us from reaching our goals," said Linda Coleman, a Los Angeles-based motivational speaker. "Some of those things are careers, men and our children. We are the nurturers and the doers for everyone else. And I think it's our responsibility to teach men and children how to treat us."

"We also have to prioritize our lives in terms of what's important to our own happiness as women," Coleman said.

Panelist Barbara Barabino, a social worker, reggae deejay and founder of the annual Bob Marley Day concert at the Long Beach Arena, told the audience how hard it was to emerge from a bitter divorce.

"I can talk in here," she said. "Because with women you can share things. There was a time in my life when I went through a divorce. Whether you want the divorce or not, divorce is final. Whether you have children or a house together, it sort of feels like you failed. But I just wasn't going to let it get me down."

Nearly a third of the women in the audience raised their hands when asked if they had been divorced.

Throughout the day, conference participants roamed the convention center, popping into workshops on relationships and finance. Other booths offered tips on buying cars, choosing hair products and contacting a domestic abuse hotline.

Margaret Gibbler, 58, drove from San Diego for the conference. She said it was a good chance to gain insights and spend time with her daughter, Gina Washington, 31.

"When I was growing up, women were just beginning to project themselves," Gibbler said. "Now I think people are realizing that we are equal to our mates."

There was much to be shared about life, love and fighting to erase gender bias, but there also were lighter moments. Morning disc jockeys John London and Ben Kelly hosted a well-attended seminar on "What Every Woman Should Know About Football."

Later in the day, Alfre Woodard, three-time Emmy Award-winning actress and mother of two, talked about juggling her career and home life. She spoke of wrestling with her kids to brush their teeth and tiptoeing in "four times a night to check on my little ones."

"It is no news to any of us that most women have to work for our families' survival," she said. "Yet it is still left to us to raise these families. The real news is that to do this, more and more women are taking things in their own hands. They are no longer relying on anyone but themselves."

The conference is largely staffed by female employees from the mostly R&B; and rap radio station, along with guest speakers.

It continues today at the convention center. Civil rights activist Angela Davis will speak at 1:30 p.m., and former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders will talk at 3:30 p.m. Admission is $8.

Shirley Strawberry, a morning deejay, said Saturday's turnout showed how hungry many women are to spend time together and find solutions to complicated issues.

"All women are superwomen," she said. "We have to do an extraordinary amount just to keep things together. Think about it: No matter what they say or do, men can't have babies."

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