Breaking Ground 97 - Empowered Ladiesby April Meredith, Independent Living and Advocacy Specialist of Empower Tennessee and 2014-15 Partners in Policymaking graduate
April Meredith is the Independent Living and Advocacy Specialist of Empower Tennessee. She has Retinitis Pigmentosa, loves her family , and lives life to the fullest.
When Empower Tennessee Executive Director Brandon Brown encouraged me to pursue a personal passion that also addressed a need in our community, Empowered Ladies was born.
Empowered Ladies began in September 2017 as a peer support group run by and for Middle Tennessee women with disabilities. I created this group with the sole purpose of providing a safe, nonjudgmental environment where people with shared life experiences as both a female and as a person with a disability may openly exchange stories, discuss issues, and connect with others who can relate.
Although these intersecting identities gave us a strong foundation to start meeting and talking once a month, we quickly discovered our mutual feelings of empowerment sparked a desire to be more as a group, and do more – as individuals and as a unified body of self-advocates. We wanted to prove to ourselves and demonstrate to our community that we were more than the labels placed upon us by society. Empowered Ladies provided the optimal supportive foundation for those involved to explore and express who they are, become comfortable with every aspect of their intersecting identities, and confidently present themselves to the world.
It wasn’t long before our diverse group of Empowered Ladies turned conversations into action. We gathered monthly, learned what mattered to each participant, respected our differences, and bonded on our foundational purpose.
Members reported increased sense of self-worth and belonging as well as a greater understanding of one’s rights and responsibilities. For these reasons, and because several of us had completed or were currently part of the Partners in Policymaking™ program, we decided to expand our intimate group to include advocacy efforts at various Days on the Hill. We even became the first disability-focused group to co-sponsor Women’s Day on the Hill in 2018 and then represented ourselves and the disability community at the event again this year.
Empowered Ladies continues to be an active peer support and advocacy group, but we have an open invitation for new members to join us, wherever they are in life’s journey. As I mentioned, some of us, including myself, have benefitted from the Council’s Partners in Policymaking leadership and advocacy training. No doubt this has had a positive and overlapping impact on how I facilitate our group’s systemic efforts and how some choose to be involved. However, not everyone has had this experience; not everyone is ready to speak with legislators. In Empowered Ladies, we recognize this. That is why women are encouraged to come as they are.
Something I often say to the ladies is, “No one is insignificant.” We each have an important role in the group, and what that role is entirely up to the individual and changes from time to time, depending on the situation and the participant’s goals.
After all, Empower Tennessee is an organization that empowers people with choice, independence, and inclusion. This applies to each of our core services, and peer support is no exception. Therefore, through Empowered Ladies, social, educational, advocacy, and volunteer opportunities are provided. The individual decides if and to what extent they will engage in any given activity.
Women with beautifully diverse backgrounds and multifaceted interests are welcomed and encouraged to check us out. All are valued and respected. Each of us has chances to laugh, cry, learn, mentor, reflect, vent, share, listen, and grow, all while having fun. We connect with the community and with each other.
You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-292-5803 for more details. We meet for peer group discussions the 2nd Wednesday every month. In addition to participating in advocacy events, we also gather periodically at local area restaurants to dine and socialize casually. Please reach out if you are a Mid TN woman with disabilities interested in getting involved with any or all Empowered Ladies activities.