Well-known faces and opportunities for professional growth highlighted the empowering events at The Texas Conference for Women at the George R. Brown Convention Center Wednesday. The centerpiece to the all-day event was an impressive lineup of speakers during lunch that included Leigh Anne Tuohy of The Blind Side fame, politico Leslie Sanchez, Dr. Jennifer Arnold, CEO Neissa Brown Springmann, career specialist Tory Johnson and champion athlete Marion Jones.
Texas first lady Anita Perry introduced each speaker, encouraging attendees to cheer loudly and live up to the everything’s bigger and rowdier in Texas mantra and the crowd complied with gusto.
Of course, it was easy to be swept into the emotion of the moment with speakers like Tuohy, who strode onstage on a shiny cocktail dress and peep-toe booties. Even Anita Perry called her cute and hot. Tuohy's natural talent for storytelling coupled with the accent Sandra Bullock imitated so well in the movie, were compelling and she mixed humor with honesty like a pro.
“People ask me if my life has changed since The Blind Side,” she said. “Well Sandra Bullock plays me in a movie, she wins an Academy Award, her husband goes off the deep end and she adopts an African-American baby. You bet ya it changed my life.”
In between admitting her “fat, bald and chunky” husband was nowhere as hot as Tim McGraw, Tuohy encouraged the crowd to turn around, just as she and her family did after seeing homeless teenager Michael Oher, and taking action. The expansive room was completely silent as she talked about learning the power of cheerful giving and looking for ways to give hope, opportunity and love.
Equally as moving were the words of Marion Jones, the former five-time Olympic champion, who was stripped of her medals and sent to prison for taking steroids and lying about it. In a simple gray dress that showcased arms even Michelle Obama would be jealous of, Jones spoke honestly about the mistakes she made and the long road to salvation. Clearly many in the room were shocked to learn she was sent to prison and even more were astounded when Jones discussed her time in solitary confinement.
“I was so tired and defeated and spent 49 days in solitary confinement and it was a profound, life changing experience,” Jones said. “When 23 of those 24 hours are spent completely alone, you have time to prioritize and figure out why you made those choices.”
As the mother of three small children (7, 3 and 16 months) Jones is grateful for the mea culpa her new life provides. She was signed by the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock and speaks often about her past and her future.
“Rebuilding trust is a difficult process. By grace and faith I have found purpose in my life,” Jones said.
More light-hearted moments came during Johnson’s turn at the podium. The founder of Women for Hire made a fast point, waving a hundred dollar bill in the air and asking who wants it. From the chorus of “me’s” a handful of women approached the stage and one woman walked right up and snatched it out of her hand. Johnson used that lesson to encourage women to hustle for what they deserve.
Handbag designer Eileen Turner was chosen as a panelist for a seminar on Resilient Leadership and was joined at her table by fellow designer Chloe Dao and Channel 2 anchor Lauren Freeman. Morning speakers included historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and Georgia’s Chief Presiding Judge of a state court Glenda Hatchett.