Trying out for a step team at Georgia State University was a really big deal for Tori Cariah. She was a shy 18-year-old, an education major whose dream was to become a middle schoolteacher; step-dancing with Quiet Storm took her way out of her comfort zone.
“I didn’t know how to just go up to someone and have a conversation and get to know them. It gave me so much anxiety,” said Ms Cariah. “I never thought of being ambitious or seeing myself as anything other than a teacher.
“I didn’t think I would impact anyone other than the students in my classroom. I didn’t think I would get into Quiet Storm at all.
“But I got picked and there was about 12 of us. We literally became a family.
“That helped me feel comfortable, interacting with other people. It helped me to network.”
The freshman decided to make a point of saying yes to whatever made her a little uncomfortable — within reason.
The following year, she entered a beauty pageant and missed out on placing by just a few points; she was also successful in her bid to join the Atlanta school’s co-ed fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi.
Then in April, she started the PG Movement. First came an Instagram blog (@pg.movement), although her vision was much bigger.
On July 29, she organised a women’s empowerment conference at the Berkeley Institute, “What’s the Tea? A Guide to Becoming a Successful Woman”.
“At Georgia State, I love going to panels and hearing different people’s opinions,” the now 20-year-old said. “I wanted to arrange an event where you could hear different opinions from women from different walks of life.”
Nia Dailey, Patrina O’Connor-Paynter, Račl Simons, Chelsea Warren, Tanaya Tucker, Olivia Hamilton, Destinee Taylor and Garrita Coddington all agreed to take part.
“I wanted to have women in different fields,” Ms Cariah said. “Nia Dailey is a student at Spelman College in Atlanta and was a Rotary Exchange student. I wanted her to talk about travel.
“Patrina O’Connor-Paynter is known for being Power Girl on the radio. Račl Simons is the owner of Iman Artistry, a make-up business.”
Fifty women attended the conference, ranging in age from 13 to 60. “I wasn’t expecting that many,” said Ms Cariah, who paid for the conference with money she earned as a camp counsellor with the Department of Youth, Sport & Recreation this summer.
“I booked the staff lounge at Berkeley, but it was too small in the end. Before the conference, there were people at the door trying to buy tickets and we had to turn them away. I hope to do this again next year in a larger space.”
The general message from speakers was to stay true to God’s plan and not compare yourself to others. “Participants were being encouraged to evolve as women and not to feel afraid to do things outside of their comfort,” she said.
Panellists all wore T-shirts designed by Ms Cariah. Each had a word promoting a positive quality.
“The panellists told me what they wanted their word to be, and I had the T-shirts printed up,” she said. “We had words like powerful, determined and ambitious [so one T-shirt read] ‘Ambitious is the new pretty’.
“I wanted to get rid of the negative stereotypes around the word ‘pretty’. Being pretty means having different qualities as well, such as being a successful, ambitious individual.”
She’s hoping to start selling her T-shirts, once she gets a website off the ground.
“One lady came up to me and told me that, originally, she did not want to come because it was held on a Sunday,” Ms Cariah said. “Her 13-year-old daughter made her come. She was upset she didn’t get to go to church that day.
“She felt like she didn’t know what she was getting herself into. But she said afterward, she felt like she was really taking something from the conference.
“There was a lot of support and positive energy in the room. She said she couldn’t wait until the next one.
“Next time, I will get sponsorship. The hardest thing was the financial part.
“I did everything with money earned from [my] summer job, [but] I actually made a profit from the conference, so in the end, I wasn’t out of pocket.”