Women’s History Month Panel held in Naperville

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On Saturday, March 23, the City of Naperville held a Women ‘s History Month panel discussion in North Central College’s Madden Theatre. The discussion was organized by the city’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager Dr. Geneace Williams in collaboration with North Central College’s President Dr. Anita Jones Thomas. The event, titled “Coming Together to Lead Well: A Community Conversation,” was moderated by Nicki Anderson and focused on questions relating to women in leadership roles in our community, enacting positive change, and navigating uncomfortable situations. 

Panelists provide diverse perspectives on leadership and life experiences

  • Becca Bruner, co-pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church in Naperville 
  • Dr. Anita Jones Thomas, President of North Central College
  • Anita Knotts, CEO and Founder of Lotus Women’s Institute 
  • Nicole Lawton, Children’s Services Librarian at the Naperville Public Library
  • Joohi Tahir, co-founder and Executive Director of Muslims Understanding & Helping Special Education Needs (MUHSEN)
  • Diana Torres Hawken, Founder and Board Member of Alliance of Latinos Motivating Action in the Suburbs (ALMAS)

The panelists touched on many topics like growing up in different cultural or religious backgrounds than a majority of their peers, being underestimated by society, and showing up as their authentic selves in the workplace. When asked what holds women back from pursuing what they are passionate about, Anita Knotts responded, “Everyone told us to color within the lines, no one told us to take risks.”  She continued by asking: “What if we told our 3, 4, and 5-year-old girls to be confident? What in the world could they accomplish by the time they got to the workforce?” 

One of the main themes of the discussion was the societal expectations of women, and whether or not they are taken seriously as leaders. Becca Bruner added her perspective, sharing that she was lucky to grow up in an environment where she was constantly encouraged to lead proudly; it was not until college that she received pushback for wanting to pursue being a female pastor. The group also touched on the importance of women amplifying and uplifting female voices and stories. Dr. Thomas stated, “We have to be less humble. I think we have to stop trying not to step on other people’s toes.” Joohi Tahir added, “When it comes to uplifting women, there is no weakness in being different.”

The discussion ended with a Q&A portion, in which community members thanked the panelists and asked follow-up questions. 

Naperville holds inclusive community conversations

This month’s panel was part of the City of Naperville’s Inclusive Community Conversations, which tie into the city’s mission of creating an inclusive community that values diversity. The series aims to welcome influential collaborators from the community to engage in powerful and dynamic conversations centered around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

This panel marks an exciting new chapter, as Naperville’s 2023 “Embrace Naperville: Empowering our mission through a year of learning” series draws to a close. The city continues its 2024 efforts under the theme, “Embracing Community: Expanding our dialogue, deepening our understanding.” 


Check out more events in the Naperville Community.