Marilyn Fezza of Weston is working to make sure upcoming generations of women are empowered and confident.
“Young women deserve good role models and deserve our support,” she said. “It’s a huge disservice to society when we don’t provide that.”
Fezza is the founder of a new organization called the 7Sisters Project, named after Fezza’s seven aunts who live “scattered across the globe.” The project is designed to empower young women by giving them a voice and connect girls from all 7 continents.
To do that, Fezza hosts “summits,” four-hour talk-show style conferences for college students.
At each summit, women come together to talk about life, problems they face, love, world news, and anything else that comes up in the conversation.
With Fezza as host and leader of discussions, rotating panels of women share stories in front of the audience. Each panel gets 15-20 minutes and everyone in the audience has the opportunity to speak if they want to.
Conversation structure is loose, but specific topics, such as women in leadership, female oppression and gender norms are talked about consistently.
Fezza seeks to cultivate an environment that is fun and comfortable for each girl who attends, while “validating the individuality” of everyone at the summit.
Ultimately, Fezza wants to take influence away from pop culture figures and marketers and give confidence and power back to every young woman.
“Society and marketers put baggage on young women and it leads to a lack of confidence,” she said. “I think popular culture is dumbing girls down, and we want to put the power back in their hands.”
Fezza has held three summits so far, most recently at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. She hopes to host four more in the tri-state area this year and eventually wants to take the summits on the road.
“I want to do a college tour and eventually take this to more remote and less affluent areas,” she said.
Fezza acknowledged that young women in this area may have different concerns from young women in other areas, but the “beauty of the project” is that topics and conversation are fluid and can be customized in different areas based on what women in those areas face.
“The 7Sisters Project represents a global community of women,” she said. “I think we have the opportunity to open up a global conversation for girls and by girls.”
Fezza wants to break down barriers of race and religion in the summits to bring forth an environment that is accepting of all different kinds of women and their individual situations.
“We want to expand girls’ worldviews by exposing them to each other’s stories,” said Fezza. “If you’re a Muslim American I want you to have the chance to share your story to a crowd that is eager to learn about you.”
Fezza believes this generation of young women values authenticity above all, and the summits will satisfy those desires.
“We’re amplifying the voices of the young women,” said Fezza. “I like the talk show format because we are giving the stage to the women, not a celebrity guest, but real women.”
Fezza views the 7Sisters Project as a multi media entertainment and educational company, as each of the summits is, according to her, simultaneously entertaining and informative.
“We disrupt mainstream media by creating intelligent and meaningful programming that showcases the stories of real women,” Fezza said. “Just because something is entertaining doesn’t mean it needs to be vapid.”
In the near future, Fezza wants to expand the 7Sisters Project canon by offering live-streams of summits and creating fellowships and scholarships to help girls attend college.
Additionally, Fezza wants to create weekend-long workshops where girls can come together, spend time with each other and learn new skills.
Marilyn and Marisa have been deeply influenced by Paul Newman’s initiatives and the Newman’s Own Foundation model of donating profits to charity.
“Paul Newman showed us that every company doesn’t need to be solely about the bottom line,” she said. “A profitable, well-run company can bring about tremendous social change.”
Fezza began the 7Sisters Project with her daughter Marisa, currently a human resources manager at the food company, Blue Apron.
Marisa, 25, lives in New York and isn’t as involved in the day-to-day operations as her mother, but Fezza says her daughter is an integral part of the organization.
While at Sacred Heart High School in Greenwich, Marisa created a documentary for a class about how “pop culture dumbs down girls,” and that short film was the “spark that created the idea for the 7Sisters Project.”
“As we watched Marisa and her siblings navigate through high school and college, we saw girls struggle” said Fezza.
Next up, Fezza is hoping to bring 7Sisters LIVE Summits to New York University, the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and the University of Pennsylvania, which are her and Marisa’s alma matters.
She also wants to bring the 7Sisters Project to community organizations so young women who aren’t in college can attend the summits.
“The response to this whole thing has been very exciting,” she said. “People are constantly telling me that there is a real need for an organization that works to empower young women, and I am happy to fill that.” “Bringing diverse girls’ voices together in one place breaks down racial, cultural and socio-economic barriers and creates a supportive, empowering female-focused environment.”
Fezza said society as a whole really needs to “invest in women” on a higher level. “There are far too many girls on high school and college campuses that are entering adulthood ill equipped; lacking self awareness and confidence and virtually in the dark about important matters happening in their world around them. It’s time to dispel, once and for all, the myths, fallacies, celebrity worship and superficial standards of beauty that undermine and limit young women and instead encourage and inspire girls.”
“We really need women’s voices to be heard prominently,” she said. “I think women bring something different to the table.”
View the original article: http://www.thewestonforum.com/76657/weston-led-group-aims-to-empower-young-women/