The Marine Corps’ first African-American female combat pilot, an Emmy-award winning newscaster and other nationally-acclaimed women on Thursday inspired a crowd in the Quad-Cities to be bold and "own your journey."

Around 600 people networked and heard inspirational stories with the theme "own it," at the second annual Quad-Cities Women Lead Change conference. Amy Eaton, with Women Lead Change, said the room was filled with "women and men who are all driving the bus to advance women leadership."

"All of the speakers have really embraced who they are to get where they're at. And they've spoken of resilience and grit and persistence," Eaton said. "We hope everyone will take that same message of 'owning it' to heart, whether it's owning confidence, getting that next promotion or raising their hands."

The day-long event, at the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf, began with an inspirational speech-meets-comedy routine by Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour. She explained how she stayed true to herself in order to rise up from the first African-American woman on the Nashville Police Department’s motorcycle squad to become the first black female combat pilot.

One especially compelling story involved one of her missions in the Marine Corps, where her squadron was tasked with destroying a target, but found themselves left with only one missile and 20-miles worth of fuel.

“When I reflect on that time, that moment, that mission, there was an essential component. And that was the flight plan, our flight plan for success,” she said. “It gave us the framework so we could flex and adapt, get back on course and accomplish the mission. Flexibility and adaptability were key.”

When the ground controller said the welcome words, “permission to engage,” the squadron moved in and successfully completed the mission, she said.

“At the end of the day, how we accomplish the mission is absolutely key,” Armour said. “You have permission to engage. There are no ground controllers in life. If you don’t give yourself permission, who will? How many times have we been waiting for someone to say ‘it’s OK’ or to say ‘go for it?’ We’re always waiting for that validation. At what point do we stop waiting and start engaging?”

Armour encouraged the crowd to “acknowledge obstacles; don’t give them power,” and to “get gutsy” and take advantage of opportunities.

“Opportunities don’t go away; other people take advantage of them,” she said.

The day also featured a talk from Samantha Ettus, a best-selling author of five books, a writer for Forbes and a radio show host. In addition, Molly Bloom, who has gained fame writing a memoir about how she built and operated the largest private poker game in the world, talked about how she used her unique brand to succeed. Her memoir, “Molly’s Game” was adapted into a film by Aaron Sorkin.

But, the event was bookended with a talk from another influential woman with a military connection. Harris Faulkner, an award winning newscaster for Fox News, shared lessons she learned growing up as a military brat.

“What I want to impart on people is that just like our country, we as individuals are capable of anything,” Faulkner said.

In an interview before her speech, Faulkner talked about the gravity of the #MeToo movement, describing it as “ink that spilled from a bottle, that no one could avoid getting on them.”

“Right now in our history, it is time for women to lead,” Faulkner said. “It’s too late for the world to come up with more inventive ways not to let us into board rooms. I don’t want to be silent. There’s no time for that. If we’re going to lead change, let’s be bold.”

When it comes to supporting other women and historically disadvantaged groups, Faulkner said the most important thing you can do is listen.

“The greatest gift we can give another woman is to listen to her,” she said. “When a woman has a dream, needs your help or wants a sounding board, keep her confidence and listen silently.”

Next up in the Quad-Cities, Women Lead Change will host the Athena Leadership Awards luncheon at 11:30 a.m. April 4, at the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center.


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