Candidates find platform at Sister Girls Network conference

By Cilicia Anderson

Outlook writer

They came together to network and foster a growing sisterhood that eventually turned into a campaign kickoff for at least 11 of the women in the group of more than 50 that gathered at the Workforce Development Center on TCC campus.

The get-together last Monday was the quarterly women’s conference for an organization known as the Sister Girls Network. Some of them are business owners and others are commissioners or business executives.

Most of the early conversation was centered on what the women have in common, some even sharing their visions for success. There were no holds barred as they sought answers to everyday challenges and ways they could improve professionally. 

Candidates who are running for judiciary and municipal positions in the upcoming elections spoke at a recent Sister Girls Network event.
Photo by Cilicia Anderson

The event was an opportunity for Danette McBride, Vice president of Community Innovations at the Children’s Institute, to do some networking. She was also glad for the chance to meet the women who announced their candidacy for the upcoming election.

“The idea is to be able to network together to see what type of goals and visions each organization may be working on, to see how we can work on it better as a city versus as an organization,” McBride said. “It’s an opportunity as well individually to meet new people, to network your business, your career, your dreams or just your thoughts. It’s to build a sisterhood in Tallahassee.”

All that transpired was exactly what Judy Mandrell, pastor at Life Changers Church of God, was expecting when she organized the event.

Her mission is to see women of all races, from all educational and socio-economic backgrounds with different political and religious beliefs come together and empower one another. Her passion led to the Sister Girls Network being formed. 

Since the inception of the organization, Mandrell has touched the lives of hundreds of women who have formed friendships.

Judy Mandrell, who organized the Sister Girls Network, took candidates in the group through a question and answer session at their recent conference.
Photo by Cilicia Anderson

“Women can do things,” said Mandrell, a social worker who spent 20 years with the Department of Children and Families. “We can turn things around, we can make things happen. Tonight is not just about me, it’s about all of us. I believe that if the world is going to change women are going to do it.”

The gathering of professional women seemingly was uplifting for Gina Giacomo, Director of Administration at Florida Parole Commission. 

“I think it’s become more diverse,” Giacomo said. “I think for sure as more women are coming to different events — the Sister Girls events — they become more and more comfortable on crossing the line and finding out what each one of us has in common versus letting it block us from having all those connections and maybe looking afar when we first started meeting.” 

While the majority of the event consisted of mingling, exchanging business cards and contact information, the three incumbents and eight new candidates running in the upcoming election used the opportunity to talk about their campaign.

Running for the Leon County Commission’s at large seat, Kelly Otte, Lisa Brown and Danielle Irwin all presented the key points of their campaign. Most of their agendas is geared toward helping women and improving living conditions for the under-served.

Of the three women that are hoping to remain in office, Elaine Bryant will be vying for her first full term as city commissioner. Last year she replaced Scott Maddox who Gov. Ron DeSantis removed from the commission after he pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

Bryant used this occasion to tout some of her accomplishments, including the City Commission granting $6.4 million to be set aside in CRA funding for the redevelopment of the Greater Bond neighborhood. She also backs the redevelopment of South City, which is designated as a Purpose Built Community. She’s also supported the Commission’s allocation of more than $1 million toward a 2020 comprehensive neighborhood plan.

Gwen Marshall, who will be seeking reelection for her second term as Leon County Clerk of Court, also mentioned some of what she has accomplished during her first three years in office.

“I ran off of performance, not promises” said Marshall, who is the first Black woman elected to the position. “A lot of interactions that I do within the community build the women.

“I have a lot of mothers calling about their children, their court cases, unfortunately I have a lot of girlfriends asking about their boyfriends pending child support cases but like Commissioner (Dianne Williams-Cox) said, who runs the world? Girls.”

In the race for Second Circuit Court Judge, incumbent Angela Dempsey, and Tiffany Baker took time to explain why each of them want the position. While Dempsey is in her 14th year of serving on the bench, Baker spent the last eight years running her own firm.

Executive Director of Leon County’s Sheriff’s office and Sister Girls Network host, Shonda Knight, said the women who listened to the candidates should find some usefulness in the information that they shared.

As the night went on the mood shifted from campaigns to a celebration of the birthdays of Mandrell and her special guest, Agnes Furey. The women enjoyed dinner, music and line dancing as they socialized.

“The thing about it is, it’s the opportunity to mix no matter what area code or zip code you come from, just actually mix together into a sisterhood,” McBride said. “We are really celebrating our similarities. Celebrating our differences because we’re all unique but most importantly trying to connect our similarities to empower us.”