PATERSON, NJ - More than 200 black butterflies spread their wings at the Paterson Great Falls National Park amphitheater on Saturday, and it was “BeYOUtiful!”

While the wings the women spread during the event were metaphorical, the ability each had to soar, especially with the help of their peers that gathered close, often trading hugs, shedding tears, or joining in dance was very real, they were told. 

The brainchild of Jakki Benson, the women gathered for one reason: positivity. Together, they heard from speaker after speaker, each more energized and passionate than the next, that they are unstoppable.

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Their shirts, bearing the day’s logo made them all one, their tulles, coming from blue to green, pink to yellow, cast the stones that serve as seats in the amphitheater awash in every color of the rainbow, and then some, and demonstrated the “uniqueness” of each individual that filled the space.

Kicking off the formal program was Tyeshia Hilbert, a longtime educator with the Paterson Public Schools who congratulated the crowd for overcoming the daily challenges and struggles each face every day. “This morning you rose above, you showed up,” she told them.

“There is greatness in Paterson,” she extolled. Adding that too often “drama and negativity” are what becomes more visible, Hilbert offered an enthusiastic “I wish they could see us now.”

While there may not have been a stage to speak from Benson, making her way to the microphone to raucous cheers after being introduced as a “visionary, leader, mother, mentor, and servant,” certainly owned the space that she smoothly danced into.

When Benson hatched the plan for the event she hoped that 20 would attend, she said, adding that it was designed for those that see other women that have their bills paid, kids getting scholarships, driving a Mercedes and think that they “don’t have problems.” 

Despite their outward signs of success, Benson clairified, no one is without struggle. The day would be an opportunity for the women to learn to say “I’m struggling.”

“Ask for help and be vulnerable,” Benson urged. “Who better to do that with than your sisters?”

With roles such as corporate leader, successful preacher, and sitting member of the Paterson City Council Dr. Lilisa Mimms has shown many times before that she has come out of her cocoon, and on Saturday, exhibited every bit of her might as keynote speaker.

“We rise in beauty, in strength,” she preached. “And we are still rising.”

Urging the women to be thermostats, not thermometers, and therefore “changing the dial,” Mimms, after sharing pieces of her own story which include becoming prey to abusers, and the challenges of raising four children as a single mother, told them to always tell their own stories.

By owning their own stories, “nobody can change the narrative,” but themselves, she said.

“There’s a queen about to arise,” Mimms suggested. “And you are it.”

 

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