GREENSBORO — Out of everything that “Miss Alana” asked her to do, it was the hardest.
Alana Allen had asked all the girls at the nonprofit I Am A Queen’s teen empowerment summit to stand in front of the mirror and to say three positive things about themselves.
Cayden Neal couldn’t think of a single thing.
“She wouldn’t let me sit down,” Cayden said. “I really didn’t see anything good.”
But with Allen’s playful coaching and words of encouragement Cayden conceded a smile and a thought, and Allen joyously ran around the room.
There are lots of Caydens out there, said Allen, the summit’s founder and executive director of the 11-year-old nonprofit .
“She would always whisper and try to hide in the back,” Allen said. “I had to work with her on breaking out of her shell by using affirmations and pushing her to grow into a leader.”
The free “Queen Arise” summit is Allen’s answer to the Caydens — fabulous young people who just don’t recognize it — of the world.
Now Cayden shares her story with other young people as an ambassador of the program.
“I asked her to give a speech at our volunteer appreciation event and she blew us all away,” Allen said.
This year’s eighth annual summit, which will take place via Zoom, includes guest speakers Guilford Superior Court Judge Lora Cubbage, Carrie Cook Wilson, the founder of EmpowHERment, a mentoring and advocacy organization, and Cheena Headen-Wright, an inspirational speaker.
Allen started with an I Am a Queen mentoring group in 2009 after undertaking her own journey to healing from having been molested at the age of 6.
The N.C. A&T graduate came up with the idea for a teen empowerment summit and other programs, like a forum for fathers and fatherless girls so the men could share wisdom and guidance, after being deeply troubled by comments made by young girls on social media.
She asked the girls in the I Am A Queen mentoring group about what she thought she had picked up on: low self-esteem, inappropriate relationships and those vulnerable to human trafficking, and cries for attention.
Since then Allen, who in 2017 at the age of 31 became the youngest to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from McDonald’s Rhythms of Triumph, has offered sessions with professionals who teach girls how to code a program, start a business, learn how to paint, become an actress and cheer.
Last year’s empowerment summit featured Mayor Nancy Vaughan.
This year, conference participants will receive a 90-day planner to help them with their goals.
The conference, which will allow participants to choose from two different tracks, will last two hours this year to keep them engaged.
Cayden, who wrestled in middle school, is creating computer games after attending a coding camp as part of a longer-term goal of going into the security software business. She credits the summit with helping her gain her confidence and now sees what her supportive parents have long seen.
“Now, I’m able to look in the mirror and say, ‘Hey you!’ ”