Women’s summit at UNCP empowers next generation of leaders

Arlinda Locklear gives a keynote talk during the 2024 Women's Empowerment Summit at UNC Pembroke on March 22.

An exceptional blend of athletic ability and scoring prowess has helped Kelci Adams develop into a leader on the basketball court for the UNC Pembroke women’s team.


Adams traded her No. 3 black and gold jersey and sneakers for a black dress and flats as she joined a roomful of other leaders at the annual Women’s Empowerment Summit held at UNCP’s Office for Regional Initiatives. The summit brought together some of the most decorated experts in higher education, the legal profession and public education for a day of panel discussions, networking, reflection and inspiring messages. 


Powerful keynotes were delivered by Arlinda Locklear, one of the nation’s foremost attorneys in federal Indian law and the first American Indian woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, and 88-year-old Vivian Jacobson, a renowned swim instructor and an expert on artist Marc Chagall. 


“I was so thankful to be included in this amazing panel,” Adams said between breakout sessions. “It was incredible to hear their stories and perspective on issues, wise words and their motivation on getting to where they are.”


Adams, a senior psychology major, served as moderator for the panel, which featured UNCP Provost Diane Prusank; Kelly Brennan, vice chancellor for Enrollment Management; Kaye Fraley, assistant general counsel; JoAnn Chavis Lowery, a proud UNCP alumnae and retired educator; and Isabella Locklear, a UNCP senior studying psychology. 


“It is extremely important to continue to offer this platform for strong, beautiful, educated women to share knowledge to the younger generation, like me,” said Locklear, a Pembroke native who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Rhode Island. 


“There was so much wisdom and experience represented here,” Isabella Locklear said. “It reminds me of the women in my family and how they raised me. I was honored and proud to be a part of the event. It was very uplifting,” she continued. 


The day-long summit––which began in 2012––featured remarks from First Lady Rebecca Cummings, Mary Beth Locklear, director of the Office for Regional Initiatives and SGA vice president Magally Ortiz-Rojas and presentations by UNCP staff Ciera Locklear and Tonya Holy Elk. Organizers also celebrated the university’s proud history of women in sports over the decades. 


Jasmine Coleman, director of Academic and Military Outreach and one of the event organizers, hoped the event would empower the next generation of female leaders. 


“As women, we are bringing all these individuals together to fellowship and share their stories as part of the history of the university, the town, the (Lumbee) tribe and the community and to show the strides we are making in the region and here at the university,” Coleman said. 


“Our goal was to imbue the attendees with a sense of purpose and passion for what we are doing and an appreciation for what’s already been done. Hopefully, they will take that out into the world and be energized and empowered to keep things moving forward.”