Queen Latifah had a singular focus during her visit to Richmond on Tuesday: to empower women.

“For me, it’s always been about ‘ladies first,’” the hip-hop pioneer said while hosting the Women’s Achieve Summit, referencing her hit single from her 1989 debut album. “Own your power. Use your voice. Believe in yourself. Believe in each other. And always speak on your own behalf.”

Latifah danced, cracked jokes and pumped up the sold-out crowd of 1,400 attending the summit at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

Journalist Mika Brzezinski, who co-hosts MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and other speakers addressed issues facing women, such as breaking the glass ceiling, work-life balance, politics and entrepreneurship.

Said Latifah: “As women, we’ve made great strides in certain areas, but we’ve been pushed back to the Stone Age in others. We can’t have white males telling women what to do with our bodies. We need to become more involved [in politics].”

The Women’s Achieve Summit was the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Women’s Conference, an event started by Sen. Mark Warner to help empower women through networking and learning new skills.

Taking a cue from her former TV talk show “The Queen Latifah Show,” the stage was set up like a talk show with couches, easy chairs and coffee cups, complete with an all-female backup band called The Miss-Behavers.

Latifah interviewed many of the guests, including Warner, and topics included equal pay for women and the Equal Rights Amendment, which narrowly missed being ratified by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.

Ratification will likely be on Democrats’ agenda if they take control of the state House and Senate in November, when every seat in the assembly will be up for election.

“If women go out and vote, if we change a couple seats, Virginia will become the 38th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment,” Warner said.

Tee Marie Hanible, a single mother who was deployed in Iraq with the Marine Corps, shared her story. Other speakers spoke of the importance of women “daring to dream.”

“You owe it to yourself to try. As women, we don’t always allow ourselves to try,” former astronaut Wendy Lawrence said. “Don’t sell yourself short. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Seek out those who will help you. Look for a mentor or a role model to help get you where you want to be.”

Lucretia Anderson, a teacher at Orchard House School, an all-girls school in Richmond, took the day off work to attend the summit to network and learn skills to take back to the classroom.

“My girl students need to know that they’re not in this alone and they can be empowered to achieve. They can make mistakes and still achieve,” she said.

This year’s summit partnered with the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution organization, which is recognizing several pivotal events from Virginia in 1619, such as the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English North America and the first legislative assembly at Jamestown.

Latifah has ties to Virginia, which was part of the reason she was chosen to serve as the host, as well as having national recognition and being a trailblazer for women.

Latifah grew up in New Jersey and has family in Northern Virginia. Growing up, she spent time with her family there, calling it “the Southern side of my life.”

The entertainer will be featured on an upcoming episode of PBS’ “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” that will explore her ties to the state.

“There’s a reason I’m in Virginia,” Latifah said. “You’ll have to tune in to find out more.”

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Twitter: @collcurran

Colleen Curran covers arts and entertainment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She writes the weekly column Top Five Weekend Events.

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