RICHMOND Va. — Musician, actress and talk show host Queen Latifah took on another role Tuesday as the host of the “Women’s Achieve Summit,” which aims to encourage women to take leaps in their careers.
Around 1,400 women heard from female business leaders, former astronauts and even the first woman in the Virginia National Guard to receive the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
”I was honored, but at the same time I felt like I wasn’t a hero. It felt like a hero should have been my friend,” Sgt. Monica Beltran said. “Well, he is a hero to all of us.”
Sgt. Beltran served in Iraq from 2004 to 2006 in the 1710th Transportation Company with the VNG. At times, she faced obstacles that come with being a woman in a male dominated field.
“We did have male soldiers that had an issue with having females in combat,” she explained. “It was hard. Was I named, was I talked about – yes. Was I put down a lot, yes, but in the end I still did it.”
But she overcame these obstacles and became a gunner. While on the front lines, her convoy was ambushed. Sgt. Beltran’s friend was killed in the attack. Despite injuring her hand, she continued returning fire to protect the other soldiers so they could get toe safety.
”We pulled through out of the kill zone saving 54 of our soldiers,” Sgt. Beltran said.
Overcoming what others say girls cannot do was a common story women from all walks of life shared at the summit, including Queen Latifah. She told reporters what she did after experiencing “adversities from men.”
”I decided to be my own boss at an early age because of that. Because I felt that there were a lot guys telling me what I should be doing when who I felt like I was smarter than and I felt like I was stronger than and I did not want to be told what to do by them,” Latifah said.
The summit is mean to empower women in the workplace, to help with networking and mentorship. It was actually started by a man, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.
Over the past decade, Sen. Warner has spearheaded the “Virginia Women’s Conference” which partnered this year with the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution for this event to make it bigger and to recognize the achievements of women over 400 years.
”As a former governor and as a former business guy I realized that we don’t take advantage of all of our assets,” Sen. Warner explained. “I think one of our greatest assets is the potential and power of women who need to be more part of the economy who need to have their representation in business and in politics.”
Sen. Warner and other speakers noted that more work still needs to be done.
”Yes, progress has been made but they’re still not fully equal so the fight goes on,” he added.
From one woman to another, Sgt. Beltran encourages other women to stick to what they believe in.
”Move forward, take the opportunity and drive on,” Sgt. Beltran said.
The event was paid for in part with money from the state budget. The General Assembly allocated funds to the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, which has organized events throughout the year to honor 400 years of Virginia history. Corporate sponsors also contributed.