Beth Krone (left), Elaine Richardson (middle) and Sina Saeedi at the 2019 Columbus Women and Girls’ Fest. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Elaine Richardson

Who runs the world? Girls — at least that’s what the Columbus Women and Girls’ Fest is trying to inspire in young women. 

The Columbus Women and Girls’ Fest is an annual festival taking place Saturday to celebrate and promote female-identifying leaders in art and culture, according to the program’s website. The event is free and virtual and takes place from noon to 7 p.m., featuring guest speaker Jennifer Lewis, a multi-award-winning actor, author, activist and performance artist, according to the program’s website. 

The festival, which is in its third year, will be hosted by the Education Foundation for Freedom — a nonprofit organization that promotes empowering cultural and educational experiences for women and girl-identifying people — Elaine Richardson, a founder of the program, said. The program was created in 2016 by Richardson, Jamila D. Hunter and Diann Johnson. Richardson said she had the idea for the nonprofit, and Hunter and Johnson came on board to help. 

“One thing that I really love about this festival is organizing and reaching out to different groups. It really makes you think about inclusion. I had to think about it for this one because some people need things transcribed, you know ASL, and you have to really think about your programming more because it’s online,” Richardson said. “We thought about those things more than we have in the past, and it’s going to help us get better.” 

Richardson said the festival will include performances featuring singers, dancers, poets and speakers.

Richardson, a professor of literacy studies at Ohio State, said she is an advocate for women and girls, especially the most vulnerable. 

“I’m very adamant about trying to help in any way that I can shed light on the vulnerabilities, especially women and girls in poverty-stricken environments, but not just poverty-stricken because really, all women and girls are or have a level of vulnerability,” Richardson said. “Some less than others because of economics and maybe race, but when you have that intersection of race, gender, poverty or disabilities, that increases your vulnerability.”

Richardson said some women can be subject to sexual and economic exploitation. She said some girls go through life without having opportunities for quality education and are indoctrinated into gender roles, accepting the way that things are instead of pushing against them. 

“I was involved in sex trafficking at a very early age being vulnerable, wanting people to like me, wanting people to love me,” Richardson said. “When you don’t have the proper self-love, when you don’t know who you are and you’re in an environment that’s telling you you’re not pretty, you’re vulnerable to be looking for love in all the wrong places.” 

She said part of doing the Columbus Women and Girls’ Fest is about trying to create a space for women for their aspirations and to pool their resources. Richardson said that with this festival, girls are able to network with each other and have access to community resources. 

“We try to raise money for scholarships as well. Of course, we’re still new so we don’t have the resources that we hope to have in the future, but we’re growing and we have our biggest supporter, Ohio State University, because it’s part of my job as well as part of my work, my literacy outreach,” Richardson said. 

Richardson said for the first two years the festival took place in August at a park next door to the OSU African American Studies Extension Center, called the MPACC Boxpark. Due to COVID-19, the festival was moved online, Richardson said.

Tahleigha Burke, a third-year in biology at Ohio University, said that Richardson has been a mentor to her since middle school and that she is someone who she looks up to greatly.

Burke said she participated in the festival last year and that Richardson asked her to speak at the event.

“I was surrounded by young ladies and she wanted me to inspire them to keep going to school and further their education because there’s not a lot of Black women or Black people in society who further their education and we would like to change that,” Burke said.

Burke said she feels like the festival is important because it’s not only a place of interaction and networking, but it’s also a safe space.

“It’s so sad, there’s not a lot of places that young girls can go and talk and even feel motivated or supported, and I think that it’s really important that these young girls go out and network and see other women doing things, getting out there, talking to people,” Burke said.

The Columbus Women and Girls’ Fest will take place online Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. The virtual event is free and ticket registration can be found on the festival’s website.