Annual Grrrl PowHER Hour challenges guests to use their voices

Oct 26, 2020
Kathryne Davis
Brandee Thomas Headshot
Brandee Thomas

The Brenau community was treated to dancing, music, speeches by students and a keynote address by Brandee Thomas, shelter director of United Way of Greater Atlanta, during Grrrl PowHER Hour on Thursday, Oct. 23.

At the informal lunchtime convocation — hosted annually by The Women’s College of Brenau University and held virtually for the first time this year — Thomas told the audience how she worked her way up to her current position. She focused her speech on this year’s theme of “Own Your Voice, Create Your Community.”

Prior to being a shelter director, Thomas spent several years as a newspaper and magazine reporter, a job she enjoyed due to being able to tell stories. She also spent time as the executive director of My Sister’s Place in Gainesville, a nonprofit homeless shelter.

“More often than not, I used my articles to highlight marginalized voices in the community,” Thomas said. “I have always believed that having a seat at the table doesn’t give me the right to be the voice for the voiceless. Instead, it grants me the privilege of passing the mic so that their voices can be heard.”

Grrrl PowHER Hour also included speeches from Shania McAmis, Student Government Association president, and Amber Simmons, the 2020-2021 Baxter-Bryan Scholar, one of the highest academic honors given to a rising senior to cover tuition, room and board.

Like Thomas, McAmis touched on the theme by discussing community and how much people need it now.

“With so much stress we have in the 21st century, there’s never been a more important time to help others struggling with their well-being,” McAmis said. “Most people want to be a part of a community because there’s something indescribably lovely about being a part of a group of people who share something more substantial than geographical location, something they feel passionately about. And community participation becomes an empowerment. When people feel empowered, they feel able to influence positive change.”

Simmons explained how she uses her voice to speak up against injustices she sees. She encouraged those in attendance to have needed conversations and be positive role models.

“How fortunate we all are to attend a university with such a strong community,” Simmons said, “a safe haven for women, a place where women empowerment isn’t questioned but celebrated. Brenau community, I challenge you all today to be brave, bold, kind, loud, and to own your voice. Because frankly, there’s no better place to own your voice and learn how to do so than here at Brenau.”

During the convocation, viewers watched a recording of the Tau Sigma dance fraternity, along with performances of Carole King’s “Natural Woman” by Sarah Kay and the Brenau alma mater by the Vocal Chamber Ensemble. Part of Gainesville Theater Alliance’s powerful Stories of Color was shown as well. Since GTA is unable to perform live, some of their performances will be on YouTube. For more information and schedules, go to

Before answering questions, Thomas left students with advice on how to use their voices.

“I have learned that you open more hearts and ears when you are mindful of how you say things,” she said. “Your delivery opens and closes more doors than you know. So speak up and speak out, but read the room. When you are walking in your purpose, the universe will and does conspire for your success. If you are not living and speaking your truth, you rob the world of a viewpoint that only you can provide. Finding your voice can be tough, but you must try. You must speak up for yourself and use your voice for the betterment of your community. Even if your voice shakes, you must do it. Because if you don’t, who will?”