When former first lady Michelle Obama took the stage at this year’s United State of Women summit in Los Angeles, the crowd erupted in cheers so loud that Tracee Ellis Ross joked from the stage: “Are you gonna be able to hear us if you keep screaming?”
This was the start of a conversation between Obama and Ross, who are friends in real life. It was the start of the most highly anticipated speaking event at the USOW, following a day filled with high profile speakers including Jane Fonda, Valerie Jarrett, Tina Tchen, Aly Raisman and more.
The women spoke about everything from education to childhood memories to what the future holds for the next generation of women.
When Ross asked Obama, “Do you think there’s a way that we can help everyone dream in a more limitless way that is not gender based?”
Obama answered that she’s “concerned about us as women.”
“When the most qualified person running was a woman and look what we did instead. I mean, that says something about where we are,” Obama said to a full crowd at the Shrine Auditorium. “If we as women are still suspicious of one another, if we still have this crazy, crazy bar for each other that we don’t have for men, if we’re still doing that today, if we’re not comfortable with the notion that a women could be our president, compared to what?... That’s on us.”
They spoke about how culture “eggs” women on to get married, have the dream wedding and have kids. When Ross said she missed that stage, Obama responded, “Good for you.”
“Tracee Ellis Ross must not be happy because she’s not married with kids.”
“Look where I’m sitting!?” Ross replied to a cheering crowd.
“I think if we want our daughters to dream bigger than we did then we have more work to do,” Obama said. “So many of us have gotten ourselves to the table but were still too grateful to be at the table to shake it up.”
Another incredibly powerful moment at the summit was when four athletes who all confronted disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar in court earlier this year took the stage as “sister survivors.” Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, Tiffany Lopez and Jeanette Antolin took the USOW stage side by side after being introduced by Sophia Bush, who said it was “an honor to bear witness to their experience.”
Raisman spoke first, telling the crowd that “speaking out is never easy. Each time I share my story I relive my trauma.”
She told the cheering crowd, “If we do not keep up the fight, sadly, history is likely to repeat itself. This problem is bigger than Nassar. The #MeToo movement is not just in gymnastics and Hollywood -- it is everywhere.”
Her powerful speech was followed by Tiffany Lopez, who first reported Nassar’s abuse in 1998.
“My voice is no longer silent and I’m taking back my power,” she said. “If I had been heard and believed 20 years ago, the women standing beside me -- all of the 265 young women who have now barely come forward as victims -- would have been spared from the horrors of sexual abuse.”
Antolin followed Lopez’s speech and delivered her message of empowering children: “We need to teach our kids that their voice matters. It will be heard and we will listen.”
Wieber was the last of the athletes to speak out and received rounds of applause when she said: “It ends with us ... you are not alone and your time is now. Speak your truth. Hold your abusers accountable and regain your power.”
The memorable moments continued at the summit when actress Jane Fonda and Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, took the stage at the USOW together to speak about mass criminalization. Fonda started her speech off by saying, “When Trump was elected and the toxic bedrock of white supremacy in this country was exposed, I realized something ... the lens through which I have been looking at race is too shallow -- so I’m studying.”
She went on to say that “it takes more than empathy. It takes intention, to even begin to comprehend what people of color, no matter their class, face every day.”
Cullors followed Fonda’s speech by praising her and telling the auditorium “every white woman in the audience, please take heed.”
They both spoke about disproportionally high incarceration rates in African American communities and racism in America and advocated ending the war on drugs and the construction of new prisons.
Many of the powerhouse women who spoke at the United State of Women conference told “GMA” that they wanted women to leave the summit feeling not just inspired, but motivated by all of the memorable moments and speeches.
“I hope that women leave with action items,” Sophia Bush said. “Not just inspiration. There’s big inspiration here, but one of the things I’m always so impressed by at this summit is that you walk away knowing what to do next, what the steps are that you can take to activate yourself, to activate your community to create the kind of change you want to create and I really hope that it’s the kind of day that inspires people to walk the walk even further when you walk out of this building.”