The traditional kickoff for the Women of Power Summit is our annual Legacy Awards Gala, a night of moving tributes to women who have left a mighty imprint on the world, sealing their places in history, and in our hearts.
This year we were proud to honor Cathy Hughes, founder and Chairman of the TV One empire; Major General Marcelite Harris, retired from the US Air Force; Cathy Ross, Chief Financial Officer, Fed Ex Express; and Marva Collins, who single-handedly changed the face of education and the lives of hundreds of once underperforming students in inner-city Chicago, was presented with the inaugural Barbara Graves Legacy Award.
In addition to honoring these deserving and extraordinary women, the evening helps to set the tone for the entire conference. It was a heartwarming evening and our best Summit yet. I say that with all humility, because while we provide the forum and the format, it’s the speakers and attendees who create the magic. Sincerest thanks to every one of you!
We can’t wait to see everyone at the next Women of Power Summit (and to meet newcomers as well). Until then, stay strong and let’s continue to be there for each other. In response to several requests for my remarks that night, here they are.
Each year, Black Enterprise convenes this Summit with a keen awareness of the very real challenges you face at any given time as you strive to satisfy your most outsized ambitions – and to sometimes just get through the day.
Each year, we aim to offer you an unparalleled event, custom designed to suit your unique goals and needs as women of color. If you’ve attended the Summit before, I hope you’ll agree that, in the past, we’ve consistently delivered. This year’s event promises to be different only in that it will be better and bolder, more useful and meaningful, more compelling and more inspiring than ever before, beginning with this very special Legacy Awards celebration.
We begin the Summit with this party for two reasons. First and foremost, the women we come to honor are mighty giants, heroines and history makers whose contributions, quite frankly, haven’t gotten recognition enough. So, we choose to lead with them, giving them the top billing they so richly deserve. Second, this night offers us all a chance to laugh, to reconnect with each other and just breathe. For all that we do, this is what we all do too little of – and it’s probably what we need most.
It’s been a wild ride in the year since we were last together. No matter where we live or what titles we hold, we know what it is to experience major management shifts and hostile environments; attempts to undermine our authority, undercut our performance, undervalue our skills, and under-appreciate our efforts. And that’s just at home (hashtag: #lifewithteenagers)!
Let’s not even get started on what’s happening in the workplace. I read an article recently that likened our career reality in the last few years to negotiating an obstacle course blindfolded, backwards, in stilettos — and not the kind with high tech cushion insoles either.
And yet… and yet, as women of power, we remain undeterred. Like the extraordinary women we honor here this evening, we know that opportunities are seldom labeled and that those on top of the mountain did not fall there; they climbed. That climb may be treacherous and scary at times, but we understand that our power lies not in the light at the end of the tunnel, but in the light that guides us through it. True power comes from within.
First Lady Michelle Obama may laugh off her mid-life bangs as we fixate on her choice of belt or boots, but she is not diminished by the silly distractions; she knows where her true power lies.
Olympic Gold gymnast Gabby Douglas may have shed a tear over the inane focus on her hair after she pulled out one of the most stunning athletic performances of all time, but she has emerged as America’s Sweetheart; she knows where her true power lies.
Did she sing or did she not sing may have been the question, but after a year in which she became a mother, made an album, filmed a documentary, and earned $40 million dollars, B isn’t just for Beyonce, it’s for Business Mogul; she knows where her true power lies (and it’s not in her choice of a spouse).
Serena Jameka Williams — who cut her foot in 2010, setting off a string of health challenges, a free-fall in the tennis rankings, and a frenzy among the sports press who were only too happy to all but write her off — just regained her seat as the best female tennis player in the world! At the ripe and ripped age of 31, she is the oldest woman to reign there.
Two weeks ago, when Serena rallied to win the Quatar Open, with tears in her eyes and a huge smile on her face, she told the crowd, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been through so much. I never thought I would be here.” Like every one of tonight’s Legacy Award honorees, Serena knows where her true power lies.
They all understand that that power doesn’t keep us from falling, it keeps us fighting. And so, as they claim their power, and own it and live it, they also recognize the all-important truth — that it lives in them.
The very same is true for all of you. Like Serena Williams, you’ve been through so much, but here you are. Still standing. Still smiling. Still moving forward. Still climbing. No matter what recent times and circumstances have demanded, you’ve responded on point and as best you could. And what you now know that you may not have known before is that you can’t wait for the storm to pass, you gotta learn to dance in the rain. You can’t wait for the clouds to part, the waters to calm, or the cold wind to morph into a tropical breeze. Your power is ever present. It doesn’t dissipate when the lights go out, it illuminates your way… and it’s brought you here tonight.
One of my favorite sayings, from the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, is, “Exhaust the little moment.” This is a big week and we have big plans for you. You’re going to leave here exhausted…but happy. You may have arrived here with questions; we’re going to answer them. You may have arrived depleted; we’re going to fill you up. But for now, let’s make the most of this one small moment, by standing and, in the spirit of connecting, embrace each other. Hug somebody and mean it! In the midst of claiming our power, let’s claim a new friend or two. And now, if you’ll join hands, let us pray…
Keep on praying. See you next year!