At the risk of being redundant, I can’t overstate what a powerful experience BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Women of Power Summit is for me each year. We’re already into planning next year’s event, but the emails, voicemails, and even snail mail notes (remember that? actual ink on paper?) are still arriving, bursting with enthusiasm and gratitude.
Even the suggestions for improvements or new topics to cover at next year’s conference make my day, because they mean we’ve connected to these women, they’re invested in what we do, and they can’t wait to come back for more.
A highlight of the conference this year, and every year, is the Legacy Awards. Over a beautiful candlelit dinner, we pay tribute to women who have been pioneers in their fields, thus changing the game for black women in all facets of business and professional life.
Our honorees are often women whose names you know, such as Dorothy Height, Ruth Simmons, and Ann Fudge in the past, and Bethann Hardison, Ntozake Shange, Bishop Barbara Harris, and Congresswoman Elenaor Homes Norton this year–women who aren’t recognized nearly enough. I’m not griping, it’s just a fact that the contributions of women of color too often go overlooked and underappreciated. So it thrills us to bring them fully into the light.
As mistress of ceremonies each year, I enjoy the unique vantage point of being able to stand on stage and watch the faces in the audience as they learn about these extraordinary women and all they’ve done. It’s my great honor to address the entire conference in a spirit of celebration and sisterly love. And it’s my great pleasure to have the best seat in the house: looking out at them – each extraordinary in her own right, each contributing to an annual event that I’m proud to say is the standard bearer for such events.
Here are the words I shared this year. Hope to see you there next February!
We have gathered this evening to celebrate, to congratulate, and to say thank you to four women who literally changed the world. That’s what the Legacy Awards are all about. We inaugurated this honor to recognize women who dared to learn, dream, push, pull, endure, demand, achieve and ascend to heights no one ever had the nerve – or the vision — to imagine for them.
They are a diverse group — a fashion icon and mogul, an acclaimed playwright and poet, a bishop, and a congresswoman. Yet they share the same passion for excellence and the same bold belief that everything is possible.
Presumed to be ordinary and to stay in their place, expected to achieve no more than the tried-and-true, and to color only within the narrow lines set to define the lives of colored girls, these phenomenal women would have none of it!
They dared to strive beyond what was safe, planned, or most probable for their lives. They dared to respond to a chorus of “You can’ts” with, “You watch me!” They dared to dwell in possibility! And because of them, and others we have honored here before them, the range of possibility has been expanded mightily for us all.
As no one need remind you, we are living through unprecedented times. I’d venture to guess that every one of you has a few more colorful words you might use to describe the year since we were last together. It’s been tough, no question. But what we must not do as we confront the inevitable difficulties we face, is allow what we cannot control to dictate what we can. Or what we believe. Or who we are. We have to remember that, even in times such as these – in fact, especially at times such as these — everything is possible.
Remember when you were a little girl and you believed that you could do or get or be absolutely anything? Gentlemen in the room, work with me… Ladies, think for a moment about that boundless sense of possibility and the enormous power it held. Each year, at this event, I feel that power all over again, and I’ve heard many of you say the same thing. We come together at this Summit and lift each other up and we float home, renewed, confident and sure…
Then reality hits. (Sometimes it hits before we even make it through Security at the airport!) And that feeling fades, our power leaking out along with it. This year, we must not let it go. We have to protect and nurture that sense that no matter what we’re in the midst of, everything is possible.
You’re going to hear it again and again all week. We want you to sing it in the shower, say it to each other, screensave it, facebook it, tweet it, and just don’t let it go: Everything. Is. Possible.
That belief is what this entire event is founded upon. Afterall, there wasn’t supposed to be a need for an event such as this. Black women executives? Not that long ago, that was considered to be an oxymoron! It was like saying “palm trees in Alaska” or “snow throughout the South”: interesting concept, but utterly ridiculous.
Well, look around this room! Look at what you and the women beside you and across from you and behind you have achieved! …And, guess what, they’re still selling lots of snowboots in Texas too! (As for palm trees in Alaska, I’ll bet Sarah Palen – as she looks out toward Russia – could probably spot a few.) So, claim it, ladies, believe it: Everything is possible!
Your life and career bear testament to that fact. This event bears testament to that fact. The people of Egypt bear testament to that fact. And tonight’s incredible Legacy Award honorees are a blazing testament to that fact.
Tonight, this week, and as your next chapter begins when you arrive home: Everything is possible!