On the very first page of the program from this year’s Circle of Sisters (COS) event, you’ll see a rousing welcome and praise from the mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio. “Chirlane and I are delighted to commend COS for its longstanding commitment to giving small businesses the chance to flourish,” he wrote, “and for inspiring and empowering countless African American women across our city and beyond.”
This glowing acknowledgement from one of the most powerful men in one of the largest cities of the world comes with reason. In the 10 years that Circle of Sisters has taken over the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, hundreds of businesses have showcased their products to a key consumer demographic: African American women.
Women operate the muscle and neck that influence the ways we move. It’s a power that makes Deon Levingston proud. As Emmis Communications senior vice president and market manager, Levingston manages the three stations behind this year’s Circle of Sisters: New York’s 107.5 WBLS, Hot 97, and WLIB. He says the execution of COS required concerted effort. “I’m most proud of the way the staff came together. It was a nonstop event for three days for our staff, in addition to all the planning.” Levingston says that a staff of more than 200 worked behind and in front of the scenes to ensure the success of this year’s event. “So some people probably haven’t slept since Thursday,” he adds.
Kicking off Oct. 4, and running through Oct. 5 with the tagline “Moving. Changing. Growing,” COS featured 264 vendors at colorful booths showcasing everything women enjoy — from healthy food and sweet-tooth desserts, to hair products, jewelry, books, clothes, and shoes. Moving from a robust buying love to appeal to the inner need for change and growth, COS featured numerous panels designed to uplift, inspire, empower, and entertain. Celebrity conversation with superstars like Jennifer Hudson and Lala Anthony moved masses of women to crowd into an audience seating 2,700 at the main stage of the Javits Special Events Hall.
Black Enterprise hosted three panels: one on the power of Black Twitter, one on wealth management and another on entrepreneurial crowdfunding. The “Money Management 101” panel was moderated by Black Enterprise’s Caroline Clarke and featured the panelists including author and financial expert, Carla A. Harris; author and media personality, Sabrina Lamb; and financial planner, author, and business consultant Ash Cash, who all gave concrete advice on acquiring and maintaining financial stability and wealth. After opening with the trailer to Black Enterprise’s upcoming Women of Power TV show, Clarke’s first question, “How do you make your money go as far as possible,” garnered the most passionate responses. “If you want to grow your money and keep other people out of your pocket, like your children,” said Lamb, who wrote Do I Look Like an ATM: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Financially Responsible African-American Children. “Children are financial terrorists,” Lamb added.
Carla Harris, scheduled to speak at this year’s Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit, conveyed key ways of dealing with the finances of elderly family members, along with how to grow money using CDs and mutual funds. “Get some help. Get an adviser,” she said. “There’s someone out there that will help you.” Ash Cash’s quote spoke volumes. “Four words: Mind Right. Money Right. Change your mindset and you’ll change your life.” Afterward, questions were taken from the audience.
The need to inspire carried over simultaneously into the breakout panel rooms, where everyone from author Zane appeared to talk about her work as an erotic novelist, to beauty panels with YouTube star Tatiana Ward whose YouTube beauty tutorials have garnered nearly 9 million views.
Sunday brought the “State of Black America: It’s a Journey for Black Men,” panel, moderated by TV One’s Roland Martin. Speakers included Bishop Hezekiah Walker; actor/activist Hill Harper; Eagle Academy CEO and founder, David C. Banks; his brother, NYPD Police Chief Philip Banks; Norman Seabrook, president of the Correction Officer’s Benevolent Association; and rapper Havoc of Mobb Deep.
This year’s COS more than matched last year’s 50,000 attendees. “From the volume size, we had 10,000 programs and we were out of all the programs at 3 p.m. Saturday,” says Levingston, with a raspy voice from a weekend of nonstop working without sleep. “We had more space than we had last year. We did a concert off-site [at Madison Square Garden], the R&B Live Concert featuring Faith Evans, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, Johnny Gill, Mary, Mary, and we added Hot 97.”
A day after the monumental event, Levingston’s tired eyes are already passionately focused on 2015. “It’ll be the same weekend next year, confirmed at the Javits, and we’ll just continue making it larger. I want to add a health fair and add a complete college pavilion by having Hot 97 involved. I really think we can have a very extensive college pavilion for high school kids or people thinking about changing their careers as well,” he says. “This is the one event where vendors, panelists, authors, performers, and clientele who attend at the end of the event say, ‘Thank you.’ It’s a great experience all the way around.”