Women of Power: My Mother’s Legacy

More than 1,000 accomplished female executives and entrepreneurs gathered at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Marriott Harbor Beach Resort last week and participated in a milestone—the 10th anniversary of our Women of Power Summit. More than a decade ago this event was conceived with the idea of creating a business leadership conference in which women of color could candidly share triumphs and tragedies, stories and strategies, avocations and aspirations.

The objective was for attendees to leave our event fully empowered to overcome any challenge and make them unstoppable in their professional and personal pursuits.

We have produced a safe haven for authentic sisterhood where mentor-protégé relationships have been developed, business partnerships initiated and lifelong friendships kindled. As such, it has evolved into one of our most celebrated franchises, reaching audiences year-round through a robust Website, dynamic social media presence, and an increasingly popular television show.

We would have never launched the Women of Power Summit, though, if not for its greatest champion: my mother, Barbara Graves. She was integral to its conception and development. Mom served as the heart and conscience of those early meetings, helping us to formulate a mission for the event and then making sure we remained true to our charge as our team created content and executed every detail.

She most certainly represents the embodiment of our event. A consummate professional, Mom set a high bar for excellence and decorum for herself, her sons, and our employees. At the same time, she advocated the advancement of promising talent–always mentoring young women inside and outside our company—as well as a number of causes that promoted equality and opportunity for all. She was also my father’s most trusted adviser and tireless supporter, playing any role necessary to make our company a success.

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To me, she was a nurturing mother whose love and devotion were vital to my growth and development as a man. She prepared me to tackle an often inhospitable world with tenacity and dignity. Through her words and example, she shared with me that African American women are the most powerful people on earth. It was my mother who infused in all of us a sense of who we should be and that it was our duty to always respect and support black women. Just as important, she left with me the indelible impression that I should never use my position to deny capable professionals an opportunity to advance or make a contribution. In fact, nearly 65% of our employees and 50% of our senior managers are women. BLACK ENTERPRISE has grown to become a more innovative, competitive company largely because of that.

I recently had lunch with a client who told me that the Women of Power Summit represents “the gold standard of all conferences”–without qualification. Our company has received such acclaim because we stand on the shoulders of my mother. From content development to event execution, she demanded that our summit project superior quality, professional excellence, and unparalleled customer service. She inspired our staff to design an environment that fostered caring, commitment, and camaraderie as well as one that recognized the sacrifices and achievements of those women who had opened doors for generations. In fact, we honor the memory of Mom, who got her start as a teacher and dedicated much of her life to the development of youth, through our annual presentation of the Barbara Graves Legacy Award to a leader who’s demonstrated similar commitment.

This year’s recipient is Beverly Tatum, Ph.D., the president of Spelman College.
As much as Mom enjoyed the planning process, what she relished most was attending the event. Sitting in front of each session, she’d listen to speakers in rapt attention, often feverishly taking notes. Every year without fail she would exclaim how impressed she was by all the women in attendance, and how proud and inspired they made her feel. She looked forward to her five granddaughters being old enough to attend and take in what she saw as an unprecedented display of genuine sisterhood as attendees celebrated, enlightened, and uplifted one another.

[Related: WATCH the 2015 Women of Power Summit]

She didn’t live to see her granddaughters participate in our summit, but they each embody her strength and resilience. Each is aware of her pivotal role in creating the event, as well as how passionate she was about it because of the rare and enormous benefit to its corporate and individual participants.

My mother was at our 10th anniversary celebration in spirit. She would be proud and elated that our Women of Power Summit will touch lives for generations to come.