It is said that behind every successful man, there is a woman, and while that may be true, in March of every year, the women themselves take the spotlight in recognition of Womens History month.
The celebration actually began in 1978 in the United States as Womens History Week, and was held to coincide with a March 8 celebration of International Womens Day.
Congress expanded the recognition to an entire month in 1987.
In Los Angeles, the Black Business Association (BBA) will continue its annual celebration of the Achievement of African American women with a special program March 29 at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Following the national theme of Womens Art: Womens Vision, BBA this year is honoring three women from the artssculptor Tina Allen, actress JaNet DuBois, and artist Synthia Saint Jamesas well as women of note in business and the community. These are Ingrid Merriwether, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Merriwether and Williams Insurance Co.; Amina Salum Ali, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the African Union; and the Regalettes, a nonprofit service organization.
We have had for the last 20 years outstanding women on our board of directors, and women chairpersons of the BBA. We felt that (organizations recognizing) Womens History Month were overlooking the accomplishments of African Americans, so we thought it was something we could (rectify) as an organization, explained Earl Skip Cooper, BBA president.
And because of the organizations thrust, Cooper said they have added the twist of recognizing black business women.
We can never under recognize the accomplishments of African American women historically, added Cooper, who points to Michelle Obama, wife of presidential (candidate) Barack as a key example. I cant remember a presidential candidate who has had a more visible wife. I dont think Hillary was this visible, when Bill Clinton first ran for president . . . Laura Bush was not out there like Michelle. Ronald Reagans wife wasnt out there and on and on. We not only have an outstanding male (in Barack) but what we also have which has been historic in the African American community, is a strong woman who is backing her man.
The awards event itself is much more than a luncheon. It is typically preceded by a conference, which this year begins at 8:30 a.m. and focuses on helping women better take care of themselves and their lives. This year panel discussions will include Finances: Securing Your Future; Personal Care: Beauty Works-Looking and Feeling Your Best; Personal Health: Improve Your Health From the Inside Out; and Personal Interaction: Repairing Family Relations for the Career Woman.
The conference is followed by the actual luncheon at noon where each honoree will speak about their contributions.
The luncheon will be followed by the BBA signature Sweet Conversations and Dessert Parlor, a networking and mingling session that is a reflection of the uniqueness of the African American culture.
We have desserts from African American bakers and restaurants, explained Cooper. Our desserts are a little different from other folks. We feature desserts that are unique to black folks like peach or blackberry cobbler, Sock It To Me cake, coconut cake, and sweet potato cheese cake.
Among the expected participants in this years dessert reception are Chef Marilyn, Gwens Specialty Cakes and Harriets Cheese cakes.
Proceeds from the luncheon will help support the BBA scholarship program, which for the last 30 years has provided young women as well as young men more than $100,000 to help them complete their studies in business, entrepreneurship and other fields such as law.
Every year the organization gives awards ranging from $500 to $1,000 to high school students who are recommended and write an essay detailing why they want to be an entrepreneur and why they want to attend an institution of higher learning. The deadline to apply is typically at the end of January, and some of the winners will be announced at the womens luncheon.
The program will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the cost to attend is $65 per person. For additional information, contact the BBA at (323) 291-9334 or at www.bbala.org.
The BBA is a nonprofit association founded in 1970 by a group of entrepreneurs who recognized that there was a need for an organization devoted to promoting black business and its development. Originally named the Black Businessmens Association, the group changed its name in 1979 to reflect the participation of women in the business world.
The groups mission is to advocate and advance the development and growth of African American owned businesses. This is done through workshops, training sessions, connecting with corporate America, taking advocacy actions, when necessary and by giving black business owners the information and tools needed to grow their companies.
While BBA is based in Los Angeles and has impacted more than 10,000 black businesses locally, through its association with the National Business League and other strategic alliances, the group has access to and influence with 75,000 African American-owned and women/minority owned enterprises.
The Black Business Association of Los Angeles pays homage to the achievements of African American women during its Salute to Black Women conference and awards luncheon. This year the organization will recognize the following women.
Tina Allen. Internationally renowned sculptor and painter Tina Allen began her art career as a painter at age five, but despite her love for this medium, the New York-born artist had a gift with sculpture.
Her early influencesfirst living in a household where her studio musician father Gordon Specs Powell brought a wealth of creative expression into the home; and then later living with her mother, after her parents divorce, on the island of Grenada with its Calypso music, figurative artists and indigenous religionsplayed a major part in shaping Allens artistic vision and perceptions.
She began her three-dimensional work after being given an assignment in high school to make an ashtray from clay. Instead of producing that, she sculpted a bust of Aristotle, whom she had been reading about for another class.
From there she studied art at the University of South Alabama, and after stints at Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and as host of a television show on the arts in Mobile, AL, Allen returned to New York City where she attended the Pratt Institute and the New York School of Visual Arts.
Like most fledgling artists, she struggled to make ends meet financially in the early years by winning small commissions.
That struggle changed in 1986, when she entered a competition to create a memorial statute of labor activist A. Philip Randolph. Allen won the $85,000 commission, and that opened the door and set her career on an upward trajectory.
Among other works she has created are a statue of Nelson Mandela, whom she met on his 1990 visit to Los Angeles; a 13-foot statue of author Alex Haley, and likenesses of Sojourner Truth (pictured in this weeks cover art), Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X.
In Los Angeles, she also created a four-story pictorial relief wall for King Drew Medical Magnet High school.
The artist describes her work as writing our history in bronze, and she called her creations totems that tell the children this: This kind of behavior, this kind of person is worthy of attention.
Amina Salum Ali. Born and raised on the island of Zanzibar, which in 1964 joined with Tanganyika to form the country of Tanzania in 1964, Amina Salum Ali has been a life-long public servant.
Educated in India she holds an MBA in marketing from the University of Pune; a bachelors of arts in economics from the University of Delhi; a diploma in financial management from the Institute of Management, Development and Research in India; and a diploma in trade promotion and export market research from Finland.
Currently based in Washington, D.C. and serving as the permanent representative to the African Unions (AU) Mission to the United States, Ali has held a variety of government positions. These include being a Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Union Government of Tanzania and Deputy Minster in the ministry of Finance. In the Revolutionary government of Zanzibar, she was the Minister of Finance. She was also a Minister of State in the Chief Minsters office.
As the first woman Ambassador to the AU, she speaks for 53 countries and advocates for the AU Mission of building an integrated Africa, a prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.
The Washington Mission opened in October 2006, and is the organizations first bilateral mission outside of Africa.
Among Alis tasks are informing American popular opinions about Africa, the African Union, and key issues of concern, as well as countering when necessary, media distortions of developments and events in Africa.
Regalettes Inc. Founded in 1958, by the late Gertrude Gipson-Penland, the Regalettes is a nonprofit organization comprised of women working together to enhance the quality of life in minority communities through cultural activities, outreach and educational support including scholarships.
The organization, which prides itself on conducting its activities in a regal manner, gained nationwide attention for organizing fundraising events with a unique style.
The first event is a perfect example. Held in 1958 in an old Sugar Hill Mansion, the garden party featured each member strolling the grounds wearing hats made of fresh cut flowers.
That garden party theme will be reborn this year, during the 50th commemoration of the organization. The event called A White Linen Affair, will be held Aug. 31 at the historic Rose Garden in Exposition Park.
During its existence, the Regalettes have given more than $200,000 in scholarships. But the organization does not help the selected students for just one year. They continue the support annually until the young persons educational goals are achieved.
In addition to scholarships, the organization gives food to those in need and provides funding to groups such as the United Negro College Fund, the Sickle Cell Research Foundation, St. Jude Hospital, and the L.A. Spastic Foundation.
Regalettes also recently established an endowment for Los Angeles Southwest College to help fund the training of additional nurses to impact the nursing shortage.
JaNet Dubois. It was her childhood experiences that gave multi-talented entertainer JaNet DuBois the impetus to get into the industry. She and young friends amused themselves by staging performances that borrowed from ideas and imitated adults in the Brooklyn, New York, community in which she grew up.
From there, she participated in a variety of acting workshops and community theater projects, and in the late 1960s found herself in the original production of Golden Boy along side Sammy Davis Jr. and Lou Gossett. This was her introduction to live theater and paved the way for other stage appearances including roles in A Raisin in the Sun and Nobody Loves An Albatross.
In New York, she also got the opportunity to appear in the day-time soap opera Love of Life and this gained DuBois recognition as the first black female to regularly appear on a television daily serial. She played the character Loretta Allen from 1970-1972.
Shortly afterwards, DuBois moved to the West Coast, and it was during a performance of Hot L. Baltimore at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, that she would make the connection which would give her one of her most pivotal television roles.
While performing, she caught the attention of producer Norman Lear, who was creator of the television show Good Times. They joined forces to create the sassy and independent character Wilona for the show, and she would go on to play the part for the sitcoms run on CBS from 1973-79.
DuBois acting talents are not limited to stage and television. She has garnered credits on the big screen as well with roles in movies including A Piece of the Action, Shaft, Diary of a Mad Housewife, and Charlies Angels.
The multi-talented performer is also a singer and songwriter, and in addition to writing the lyrics for the song, she is heard weekly singing the theme songMovin On Up for the television show The Jeffersons which is now in syndication. Extending her music career even further, she is planning to release a CD this year.
Outside of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, DuBois participates in telethons, benefits, fundraisers and works with youth organizations. She said one of her most treasured memories was when a solider in the audience during a speaking engagement at the Veterans Administration gave her one of his Purple Hearts.
Ingrid Merriwether. A 27-year veteran of the insurance industry, Ingrid Merriwether, president and chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Merriwether and Williams Insurance Services, is most noted for successfully providing bond assistant programs for the City and County of San Francisco, Los Angeles City, the Los Angeles Community College District and the Port of Oakland.
These programs have facilitated in excess of $140 million in bonding for small, local and minority construction contractors and saved the contracting agencies more than $4 million. They have been key in helping public agencies diversify their contractor pool and for helping small-, minority- and women-headed firms obtain the critical insurance needed to grow their businesses.
Merriwether, who co-owns the company with her husband Rick Williams, actually stumbled into the insurance industry at age 18 by dialing a wrong number in search of a new job. She went for an impromptu interview, took several typing tests in order to qualify, got an entry-level job, and the rest as they say is history.
In 1997 after years as employee, Merriwether got the opportunity to buy out the assets of her employer, ARISCO, and from that time she has grown the company from 15 employees and $1.6 million in network revenue to a 23-person firm with just under $15 million in revenue.
The firm has offices in San Francisco, the Oakland Bay area, San Diego and Los Angeles, and is working on expansion to Seattle, WA.
And what has enabled Merriwether to grow her company in the face of the elimination of affirmative action, has been her concentration on the unique niche ignored by most of her competitors and an emphasis on the money-saving benefits of increasing the pool of potential contractors.
In addition to the small contractor bonding programs, Merriwether and Williams also offers traditional property and casualty insurance, as well as surety and risk management services.
Among the honors the CEO has received are the Madam CJ Walker Entrepreneur of the year in 2005 from the 100 Black Women of the Bay Area, and Top 100 Woman Owned businesses award in 2007, 2006 and 2004 from the San Francisco Business Times.
Synthia Saint James. Los Angeles-born Synthia Saint James is a self-taught fine artist and writer who sold her first commissioned painting in 1969 at age 20. Today, she is an internationally known figure who has created more than 60 book covers including one for Terry McMillans best selling Waiting to Exhale.
Saint James has also completed more than 50 commissions for major organizations such as The House of Seagram, Brigitte Matteuzzis School of Modern Jazz Ballet in Geneva Switzerland and the Mark Taper Forum. One of her most visible art works is the first Kwanzaa Stamp, which she completed for the United States Postal Service. Its first issue day was Oct. 22, 1997 with a 32 cents face value. The stamp was also re-issued in 2002 with a 37 cents value.
In addition to the commissions that she has done since her early 20s living in New York and which she credits with helping her learn how to paint, the Los Angeles High School graduate has 13 childrens picture books currently on the market. Three of these she wrote. They are The Gifts of Kwanzaa, and Sunday both published by Albert Whitman and Company, and Its Kwanzaa Time, which is a lift the flap book that was published by Simon and Schuster.
Saint James, who studied journalism in high school and calls writing her second love, has also written two books of poetry and proseGirlfriends published by Peter Pauper Press, and Can I Touch You: Love Poems and Affirmations, which is an audio book. This along with a multi-cultural cookbook Creative Fixings From the Kitchen, was published by Persnickety Press.
Her work has garnered Saint James a number of awards including a 1997 Coretta Scott King honor for her illustrations in Neeny Coming, Neeny Going and four activity books co-authored with Bunny Hull and published by Dream A World.
On Monday March 10, she will also be recognized by Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas as Woman of the Year for 2008 at the state capital.