The air was filled with excitement as nearly 300 women filled The City Club at the downtown Wells Fargo Center Thursday morning to honor three outstanding women for their numerous contributions to the community.
The California Black Women’s Health Project (CABWHP), hosted the 14th Anniversary “Women Who Dared 2008” breakfast gala to honor Debbie Allen, director, producer and founder of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy; Xylina D. Bean, MD, chairperson for the Department of Pediatrics and W. K. Kellogg Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee associate professor, Charles R. Drew School of Medicine; and Holly Mitchell, chief executive officer, Crystal Stairs.
CABWHP, an organization dedicated to improving the health of African American women, chose this year’s honorees for breaking new ground in their professions, advocating for women and youth and for dedicated service to their communities.
A spirited interpretative performance dedicated to the survivors of sexual violence by dancer Ebony Ruffin enthralled the crowd. Later in the program, dancer Lindsey Holmes electrified the room with an inspiring tribute to the honorees.
The attendees viewed a 30-second public service announcement featuring CABWHP’S Black Women’s Mental Health Initiative, whose goal is to destigmatize mental and emotional health concerns in the black community. The Mental Health Initiative was launched by CABWHP in 2002.
Crystal Crawford, CEO of CABWHP, commended the women for their continued leadership and commitment to the community. “We love and honor these daring women for their exempary service to our community as we commemorate our 14th anniversary,” said Crawford.
As the artistic director and founder of The Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, Allen has become recognized for introducing hundreds of young people in Southern California to the world of dance.
The multitalented Allen’s groundbreaking work as a choreographer, actress and director have won her numerous awards, including three emmys for choreography in the series “Fame” and “The Motown 25th Anniversary Special.” Allen has also won 10 Image Awards as a director, actress, choreographer and producer for “A Different World, “Motown 25th,” “The Academy Awards,” “Fame,” “The Debbie Allen Special” and “Amistad.”
Dr. Xylina D. Bean, a board certified pediatrician and neonatologist, was recognized for her dedication in serving undeserved communities in Watts and Willowbrook. As a former chief of neonatology at MLK Jr. Hospital and current associate professor Charles R. Drew University School of Medicine, Bean has helped thousands of patients to the road to better health.
Dr. Bean has made it her life’s goal to work with underprivileged children in Los Angeles by serving on the board of trustees of Drew Child Development Corporation and as a co-founder of SHIELDS for Families and Wilmington Community Clinic.
Holly Mitchell, chief executive officer of Crystal Stairs, runs one of the largest private non-profit child care development agencies in California which facilitates care to approximately 25,000 children on a daily basis.
Mitchell’s public policy expertise has enabled Crystal Stairs to increase its voice in child care policy-making throughout California. She is a former executive director of the CABWHP.
Each awardee was thrilled and expressed gratitude for being honored and thanked the participants for attending. “It’s a blessing that I do what I do,” said Allen. “My mother taught me early on that we possess an inner power that guides us. It’s important that we as African American women network together and take hold of this world. We are challenged by many things today, but we must stay focused and stay on the path,” said Allen.
Dr. Bean said that her career in medicine was greatly influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King. “I recall spending a summer in the house in Winchester, Tennessee as a child and I saw Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on television leading the March on Washington. He was marching for jobs and better health care for African Americans. Watching that event changed my life,” recalls Dr. Bean. “That event showed me what I was supposed to do, which was to help the undeserved.” Dr. Bean has been recognized for her work with children and mothers impacted by substance abuse.
The neonatologist, who said that she was involved in several demonstrations surrounding MLK Jr. Hospital, now called Harbor-MLK hospital, urged audience members to advocate on behalf of the beleaguered facility. “They closed the hospital which served the most needy people in South Los Angeles. We are going to have to figure out a way to give health care to that community,” said Dr. Bean. If we do not care about the hospital’s fate, nothing will be done,” Dr. Bean maintained. “I will continue to agitate on behalf of MLK.”
Mitchell thanked the CABWHP for their work in advocating for the health rights of African American women. “They continue to help women by offering us advice and help regarding obesity, depression and sexual violence,” she observed.
Mitchell urged attendees to continue to support African American women. “My ‘aha’ moment came when I recognized the importance of black women providing mutual support for other black women in the workplace, socially, and in our families. It’s important to create an atmosphere where black women provide unconditional support to each other,” Mitchell urged.
Towards the end of the program, Crawford and organizers presented each awardee with a framed color photograph of an Alvin Ailey dancer by photographer Andrew Eccles. Friends and well-wishers showered each honoree with congratulations, hugs and kisses.
Founded in 1994, CABWHP is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health of California’s African American women and girls through education, policy, outreach and advocacy while promoting and improving their physical, spiritual, mental and emotional well-being.
To contact CABWHP, call (310) 412-1828 or visit their web site at www.cabwhp.org.