Throughout most of their lives, the majority of women just quietly go about the business of making life better for those around them. They do it without fanfare; with the minimum of expectations and quite often without the full resources to get the job done properly. In fact, they are the queens of “making do.” For the next three weeks, OurWeekly will highlight and celebrate those women who work diligently and selflessly to make life in Los Angeles the best it can be.
By Cory A. Haywood
OW College Intern
Mablean Ephriam, president and CEO, Mablean Ephriam Foundation.
Mablean Ephriam will forever be seen in the eyes of Black folk as the sassy judge who “pulled no punches” on the daytime television show, “Divorce Court.”
But even though her seven-year stint as the show’s host came to an abrupt end in 2006, this former courtroom-diva refuses to take a break from justice, and her focus on the “common good” has never been stronger.
“I am passionate about helping those who are less fortunate than me,” Ephriam said earnestly, adding that her deepest concern is with today’s youth. “I am passionate about children; especially children of divorce. I hate to see them used as pawns and denied the right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.”
Prior to becoming a superior court judge, Ephriam practiced family law for more than 20 years. Today, she continues her family outreach as president and CEO of the Mablean Ephriam Foundation, a community-based organization that offers parenting and financial literacy classes and training in domestic violence prevention.
“Our motto is: Educated minds, financial empowerment and better families equal better communities,” said Ephriam, who established her foundation in 1999, and has since been on a mission to help send minority students to college.
Ephriam’s long-term goal is to give at least $100,000 to students around the country, and this year she expects to offer $20,000 in college scholarships, despite her difficulty wooing financial support.
“I am passionate about our youth getting a quality education and attending college,” she said.
The foundation’s signature program is its annual Honoring Unsung Fathers (H.U.F.) Awards and Scholarship brunch held each Father’s Day for the last seven years. It is designed to pay tribute to men who, daily, provide love, nurturing and financial support for their children.
But even as she continues to build her philanthropic programs, Ephriam remembers the giants that she faced long before stepping foot into a courtroom. “The biggest challenge I have had to overcome is racism. But I was determined to succeed, since the odds were against me as a Black woman,” she said. “I worked hard; got good grades in school; and received scholarships to college.”
Ephriam earned her bachelor of science from Pitzer College, and her juris doctorate from Whittier College School of Law, before passing the California Bar.
By Cynthia E. Griffin
OW contributing editor
Angela Gibson, Area Manager, AT&T.
Oklahoma native Angela Gibson began working at AT&T in 1979, when it still had its Pacific Bell unit. She started as a clerk typist but noticed the managers who were paid to get involved in community grassroots work. She was also intrigued by the fact that they had a hand in influencing public policy.
Deciding that was a role she wanted to play in the company, Gibson eventually worked her way into the post of area manager in 1996.
In this role, she is responsible for public policy and community relations activities in cities west, south and southwest of Los Angeles, and is also the corporate liaison to selected federal and state officials.
Outside of her activities with AT&T, Gibson is passionate about working on nonprofit boards that focus on the underserved. She is also keen about building coalitions, and one of the arenas she has been able to do that effectively is in the area of small business.
She is currently president of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce (GLAAACC)–an achievement she calls her proudest–and in the past has served as president of the Compton, Lynwood, and Carson chambers of commerce.
Moving into these worlds has sometimes put Gibson in positions where she has faced challenges from others about how smart African American women are and how hard they work. But she has learned that the way to be truly successful is to stay true to your values and love yourself.
BY Juliana Norwood
OW staff writer
Rosalind Pennington is currently the President of the National Black Business Council, and managing member of Red River Enterprises, LLC and Rubicorporation, LLC.
The National Black Business Council is a 501 (c)(6) nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation and advancement of African American and minority-owned businesses. Their mission is to create and support programs that will close the economic and digital divides between minority and majority businesses. Pennington’s main responsibility is to advocate for access to capital, contracts, and commitments on behalf of the minority community. Between the three companies that she manages, she supervises over 75 people.
One of the major goals of Pennington’s National Black Business Council is to develop youth into successful entrepreneurs through her company’s Youth Entrepreneurial Program (YEP) and the Break the Cycle (BTC) youth conference. The long-term goals for the NBBC are to continue being a catalyst for growth and expansion of Black businesses in America.
Pennington is most passionate about helping people. “There is nothing more rewarding than to see someone overcome obstacles that you personally struggled with and to see them experience a positive outcome,” she said.
Pennington noted that her biggest professional accomplishment so far is her work with the 1996 Olympics for Visa International. She worked for Visa International as a Senior Network Engineer where she was responsible for designing the backend process for the debit card which was launched at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and is still in use today. She has also served on several national subcommittees to provide input on issues affecting African American businesses.
When asked about challenges that she has had to face, Pennington responded, “In life, there are always challenges and obstacles. I try not to focus on them too much and view them as keys to my personal growth. I find that if you spend so much time focusing on what is wrong, you overlook all the things that are right. I try to count my blessings daily and celebrate my successes versus focusing on challenges and obstacles.”
By Juliana Norwood
OW Staff Writer
“Always remember the ladder can be climbed in high heels.”
Bonita Pilgram-Perkins is a perfect example of that strategic bit of advice, and has used it to help her climb the corporate ladder at UPS.
She joined the giant shipping conglomerate 24 years ago, after seeing an advertisement for marketing students at the career center of her alma mater CSU, Los Angeles.
As strategic account manager for the company’s Pacific Region, Pilgram-Perkins handles major entertainment studios like Paramount, Fox, Disney, Sony, Universal Studios and other strategic accounts in healthcare and high-tech industries. She is responsible for annual revenues of more than $38 million and package volume in excess of $5 million.
But gaining the respect and of people in the entertainment industry took considerable determination and perseverance, explained the manager. “It took lots of relationship building.”
Everyday was a struggle, and no two days were the same, said Pilgram-Perkins, but that didn’t stop her from climbing the corporate ladder to get into a marketing position she loves and has maintained for more than 15 years.
What excites the Los Angeles resident about her job is the variety and the need to think outside of the box. She also enjoys the many charitable hours she works on behalf of her company.
“I volunteer over 700 hours per year on behalf of UPS,” pointed out the manager. But Pilgram-Perkins is not just passionate about her volunteer efforts on behalf of her company, she extends that same enthusiasm to working within her church–McCoy Memorial Baptist Church.
“Don’t go through life with catcher’s mitts on both hands; remember to give back,” is her motto and her advice to others.
In addition to her church work, Pilgram-Perkins is a board member for many non-profit organizations including The Legacy Ladies, Mablean Ephriam Foundation and the Urban Media Foundation.
And while she thrives on volunteering, Pilgram-Perkins also confesses that life balance is definitely one of her biggest personal challenges.
Careerwise, the UPS manager said her biggest accomplishment has been connecting with local officials.
“I have enjoyed working with the UPS Congressional Awareness and Community Relations Team over 15 years. [It gave her] the opportunity to work with (the late) Congresswoman Juanita Millendar-McDonald and to support the communities she served. I was the event coordinator for over 10 years for the minority Women and Children annual Aids Walk put on by the Congresswoman and the League of African American Women.”
By Brittney M. Walker
OW Staff Writer
Bridget Cook, General Counsel, Antelope Valley Union High School District
As general counsel with the Antelope Valley Union School District (AVUHSD), Bridget Cook advises all administrative employees, responds to complaints, and oversees special education litigation.
“I am a problem solver,” she explained. “(I’m passionate) about insuring that the school district preserves the public’s trust, with the children and society, and that we are able to educate them and make sure the school district fulfills that responsibility.”
Cook created the general counsel position for the district and, before this post, worked as a teacher.
“I began substitute teaching while in law school, (and) I took a long-term substitute assignment, while I was waiting for bar exam results. In the meantime, the teacher I was subbing for committed suicide. It was really traumatic for the students. When (they) learned that the district was looking to hire someone other than me for the position vacated due to the teacher’s death, they circulated a petition and wrote letters to get me hired. I was overwhelmed with the confidence they had in me, and took the position as a teacher for the school year. It was a good thing that I took the job, because I didn’t pass the bar exam.”
But with budget cuts and constant legal situations arising, Cook realized the district needed her legal background as an in-house advisor. Cook developed her current position and has been serving since 1998.
“I loved teaching and signed up for a second year. I passed the bar during my second year of teaching and had planned to leave the district. That’s when God stepped in and paired me with the superintendent for an exercise in a professional development class.”
Cook earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and in African American studies from UCLA. While pursuing her jurist doctorate degree from Whittier Law School, the relentless Cook worked a full-time job and raised her family.
“(My husband) helped me pursue my goal to be an attorney,” she said. “He was very supportive; we’d be at Disneyland, and I’d be in the car studying.”
Cook said without her husband’s support, accomplishing what she has thus far would have been much more difficult.
After completing her degree and being sworn-in at the U.S. Supreme Court, Cook had the opportunity to dine with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She says that is one of her most prized accomplishments in her careers thus far.
But it does not stop here. Cook wants to continue instituting improvements in the AVUHSD, including more efficient staff training and obtaining additional participation from teachers and parents in students’ lives.
“One of the problems we face in our school district is lack of communication. We try to avoid some of the conflict between teachers and parents,” Cook commented. “I would like to enhance information sharing and access to schools and (avoid getting parental participation) only when a child is already struggling in school or facing discipline.”
While she continues to serve the public, pursue her passions, and work to elevate the minds of students, Cook understands hard work is nothing without rest, family and time off, that’s why she tries to maintain a balanced life between work and home, work and health.