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Black businesswomen gather for advice, inspiration

CARSON — Nearly 700 business women, life coaches and aspiring entrepreneurs flocked to the DoubleTree Hotel Sept. 14 and 15 to attend the eighth annual Black Businesswomen Rock! Sisters Sipping Success event where they received practical advice, inspiration and support. 

A series of 14 workshops delivered advice on everything from grant writing to the power of promotion and branding to using technology to scale a business.

Life coach Leah Pump, founder of the nonprofit The Ladylike Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit organization whose purpose is to educate, empower and inspire young women, fired up the crowd with a pep talk filled with positive affirmations.

“If you say, ‘I’m dumb,’ what happens?” she asked the audience. “You become dumb. But if you say, ‘I’m smart,’ then you become smart,” she said.

Pump said that keeping a positive mindset was imperative for black women pursuing goals in life and in business. 

“Repeat after me: ‘I am beautiful, I am valuable, I am intelligent, I am destined for greatness and I am going to succeed,’” she said.

Pump added that audience members must ignore the naysayers who are out to kill their dreams.

“I don’t care what your mom, dad, sister or brother told you,” she said. “You are not a mistake. You have a purpose on this planet.” 

Pump said that although society is obsessed with physical beauty, she maintained that the most fascinating and intriguing people are those that possess inner beauty.  

“What makes you beautiful inside?” she asked. “Your spirituality, your personality, your disposition, your opinions and your drive. When you know your value, you will hang around people who recognize your value.  

“If your acquaintances treat you like the abandoned gum under their shoe, you have to let them go because you are beautiful and there is no one else like you.”

She said that the audience’s diverse experiences in life are the qualities that make them unique.  

“Value your education, your skills and talents, your mistakes and your triumphs. All of this makes you valuable.”

Pausing, she candidly added, “If your friends don’t recognize your value, you’ve got to get up and say, ‘Bye, Felicia!’”

Pump said she followed her own advice. She revealed that nearly a decade ago, she was trapped in a bad marriage.

“He was broke, he was having extra-marital affairs and doing a lot of bad things,” she said. “I did not grow up with that kind of dysfunction. I thought I could fix this bad relationship, but nothing worked. So I got up, packed my bags, got in my car and drove all the way to Los Angeles to reconnect with my family.”

Fortunately, Pump said she found her happy ending. 

“I was able to launch my business and I have been remarried nine years to a wonderful man who is completely different from my first husband,” she said. Nodding happily, she added, “I got my life together.” 

She urged audience members to hold fast to their personal dreams and business goals. 

“You will succeed. If you start it, finish it. Do not quit. You cannot quit, whatever you do.” 

Speaker, coach and author Michelle Harris Collins chaired a workshop on developing presentation skills and building confidence on stage. 

“I coach women on emotional mastering,” said Collins, who regularly coaches business people and executives to incorporate methods to verbally master the stage or the board room.

The author of “Spirit Check: Practical Solutions for Emotional Mastery,” Collins said that “Standing and delivering confidently on stage is imperative in order to connect with an audience. You’re going to be nervous, but don’t allow nervous energy to control you,” she said. “Rehearse at least five to seven times before giving your talk. Don’t forget to breathe. Be enthusiastic. Understand that it is a moment that you must maximize because your words will give life to someone in the audience who needs it.”

Next, the women attended a session titled “Hula Hoop Meditation” that was conducted by founder Shani Anne Marvelous, a certified HoopYogini instructor and Michigan transplant who founded her business in 2016.

Before the hula hoop session began, Marvelous demonstrated how to utilize the hula hoop to stretch, breathe and meditate. 

“Concentrate on the sensation in your body,” she urged. “Focus on present moment awareness. As you hoop, think of one thing you are grateful for. 

“I wanted to offer a way to help the women relax, find their center and have some fun,” said Marvelous, who said she also personally hand-fashioned the colorful hula hoops. “Hula hooping has been a way for women to stay physically fit as well as to rekindle that childlike playfulness.” 

Marvelous said that women who approached her after the session admitted that they hadn’t hula hooped since they were in high school. 

“They were surprised that they could still do it,” Marvelous said. “A lot of women said that they wanted to reincorporate hula hooping back into their lives.”

“Coping with Mental Illness in the Workplace” featured moderator Veronica Clanton-Higgins, who was joined by Wendy Talley, Na’Keithia Whitney and Alexis Estwick.

“I’m a therapist and life coach,” Clanton-Higgins said. “I wanted to focus on mental wellness rather than mental illness and what black women need to do to support our mental health.

“How do we handle stress and maintain our mental wellness? How do we remain happy and deal with things that come at us?” she asked.

Whitney, who works in corporate America, said, “There are a lot of glass ceilings that need to be broken. I wanted to be a news analyst or a news anchor. But a [colleague] told me, ‘You can’t be a news anchor because you’re black.’”

Whitney said she reluctantly placed her dream on the shelf and took a job in corporate America. While on the job, she encountered another black woman who made it clear that she did not want Whitney to succeed in the workplace.

“She tried to push me down and sabotage me,” Whitney said. “She did not want to help me. She was intimidated by me because I had a [college] degree and she did not. 

“We have to be so mindful of how (black women) treat each other in the workplace,” Whitney added. “Who I am is not negotiable. You do not have to like me, but you have to respect me. Be true to who you are and don’t let the dream crushers pull you down.” 

Estwick, a retired teacher and therapist, said that despite enduring life’s obstacles, she has learned to stay grounded and to ignore negativity.

“I work for God who centers me,” she said. “I pray a lot. I meditate. I ask God, ‘What do you want me to do today?’” 

Believing staunchly in God has helped Estwick weather through many obstacles in life.

“I raised four daughters alone and I went to school and graduated with two master’s degrees,” she told the audience.

She urged attendees to focus on always taking care of themselves. 

“I believe in self-care,” Estwick said. “I live my life with a very simple system. I will take a milk bath and sip a glass of wine.” 

Possessing an unshakable sense in her self-worth has kept Estwick mentally well. 

“Either you love me or you hate me. Either way, I’m good,” she said. 

Talley said, “I am the first and only woman of color therapist in Culver City. I intimidate a lot of people. You have to relate and have people see you when you show up. But always speak up for yourself.”

During the closing of the conference, the women were surprised and delighted when Black Businesswomen Rock founder Natalyn Randle burst into the room wearing pink boxing gloves and a flowing black cape.

Vigorously jabbing at her opponent, Randle said that donning the boxing gloves symbolized that although the women in attendance might face numerous upper cuts in life, they must never abandon their dreams.

“By donning the boxing gloves, I was demonstrating the obstacles that we as black women must punch through in order to achieve success,” Randle said.

By Shirley Hawkins