LOS ANGELES — It was a stimulating morning for hundreds of African American women at the Business Career and Networking Breakfast Forum held by the Black Women’s Network on Oct. 28 at the LAX Marriott.
Titled “The Fire of the Future, Ushering in Hope,” the event was held in memory of Marva Smith Battle-Bey, who died in 2016. Battle-Bey was the founder of the Black Women’s Network, which she founded in 1979 to expand the business and social networks of African-American women.
Hosted by TV personality Judge Mablean Ephraim of “Justice with Judge Mablean,” a number of “trailblazers” were honored with the inaugural Marva Smith Battle-Bey Urban Empowerment Awards for their efforts in uplifting and inspiring the community.
The “authenticity consultant” Norma Hollis kicked off the day by urging audience members to introduce and greet each other throughout the venue.
She asked the audience to look at networking from a new perspective of engaging in conversation rather than just passing out business cards.
“People buy from people, and that’s based on conversation,” Hollis said.
“Marva was an urban planning legend in our community and my friend and mentor,” said co-event chairperson and event planner Gwendolyn Goodman, who worked closely with co-event chairperson Linda Ard-Bonner on the forum.
Longtime actress Starletta DuBois received the Honoring An Elder Lifetime Achievement Award, state Sen. Holly Mitchell received the Political Giant Award; and Earl “Skip” Cooper, president and CEO of the Black Business Association, received the Economic Community Power Partner award.
The honorees all paid homage to Battle-Bey, who not only founded the Black Women’s Network, but also the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation in Los Angeles.
“I am proud to receive the Political Giant award in Marva’s name,” Mitchell said. “I knew Marva for 15 years. She was a strong leader and she really believed in her community.”
Mitchell recounted how they both liked to cheer for the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Marva and I were tried-and-true Laker girls,” she recalled, smiling.
Cooper, a towering figure in the local African American business community, said he was honored to receive the Community Power Partner award and recalled Battle-Bey fondly.
“She was a very dynamic sister,” said Cooper, who had known Battle-Bey for almost 40 years. “I admired her commitment and her intelligence. She became nationally recognized for her expertise in economic development.”
Cooper recalled one of the turning points in his life.
“Fifty one years ago, I was busy talking to God,” said Cooper, who was serving in Vietnam at the time. “I said, ‘God, if you help me get back to the states unharmed, I will enroll in school.’ I prayed every day. I was begging God, ‘Please help me give back to my community, so that I can help black folks in business.”
After he returned from Vietnam, Cooper, who revealed that he had barely graduated from high school, went on to earn an A.A. degree in African American studies at Merrick College in Oakland, a B.A. degree n business from Golden Gate College in San Francisco and an MBA from the University of Southern California.
“I have been involved in black business in L.A. since October 1972,” said Cooper proudly, “and I am still working on my journey.”
The awards ceremony was followed by a panel of women that included Roslyn Satchel, professor of media and communications at Pepperdine University who spoke about “Resistance;” Linda Coleman-Willis, political activist, business success coach and writer who expounded on “Persistence;” and Jewel Diamond Taylor, author, motivational speaker and coach, who delivered a dramatic interpretation on “Hope.”
“Persistence is the ability to handle life’s challenges without giving up,” said Coleman-Willis, addressing the capacity crowd of nearly 500. “When you can face the challenges in your life without giving up, something good happens.”
Coleman-Willis recounted a personal anecdote of persistence about her desire to work for the Barack Obama campaign in 2008. “I said, ‘I’m gonna work for Obama,’ even though I had never worked for a political candidate,” she said. “I was given an opportunity to open his campaign office at 54th Street and Crenshaw. I jumped into the task with everything I had. I did not focus on my lack of experience or the possibility that it can’t happen.”
In 2012, when Obama was up for re-election, Coleman-Willis was determined to help him win once more.
“So many people were predicting that he would be a one-term president,” she said.
Coleman-Willis got her chance to serve the Obama campaign again when she was tapped to open his campaign headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. “It was the hardest job I had ever had in my life,” she said, “but Obama’s victory was a personal victory for me.”
Coleman-Willis advised the audience to not be afraid of challenges. “My challenge to you is that the person staring back at you in the glass mirror is the person you need to please,” Coleman-Willis said. “Don’t cheat that person in the glass. She desires the very best that you have to give.”
Jewel Diamond-Taylor recited two dramatic presentations, including part of her popular poem “I’m Not Giving My Black Back” followed by a new poem, “I See You.’’
“We are awesome. Even though we’re tired, we still press on, even though you’re held together with scotch tape. I see you showing up even when it’s hard. I see you holding it down,” she said.
“Everything you have been through is a down payment on your destiny. Put faith, hope and resiliency in the bucket. Get rid of the negative thoughts because it will pull you down. Don’t lose hope and don’t give up.”
Pausing, she added, “Don’t give someone the calculator to show your worth. Know your worth. Laugh everyday and let go of the stress.”