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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
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.

Honoree  profiles
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.