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Black women saluted


“For every one honoree, there are thousands of other African American women [who] also deserve to be recognized. As a people, we should acknowledge and pay homage to African American women, not just for one day or one week or one month, but every day of the year.” — Skip Cooper, president, Black Business Association

Six California women will get at least a portion of their historical and honorary due at a luncheon at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles on Saturday.

That’s when the Black Business Association (BBA) hosts its annual Salute to Black Women Business Conference and Awards Luncheon in celebration of National Women’s History Month.

“In recognizing March as Women’s History Month, I think it’s very important as an African American organization that we recognize outstanding African American women who have historically made contributions not only to society, but to the world, and that oftentimes go overlooked,” says BBA President Skip Cooper.

“Women’s History Month gives us a unique opportunity to recognize women (who) have contributed in different ways. That’s what we’re doing at the Salute to Black Women Business Conference and Awards Luncheon. Under this year’s theme ‘Our History is Our Strength,’ we’re honoring six outstanding, powerful women and a community foundation.”

Founded in 1970, the Black Business Association (BBA), a 501 (c) (3) organization, has contributed to and supported the development, progress and expansion of more than 15,000 African American businesses. Nationally, the organization has access to and influence with more than 50,000 African American-owned and women/minority-owned businesses (WMBE), through the formation of strategic alliances with trade associations and organizations.

The honorees for the 2011 Salute to Black Women are:

Yvonne B. Burke, Lifetime Achievement Award. Google “political trailblazer–California” and you might see a photo of Yvonne Burke, who developed a distinguished career in public service spanning more than four decades. At a time when few African Americans held public office, Burke amassed numerous “firsts” at the national, state and local levels.

She became the first African American woman elected to the California State Assembly in 1966; the first African American woman elected vice chair of the Democratic National Convention in 1972; the first African American woman to represent California in the United States Congress, in 1972; and the first African American elected to serve as a Los Angeles County Supervisor in 1992. She attributes her success to her friends and supporters. “I have had people who have been with me year in and year out, and they have been willing to be very honest with me in terms of advising me on what I should do. Once a decision was made, they were very supportive and they were willing to help me, because you can’t do it by yourself.”

Nichelle Nichols, Legacy Award. Nichelle Nichols, discovered at the age of 14 by Duke Ellington, has had phenomenal success as a singer, dancer and actress. Her groundbreaking role as Chief Communications Officer Lt. Uhura in the legendary television series “Star Trek” became, in the words of Martin Luther King, “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.”

Nichols subsequently co-starred in six blockbuster “Star Trek” motion pictures and is still in constant demand to appear before millions of “Trekkies.” She was awarded a much-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992, and became the first African American to place her hand prints and signature in the cement walk at the famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre, along with the other crew members of the Starship Enterprise.

The Chicago native’s public service record is equally outstanding. Under contract with NASA in the late 1970s, Nichols successfully recruited the first women and minority astronauts for the Space Shuttle Program, for which she received NASA’s distinguished Public Service Award. Her greatest legacy, the “Nichelle Nichols Youth Foundation,” encourages America’s youth to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and math, which will help the U.S. once again take a leadership role in space exploration.

Brenda Wright, Corporate Excellence Award. As Wells Fargo Bank’s senior vice president and regional manager of California community development, Brenda Wright oversees the development and implementation of strategies and programs focused on the support of economic development in housing, work force development and small business.

Wright is an active leader and founding member of many community-based organizations. Most recently, she was selected to serve on the board of the California Women’s Foundation. “Those who know her and work with her know that not only is she the essence of professionalism, but she’s also committed–committed in terms of the community,” says Cooper.

In recognition for her commitment to community service, Wright received the “Woman of the Year Award” given by State Sen. Carole Migden in 2007. The 26-year Wells Fargo veteran was also recognized by the San Francisco Times as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Business in the Bay Area. Her advice to the next generation of leaders is simple, “Have strong ethics and demonstrate them on a daily basis.”

Alice Huffman, Advocate Award. When asked about honoree Alice Huffman, Cooper replied, “In Alice Huffman, we have a uniquely qualified individual in Sacramento (who’s) representing the NAACP. She has the ear of key elected officials from the governor on down.”

Huffman is a member of the newly elected attorney general’s transition team and is also assisting the governor with appointments in his new administration. Huffman began her tenure as president of the California NAACP in 2000. Under her leadership, the organization has accelerated into one of the most sought-after civil rights groups in California’s policy arena. Huffman believes the NAACP is the constant voice for low-income African Americans and students trapped in low-performing schools or the criminal justice system. She is a member of the organization’s national board of directors.

As a testament to the power of determination, despite having dropped out of high school, Huffman was admitted to U.C. Berkeley as an Educational Opportunity Program student and went on to graduate in two and a half years with honors in social and cultural anthropology. Her experience with public service and her extensive graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, U.C. Berkeley and USC have contributed to her belief that learning is a lifelong process.

Lula Washington, Artistic Vision Award. Lula Washington grew up in the Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects in Watts. At 22, she was a newlywed and a mother when she decided to pursue a dance education at UCLA. Under the mentorship of two women who had studied with legendary choreographer Katherine Dunham, Washington went on to receive a master’s degree in dance and eventually became one of the school’s most successful alumni. Her choreography has been praised by critics for its strong political and social commentary, as well as its avant-garde composition and roots in African American culture.

Washington’s outstanding work can be seen in the blockbuster film, “Avatar.” She created the Na’vi tribe’s ritual movements seen in the film, along with the large dance sequences. Her other film credits include “Crazy on the Outside” and Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Washington has received numerous awards and honors, including recognition nationally as a “Dance Women/Living Legend.” She credits her success to “giving back” to the community.

“We’re giving in the sense of providing scholarship classes, going to schools and educational programs, sending a dancer to be on this panel or that panel, going to community meetings,” she said. “I think part of anybody’s success is that you need to make yourself accessible to the community.”

Chef Marilyn Cole, Outstanding Community-based Business Award. Marilyn Cole, aka Chef Marilyn, is an icon in Los Angeles. “Everybody knows that if you go to Chef Marilyn, you’re going to have to stand in line. Why? Because her food is good. She is the queen of Soul Food,” noted Cooper.

When Chef Marilyn opened her first soul food kitchen, she never dreamed that 20 years later she would be dubbed, the “Queen of Soul Food.” As a child, she would watch her mother cook. “My mother loved to cook . . . and she wanted to open a restaurant,” she said. “But when she found out she was terminally ill, that (dream) quickly went away. Years later, I find that I’m living her dreams. That’s an added plus.”

In addition to great food, Chef Marilyn’s restaurants also serve as a hub of community activity where customers, while standing in line, become involved in heated sports debates, obtain information about what’s going on in the community, donate to toy drives and funerals and even register to vote. Much of Chef Marilyn’s success can be traced to her generosity to the community. “I have a lot of celebrities that I feed, and I love them, but my celebrities are my everyday customers, the ones (who) keep our doors open. They are my heroes.” She also has an inside tip for women: “Food is definitely the key to a man’s heart–you have no idea how many proposals I’ve had.”

The Kwanzaa Foundation, Outstanding Organization Award. Founded by Judy Pace and Nichelle Nichols in the 1970s, the Kwanzaa Foundation is a pre-eminent fundraising and charitable organization comprised of African American women in the entertainment industry.

In addition to the awards ceremony, the conference will include several seminars created to educate attendees and sharpen their skills sets. These include:

Perspectives: Women of Color in Corporate America. Panelists will discuss the challenges of achieving work/life balance, career and professional development plus learning to maneuver internal politics and maintaining authenticity in a corporate environment.

Creating Generational Wealth: How to Make Sure that Your Wealth Outlives You. Expert advice that will ensure a financial legacy that can be passed down for generations.

E-marketing: The Competitive Edge to Strengthen Your Business. Information for small business owners on how to use the major new social marketing tools with a focus on the best and most efficient use. Attendees will learn how social media integrates into a strategic marketing campaign.

“Black women have always been the cornerstone and the strength of the Black community,” says Cooper. “The beauty about what we’re doing at the Salute to Black Women Business Conference is that in the past they did it and were not recognized for their strength and the foundation that they gave us. They were the mothers, the sisters; they were the ones (who) were the real foundation and kept things together for us in so many different ways.

“What we’re seeing now is the evolution of Black women in their role as leaders. We’re honoring their legacy. We hope that all those who attend will leave the conference inspired, encouraged and empowered,” concluded the BBA founder.

For ticket information or event details for the 2011 Salute to Black Women, call (323) 291-9334 or visit