By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, Chicago Crusader
The 22nd year of Chicago’s Black Women’s Expo, presented by Merry Green was recently held at McCormick Place, and this year’s theme was #shematters.
Green has successfully sponsored this event for women, as well as men and families for more than two decades. This year, Dorothy Leavell of our own Chicago Crusader served as one of the Advisory Panel members.
The event kickoff was a Gala held the Thursday before the exhibition began, with awards given in many areas. One of the more rousing tributes of the night was given by Grammy-Award winning performance poet and author J. Ivy, who honored Sandra Bland, whose mother accepted the “2016 She Matters Inaugural Award” posthumously on behalf of Bland’s family.
Other awardees at the Phenomenal Woman Awards Reception were Kim Foxx, Democratic nominee for Cook County State’s Attorney; Corliss Garner from BMO Harris; Joanne Glenn, WOT Foundation, Inc.; Fallon Johnson, Annie Bell Fragrances; Carol “Safisha” Lee, Ph.D., Betty Shabazz International Charter School; Torrey Richardson, National Dear Father Movement; Nicole Robinson, Mondelez International (the makers of Oreo cookies) and the Rev. Janette Wilson, Rainbow Push Coalition. Entertainment for the night was provided by local Gospel great Kim Stratton.
During the next two days, there were workshops and seminars, along with opportunities for people to purchase goods and learn from the many vendors, which included health care, financial literacy and natural hair and body products. One of the vendors from Columbia, South Carolina, was young Gabby Goodwin, owner along with her mom Rozalynn of GaBBy Bows, which is a double-faced, double snap barrette that is taking the country by storm. The 9-year-old inventor of the barrette now is selling bows in boutique and chain stores across the country, and recently was recognized nationally by the American Small Business Championship hosted by SCORE, a national nonprofit dedicated to mentoring small business owners.
Hot on the heels of the #Oscarssowhite controversy, the seminar titled “Blacks in Hollywood” was presented, with panelists Kym Whitley, Leon and Sheryl Lee Ralph speaking about the lack of Blacks in Hollywood and in films and what they prescribe to remedy the situation.
Ralph, whose first film was “A Piece of the Action” 40 years ago, says that “we have got to start making quality work,” as she commented about her desire to be known for her body of work, which includes playing Moesha’s mother, with Brandy. She is also slated to return to television on Criminal Minds. “I personally made a choice to do those roles that would make my audience say I love that woman, but I will always be a dream girl.”
Whitley says that she felt her best option to be featured in quality programming was by signing with the OWN Network, with her signature reality show called “Raising Whitley.”
The group further discussed the economics of producing reality shows, which are less expensive to put on than regular television programming. Leon admitted that his daughter’s mother Cynthia Bailey and he made an informed decision to include Noelle on the “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” He pointed out that as Noelle’s dad he had to make sure that he was represented as such.
Of 142 movies made in 2015, according to the panel, only 12 were considered in the Oscar realm. But they also agreed that we need quality Black films. Leon names as his peers George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and he says that he was told years ago that he could be that matinee idol, if you will, for Black women—meaning that if he were in a movie, Black women would swoon all over him. He says he didn’t believe it at the time. However, 25 years after “The Five Heartbeats,” history has proven that he has the looks and swagger that would compel women to pay to see him at the theaters.
And speaking of money, the panel offered advice for audience members: When you’re in the barber or beauty shop and the owner is showing a “bootleg” movie, you should ask them to cut it off.