On Tuesday, August 10th, The African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, AACCNJ, hosted a forum entitled Women Who Empower.
It featured a panel of 4 distinguished women from technology, business, science/medicine and law speaking about their journeys and how they were empowered and what they do to empower others.
This was followed by the Keynote Speaker, veteran White House correspondent April Ryan, who talked about what empowered and inspired her coming up from the streets of Baltimore, MD.
The panel was kicked off by some inspirational words by the Founder and President & CEO of AACCNJ, John E. Harmon.
The Moderator for the panel was El-Rhonda Williams Alston, Esq. -Attorney, who introduced each of the women and asked them insightful questions about what inspired them on their respective journeys. She provided this quote:
“Life is not easy for any of us, but what of that, we must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe, with all our hearts, that we are gifted for something, and this thing must be attained.”
Here are the four distinguished women panelists and the stories they told:
Dr Henrietta Ukwu, SVP, Global Reg Affairs & Quality, Otsuka – USA
Dr Ukwu was born in Nigeria and attended Medical School there; she was not just the first black woman, but the first black person, to complete the Infectious Disesases & Critical Care Fellowship at Vanderbilt. Several years later at Merck, she played a key role in getting the drug Crixivan™ to market, which within a year of its introduction (and other HIV/AIDS active protease inhibitors), the mortality rate in the HIV arena was cut by an astounding 50 percent.
Tracy M. Thompson, Assistant Attorney General, Chair, New Jersey Human Trafficking Task Force, Divvision of Criminal Justice Gangs/Organized crime
Tracy Thompson shared her personal story, letting us know when it all clicked for her. Being a rebel at an early age and having a dad who had a few issues with the law, it was at her 4th grade career day when seeing another black woman who announced that she was the Mercer County Prosecutor. Her name was Ann Thompson (no relation and now Judge Thompson) and at that moment Tracy said to herself “Yeah, that’s what I need to be”. It connected to her on a very basic and visceral level as she understands so clearly that “little girls need their daddies” and that path seemed to be the way to get her dad back.
Tracy will be celebrating 25 years as a Prosecutor next year. Her current assignment is Human Trafficking. She takes a victim-centered approach in protecting men, women, boys and girls from being enslaved.
And finally, Tracy sums up the notion of a work-life balance in simple terms, “it’s God-Family-Work“, in that order.
Avis Yates Rivers, CEO, Technology Concept Group International
Avis Yates Rivers, began selling early technology with Exxon in a field that rarely saw women, especially African American women, and decided that she would not only excel in technology but be a leader of technology in the form of entrepreneurship, which she has now done for over 25 years. And it has become her passion, as well, to get women and women of color participating in STEM and technology in a meaningful way as demonstrated by her work with NCWIT (National Center for Women & Informational Technology) and other organizations and affiliations.
Avis responded to the work-life question and the setting of priorities, saying “as women, we need to rip the ‘S’ off our chests and stop thinking that we’re Superwoman…we need to stop putting that kind of pressure on ourselves and just do the best we can.”
Charlene Brown, Regional Vice President, AT&T External Affairs
Charlene Brown, Regional VP of External Affairs, spoke about her capacity as the New Jersey advocate for AT&T, serving as a liaison with the Governor’s office, the state legislature and other elected and appointed officials. She also determines whether local philanthropic opportunities are aligned with the objectives of the AT&T Foundation and recommends support for non-profit organizations in New Jersey including expanding STEM education to organizations like the Boys & Girls Club.. Charlene serves as the co-chair of the Collaboration Committee for Innovation NJ and was recently appointed to the NJ Council on Innovation. She is a member of the board of trustees of the New Jersey Technology Council, and Treasurer of the NJ Society for Environmental, Economic Development (NJ SEED).
April Ryan, White House Correspondent, American Urban Radio Networks (AURN)
The highlight of the afternoon was April Ryan, a graduate of Morgantown University, veteran of journalism for 29 years and a White House correspondent for nearly 20 years covering 3 presidents, and race in America.
April, as a native daughter of Baltimore, MD, gave us a brief glimpse of her journey from the neighborhood she grew up in to sitting in the Press Room at the White House speaking Truth to Power and asking questions of the country’s first black President. She said she was empowered by her community, because “there but for the grace of God go I”.
And she brought up the inspiration of her mother who said “You can be anything that you want if you work hard” and her father who watched Walter Cronkite present the news every night and made a little girl curious to what was happening in the world.
She spoke about the empowering spirit of Harriet Tubman and her freeing of slaves and the first African American Congress woman, Shirley Chisholm, who had the audacity of hope to run for President in 1972, and who said “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
It was clear by the end, that panelists, key note speaker, planners and attendees alike were mutually empowered!
Afterwards, Ms Ryan signed books and took pictures with “a fired up and ready to go” group of people.
Her book is entitled “The Presidency in Black and White, My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America“.
The powerful voices and amazing journeys of the women who were highlighted at this event and their ability to empower others, especially young women and young women of color, reminds me of something I heard President Obama say at the United State of Women Summit last month,
“You have to see it, to be it”.
(photo courtesy of Jacqueline Baptiste, shown are AACCNJ Directors, Panelists, Moderator and Keynote Speaker)