By: Tonya Jackson
One of the things business owners and community members look at when joining a chamber of commerce is the value of their membership. As the executive director of the Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce, Nicole Dixon looks at their value to its members and the community while also looking for ways to engage the community and creating opportunities to showcase their members. As Dixon puts it, “when we are preparing to do anything we consider our membership first. We make sure that when others are looking for assistance we direct them to our members first. It’s our priority that the community knows what our phenomenal locally owned, and operated businesses are doing so that their messages aren’t lost in the sea of competing messages.” One of the ways that Dixon accomplishes these goals is through their monthly G.A.I.N. Night and their annual Women of Power Business Conference and Lunch.
Women of Power Weekend was held March 18th and 19th in Pensacola and the Chamber featured the dynamic actress, dancer, director, writer, producer, and choreographer Wendy Raquel Robinson as their keynote speaker. Robinson is also a co-founder of Amazing Grace Conservatory, a 2014 NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for “The Game” and is currently featured in “Here We Go Again,” a new sitcom on TV One. Robinson began her visit in Pensacola by meeting members of the local media and publicizing the Women of Power Conference.
When I asked her to share what it means to participate in the Women of Power weekend, Robinson stated, “I think it’s so important that we support black businesses. And to be totally transparent, that’s one of the things, as I look back in history at segregation and how we were so much more empowered then. Now we’re trying to catch up, we’re so far behind, and I feel like we just don’t support black businesses the way we should. Sometimes I even see it with my young people, businesses not validated unless it’s white. Then it’s legit. It shouldn’t be that way. I think it’s so important that we support our own and create our own. By us, for us, about us.”
The Conference began with Pensacola’s Ultimate Fashion Collection: Vogue, Strike a Pose on Friday, March 18th at the Event Center, 3201 W. Navy Blvd. The fashion show featured local and nationally known talent with the last walk on the runway going to Wendy Raquel Robinson. The task of coordinating all of the artists, models, and other pieces of the fashion show was assigned to event planner Santiria Bradley, Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce, and Marco Freeman, event planner, CEO Distinguished Events of Opulence. Bradley stated “it’s my first time working on an event this size, but I welcomed the challenge and was ready for the Chamber to showcase what our members can do. Nicole (Dixon) had a vision to include as many Chamber members as possible, and I know she is happy with how many members are participating tonight. I’m so excited about tonight!” Okevia Carter, Deja Vu Events, was the host for the evening. Collections in the fashion show included custom t-shirts by Sharia Nuniss, The Shepreneur Club; a swimwear collection from Audrey Allen, A+ Curves; precise, and fresh cuts from Josh Dees, God’s Barber*A-1 Product. Also, an original collection featuring African themed fabrics from the trio of Devin Tucker, Celebrity Fashion Stylist; Sara Smith Redmond, D & J’s Favorite Things; and Bernadette Davis of EpiphanySeven. This trio’s collection told a story for the ages that included love, marriage, and a mom with her beautiful baby.
Some of the other businesses participating included Nichole Dunklin, Nicky’s Heavenly Hair; DJ Corey; Devin Tucker, Celebrity Fashion Stylist; Jamal Akai, Akai Consulting; Sharia Nuniss, Women of Power Conference Chair, co-owner The Shepreneur Club; Taylor Miles; and Carol Robinson, Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry. Additionally, Donald Mixon, Beat Master; Shantina Evans, Charm Beauty Bar; Cleo Dexter, lighting, Man Behind Da Curtain Entertainment; and Forever Events & Design. Da Fam and Pensacola Prancing Pirouettes provided extra entertainment for the evening.
On Saturday, March 19th, the Conference was held at the University of West Florida’s Conference Center. Sponsors included the University of West Florida’s Office of Equity, Diversity & International Affairs, Gulf Power, Cox, Baptist Health Care, Pen Air Federal Credit Union, Choice 106.9FM/WRNE 980AM, Out Front Magazine, High Pointe Hotel, Florida Blue, Vince Whibbs Automotive Group, Studer Foundation, and Navy Federal Credit Union. The host was Robin Reshard, who entertained and captivated attendees while recounting some highlights of the previous evening. Reshard shared how Marco Freeman, in his red hat, inspired her to don a hat for a part the day’s festivities.
Using the same plan as Friday, the Chamber made sure their members had opportunities for involvement. Sheila Green of It’s Personal by Sheila presented “What to Wear” and featured model Kay Mitchell from Florida Blue. Omar Moore, of Optimal Meals, explained his service and gave attendees samples. The Conference Beauty Bar featured Signature Styles Salon, Elegance by Genipher located at Embellish, and Creative Styles Hair Salon and Spa. Leslie Hunter-Huff, Executive Director, Escambia County Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast, presented “Born Bossy.” Meghan McCarthy, Healthy Lives, Baptist Health Care educated attendees with “Nutrition 101.” “Haaay, Let Me Holler Atcha: Switching Grammar Gears From The Living Room To The Boardroom” was the title of the presentation by Mamie Webb Hixon, director of The Writing Lab at UWF. Sheena D. Ross, business development specialist at Navy Federal Credit Union coached attendees with “Success Through Financial Preparedness.”
The beauty panel was led by Jennifer Demps, Signature Stylez Salon and featured Latara Harris, Sila Beauty and Health Products, Santia Pace, Creative Styles Hair Salon and Spa, Che’ Peterson, Platinum Hair Design Hair Design Studio, LLC; and Marni Alisha, Snob Salon. Reshard led the Women of Power Panel which included Kay Mitchell, Florida Blue; Kimberly Wyatt, WEAR TV3; Justina Royster, Reliable Tax & Financial Services; Kimberly Cox, My Brothers & Sisters. The Men’s Panel was led by Patrick Hudson of PHP Entertainment and featured entrepreneur and president of Pay Cell Jibril Sulaiman; pastor and Sunday Fresh Morning Show co-host Jamel Moore; educator, personal trainer, and recording artist Chief Calhoun; and publisher of the New American Press Wallace LeRoy.
Wendy Raquel Robinson’s presentation was emotional and captivating. She inspired, encouraged, and shared her triumphs and trials. When she spoke about being physically abused by a boyfriend at 18 she spoke directly to a table of young women, they were part of the Progressive Black Women Coalition’s Rites of Passage group. She revealed how her business and personal losses just fueled her for the next stage of her life. Robinson reminded all in attendance to follow their passion and to not listen to the doubters or as she called them the “neva minds.” She shared highlights of the power of black women in Hollywood, how our voices are now being heard as never before. During her q&a she stopped to mentor a young lady from the Rites of Passage group. This act was a reminder that powerful women mentor and nurture whenever it’s needed and that we should always be lifting up the next generation of women of power.