Actress Nicole Ari-Parker and Scandal's executive producer Judy Smith receive Legacy of Leadership Awards at Spelman College's Ninth Annual Leadership and Women of Color Conference. (Progressive Images)
Actress Nicole Ari-Parker and Scandal’s executive producer Judy Smith receive Legacy of Leadership Awards at Spelman College’s Ninth Annual Leadership and Women of Color Conference. (Progressive Images)

Historically black colleges and universities have legacies noted for encouraging numerous generations of students to pay it forward.

During President Obama’s speech this past Sunday at Morehouse College’s graduation, he told 500 male graduates that his success and public service background is deeply rooted in having “a sense of connection and empathy.”

Just four days prior, some influential women of color delivered similar empowering messages on strategic leadership to Morehouse’s sister institution, Spelman College. The all-girls institution hosted its Ninth Annual Leadership and Women of Color Conference from May 15-16.

The interactive workshops focused on wealth building, entrepreneurship and paying it forward. Health and wellness, spirituality, humanitarianism, branding, media, financial literacy and civic engagement were each explored in direct correlation to the effects each have on a black woman’s success in finance, career development and education.

Allison Samuels, A.J. Johnson, Gail Perry-Mason, Dr. Brenda Wade and Sharon Epperson were some of the voices facilitating town hall meetings, roundtables and panel discussions.

The attendees also chatted among themselves about teamwork, family, healthcare, self-esteem and confidence. “It’s about academic excellence, leadership development and service. This conference places a strong emphasis on extraordinary women of color and the work they do for our communities,” says Dr. Jane E. Smith, Conference Convener and Spelman LEADS’ Executive Director.

Judy Smith — one of America’s leading crisis communications managers for countless headlining controversies – was presented one of this year’s Legacy of Leadership Awards. When Smith — who traded her trademark dark two-piece pants suit for an all-white two-piece ensemble — asked how many “Gladiators” were present as she approached the podium, the ballroom erupted with euphoria.

The inspiration behind the hit ABC primetime political drama, Scandal, believes hard work, compassion and commitment are essential to effective leadership. “We have to show up for others and support each other. Make sure to lead by example. Set what your boundaries and priorities are. Focus on the work, do it well and hopefully it will speak for itself and inspire others to do the same,” says Smith.

On the other hand, Nicole Ari Parker, this year’s other Legacy of Leadership Award honoree, simply considered herself “Boris’ wife and Sophie’s and Nicolas’ mother.”

The Broadway, television and silver screen starlet founded Save Your Do, a hair accessory that prevents women who workout from destroying their hair due to perspiration. Parker and her husband, actor Boris Kodjoe, spearheaded Strive to Thrive, which collaborates with local communities to deliver outreach on sustainability and healthier living.

The philanthropic couple also started Sophie’s Voice Foundation (named for their daughter), which helps families and children diagnosed with Spina Bifida. Parker says it’s important for women to use their influence, access and success for common good.

“I just want to serve my community. I don’t see myself as leading anyone. I want us to find ways to have it all as black women. We deserve to have it all. I’m learning as I go,” says Parker.

The conference also gave small business owners, executives and community leaders opportunities to connect. Spelman College President Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum says sisterhood and effective leadership among women of color rests on one commonality.

“Leadership in different contexts requires different things, but one thing that runs through all of us is our ability to communicate with other people effectively,” says Tatum.

Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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