Collage Dance Collective dancers open the luncheon and symposium.
“To be inspired is wonderful. To be inspiring is exceptional,” says Debbie Allen, keynote speaker for the annual Women’s Foundation tribute luncheon and symposium.
The Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, a nonprofit dedicated to securing and granting funds to programs that enable women and their families to become economically stable, held its annual luncheon at the Cannon Center downtown to a packed house full of movers and shakers such as Laurita Jackson, Ekundayo Bandele, and Becky Jones West. The program opened with emotional presentations by the New Ballet Ensemble and School, Collage Dance Collective, and Ballet Memphis followed by an invocation by pastor Sonia Walker of First Congregational Church. Patrons dined on a delicious meal while hearing from Ruby Bright (executive director and CAO of WFGM), Jeana Littrell (vice president, employment litigation, FedEx Express), and Monica Skipper (vice president, brand experience marketing, FedEx Services).
After lunch, the 2015 Legends Award honorees were presented (for more on previous honorees click here). As the foundation was celebrating its 20th anniversary, it was fitting to honor the founding matriarch, the late Mertie Willigar Buckman, and the members of the 1995 board of directors as recipients.
Following the presentation of the Legends Award, Susan Stephenson, president and co-chair of Independent Bank and Memphis HOPE development chair for WFGM, spoke about the foundation’s bright future. Stephenson says that as part of the “Vision 2020” initiative, WFGM has 5 goals in mind, specifically for the 38126 zip code which is the poorest in our city:
- To support families in securing resources to meet their basic needs
- To equip residents with marketable job skills to gain living wage employment
- That all children age 0-5 living in the 38126 zip code will be prepared to enter and learn in kindergarten
- To develop positive outcomes in youth that include competence, confidence, connection, and character
- To help families gain the financial education skills to help them reduce poverty
In order to accomplish these bold goals, WFGM will need all hands on deck from locals as well as its members. The plan includes raising $9.5 million in order to ensure these objectives are accomplished, with the hope that they decrease poverty in Memphis by 1 percent each year. Both the Hyde Family Foundation and FedEx donated $500,000 each to the fund. Additionally, the Hyde Family Foundation tagline “We double dare you!” was visible throughout the event to bring awareness to giving options available to guests. For any gift $1-$499, the Hyde Foundation tripled your donation, and for every gift of $500 or more, it doubled. Since its inception, WFGM has secured $15 million for programs benefiting women and children in the Memphis area.
As if all of this wasn’t enough to get Memphians excited about the changes on the horizon, keynote speaker Debbie Allen implored the audience to find their purpose and change lives with it.
“Years ago I played the part of Harriet Tubman — I know I may not look like Harriet, but I am Harriet. I’ve gone through a lot to be where I am and do the work I do. Be who I am. But what I realized was that the most important thing for me was purpose. Not success, not money, not fame, but purpose. Why are you waking up, Debbie Allen? What are you doing today? How are you doing something to make life better for someone other than yourself? What is your purpose in life that is greater than you? I have found that [in my nonprofit dance studio, Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles]. I revel in that. Harriet Tubman’s last line in that play was, ‘Find somethin’ in your heart, put it in your mind, and do it.’ You’re doing it.”
Allen, a philanthropist, choreographer, director and educator, has had a career that spans three decades including three Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, five NAACP Image Awards, a Drama Desk, and Astaire Award, and more. Her long list of directing and producing credits include television series (all of which have strong female leads) such as Grey’s Anatomy (where she also has a recurring role as Dr. Catherine Avery), Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Jane The Virgin, Empire, and others. But the true joy of her heart is her philanthropic efforts which engage and inspire youth around the world through dance and theater arts.
Jennifer Holliday, an original Broadway Dreamgirl, sang to close the motivational event and said it best through song, “There’s a dream out there with your name on it.”
For more on how to get involved with the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, click here.