Award Winning Journalist, Inspired to Tell Us More

Dear Readers,

In the coming days we will salute Michel Martin, the Emmy-award winning journalist with an impressive career than spans nearly three decades.  I am also proud to add that she is a Brooklyn native.

In 2006, Michel joined NPR to develop Tell Me More, the one-hour daily NPR news and talk show that made its national debut in April of 2007.  Tell Me More can be heard on public radio stations across the country.  If you would like tune in, you may visit the NPR homepage, click programs and look for Tell Me More.  To get you started, I have included the link for you. Please click here.

I can’t wait to share more about Michel’s great accomplishments with you.  Until then, I will leave you with one of her quotes that I found to be inspiring.

“I wonder what it is like to leave everything and everyone you know for the promise of a better life, to run for President, to be a professional athlete, to parent a child of a different race.  I am fascinated by people who live lives different from my own.  And, at the same time, I feel connected to all of these being a journalist, a woman of color, a wife and mother.”

Stay tuned,
Monique

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Credits:
Information on Michel Martin – NPR.org

A Fashion Model & Activist Leads The Way

Dear Readers,

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We are excited to have you join us for today’s salute to Bethann Hardison.  She is a fashion model who became an advocate and activist for young women and men of color, looking to chart their course in the modeling industry.  From her Brooklyn roots, she has traveled the world, and she has used her influence as a trailblazer to change a few things along the way.

Bethann was raised first by her mother, who was a stylish, fashionable woman, before going to live with her father, who was a respected Islamic leader.  When reading about her early years, I clearly see the reverence she has for both parents, and how they influenced her career trajectory.  She embodies her mother’s love for fashion, style and unmistakable grace; and is grounded by her father’s skill as a leader and strategist.  These experiences motivated her to become a fashion model turned activist, and a champion of ideals and causes.

Bethann’s Early Years

By all accounts, Bethann was a game changer.  In an interview for the book Inspiration: Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World by Crystal McCrary, she recalls her reaction to the invasion of the Suez Canal, which happened when she was a teenager.  A strong believer in the power of the individual in the face of government, she sent letters and beseeching telegrams to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stating her opposition.  This bold move set the stage for many initiatives that she would pursue.

Bethann made the decision to attend an all-white high school in Brooklyn that African-American students were being bussed to, George W. Wingate High School, instead of attending the performing arts school that she had been accepted to.  She views this as one of the best experiences in her life; for she discovered who she was and stepped into her power.  She also found her voice and began to express her ideas.  As a student, her impact was significant and punctuated by some impressive “firsts.”  She was the Wingate High School’s first African-American cheerleader.  Additionally, in her junior and senior years she was elected to produce and direct “Sing,” a performance competition among the upperclassmen.  Each year she led her class to victory.  These experiences set the stage for the world she would eventually help shape.

After graduating from high school she continued her education; first at New York University Art School, followed by her tenure at the Fashion Institute of Technology.  From there she entered New York City’s garment district in search of a job in the fashion industry.

Bethann’s Introduction to the Fashion World

In the late 1960s, Bethann was discovered by an African-American designer, Willi Smith, and began working for him as a fitting model.  She crossed over into runway and print modeling for other designers shortly thereafter.  In the early 1970s, was among a few African-American models to appear in fashion spreads for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines.  She joined the ranks of her contemporaries – Iman, Beverly Johnson and Pat Cleveland.

Bethann Joins Click Models

In 1980 Bethann joined Click Models, a firm that would usher in change for the modeling industry.  Within one year she was head of Click’s women’s division, which is the most powerful and lucrative department in any modeling agency.  In her interview with Crystal McCrary, you can feel Bethann’s delight as she recounts her accomplishments while working at Click.

“We went up against the big boys without even trying.  Our vision was very different from that of Ford, Wilhelmina, Stewart and all the other agencies.  It was an alternative.  The girl next door wasn’t the girl we wanted, but we found the boy next door before anyone else did.”  “We represented people like Whitney Houston, when she was a young teen.  We started Talisa Soto, who was a Calvin Klein girl.  Isabella Rossellini was our girl and the list goes on.  Fashion photographers loved our style because it was different.”  Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis were the main clients of Click.  They loved Bethann and were interested in anything she was a part of.

Following her success at Click, Bethann was in a position to make a greater impact.  Concerned with the politics of the fashion industry, in 1981, she changed her focus from modeling to activism.

Bethann Hardison Management 

In 1984, and with the support of a friend who was in law school, Bethann decided to go into business for herself.  Bethann Hardison Management was created.  From the inception, she set out to increase African-American visibility in the fashion world.  When building her talent roster, she skillfully negotiated with female models from other agencies.  In lieu of obtaining their standard agency advance, they agreed to wait for their checks until Bethann’s clients made their first payment.  This generosity was a testament to her stellar reputation as an industry leader, mentor and friend.

Her company opened its doors with a 16 models.  Nearly 50% were African-Americans.  It is important to note that from the outset that Bethann did not set out to run an exclusively “people of color” agency.  It was always her goal to bring more diversity into the business.  Over time, her roster approached 30 models.  She took an involved role in helping to keep the young men and women focused on the challenging work of modeling.  Following her advice, they learned about finances, how to be professional and the importance of good public relations.

Bethann The Activist

In 1988 Bethann, and her friend Iman, co-founded the Black Girls Coalition, a group of industry insiders working to help clear the path for other African-Americans interested in the fashion industry, both behind the scenes as well as in front of the cameras.  The group tackled important issues such as homelessness.

Paying this forward, earlier this year Bethann launched the Balanced Diversity Campaign to end racism on the runway.  She received support and encouragement from her friends Naomi Campbell and Iman.  In an open letter to the governing fashion bodies of the four major fashion capitols – London, Milan, New York and Paris – she called out the industry’s white-washed model casts, citing a number of designers who had featured zero, or one, model of color in past seasons.  Designers and the public paid attention.  Within weeks, 2014 was hailed as one of the most memorable, and important, moments of the season.

Bethann Talks About The Future 

Last month, On February 5, 2014, Bethann’s push for racial diversity on the runway was featured in the Huffington Post.

In her own words…

“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens – I’m hopeful,” she told The Huffington Post.  “Diversity is just good for the world. And images have much more power than words.  When people start putting those colorful images out, and people of power start standing behind them, it starts to create a paradigm shift.  And I believe it can happen.”

Naomi Campbell, Bethann Hardison, Iman on GMA via ABC News

Naomi Campbell, Bethann and Iman – ABC News

Bethann was able to point to prominent examples of increased diversity in magazines and advertisements.  She praised designer Prabal Gurung, who had just launched his debut ad campaign, featuring black supermodel Liya Kebede.  She also singled out Vogue’s January 2014 issue; calling it a “brilliant example of organic diversity” that featured several fashion editorials with models of color and stories showing celebrities like Idris Elba and Lupita Nyong’o.  She met with Vogue staff members in November, after the January issue had been pulled together, to discuss the importance of diversity in the fashion world.

A Celebrated Woman

Bethann’s contributions have earned her several awards throughout her career which include: the First Annual Vibe Style Lifetime Achievement Award – 1999, the Magic Johnson Foundation Distinguished Service Award – 1999, The Black Alumni of Pratt Lifetime Achievement Award – 2003, The Black Enterprise Woman of Power Legacy Award – 2012, Frederick Douglas Award for promoting diversity in fashion – 2013.

What’s Next?

These days you will find Bethann living a quiet life in rural Mexico.  She came to a point where she did not want to feel trapped in a big city any longer and is now working to tie up loose ends in her career.  At the same time she is quick to say “that’s not all of who I am.  I need to be among people who reflect more than tangible items proving financial success.  I want to live simply, to experience the preciousness of life.”

Bethann certainly deserves the chance to enjoy the fruit of her labor.  Her career and life’s work exemplifies hard work, integrity, inclusion and compassion.  While this tribute provides a small glimpse into the huge world she has helped to create, I am truly inspired by this courageous woman who, as a teenager in Brooklyn, began to take on the world.

Thank you Bethann for all that you do!  We at Brooklyn Legends are proud to salute you.

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Credits:
Inspirations: Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World by Crystal McCrary
The HistoryMakers – July 15, 2013
Julee Wilson – The Huffington Post – February 18, 2014
Julee Wilson – The Huffington Post – February 5, 2014

Inspired to Lead

Image

Dear Readers,

In the coming days we will salute Bethann Hardison.  She is a fashion model who became an advocate and activist for young women and men of color looking to chart their course in this field.  From her Brooklyn roots, she has truly traveled the world and has changed a few things along the way.  Stay tuned!

Brooklyn Legends Inspirations III

Dear Readers,

Its been a while since my last post, and I truly miss connecting with you.  Once again, we are in the middle of a cold spell, yet I am convinced that spring is just around the corner.  I promise to celebrate with you when that day finally arrives.

Last year we introduced a concept – Brooklyn Legends Inspirations.  As we read articles we feel you might enjoy, we add them to our Inspirations file and share them with you in our blog posts.  In the November 2013 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, there was an article by one of my favorite authors – Brene Brown, PhD.  Dr. Brown is a highly sought-after speaker, writer and regular contributor to O magazine.  I addition to being a fan of Dr. Brown’s sage advice, I was drawn to the title –  Dare to Not Know.  For me, the concept of not knowing is one that I constantly struggle with.  I have spent the past 20+ years as a special event fundraiser, and my life has been mired in a world filled with meetings, details, lists plans and more contingencies.  With so much at stake, constant uncertainty would not bode well for me or my career.   However once I picked up the article, and substituted my career hat for my creative one, I was all in.

As my family and friends will attest, I have spent the past year brimming with ideas for future projects.  In the process, I discovered that I am a huge dreamer.  Hopefully, out of these dreams will come great things.  In the present moment, the process of being creative has left me feeling several emotions.  There are days when I am exhilarated yet exhausted, as I am constantly strategizing how to get everything in place by the time I reach 60 years old.  This internal dialogue sounds somewhat like this: Who will benefit?  What impact will I have?  Where will the support that I need come from?  Is this all relevant?  What form will my finished plan take?  Am I doing enough?  And, my all-time favorite how long will this take?

Despite these questions, and others I am bound to come up with, I am having the time of my life dreaming and considering the possibilities.  There are times when I could benefit from a healthy dose of patience.  So, for me, Dr. Brown’s advice was quite poignant, “if you don’t have all the answers, learn to live in the question.”   I got a lot of encouragement from this article.  I hope that it will enlighten you as well.  When you have a moment, please let us know what you think.

Dare to Not Know
Brene Brown, PhD

Uncertainty makes us feel vulnerable, so we try to escape it any way we can. Sometimes we even settle for misinformation or bad news over not knowing. Have you ever ended up in an Internet rabbit hole of terror while waiting for test results?

Yet it really is possible to thrive amid uncertainty. It’s not about getting advice you can trust; it’s about faith and self-trust—believing that whatever happens, you’ll find a way through it. Without uncertainty, we’d never start a business or risk loving someone new. There are no guarantees when we step into the unknown. But these periods of discomfort can give rise to life’s most important adventures.

The Dare

Pay attention to what makes you feel better (and worse). The unknown can bring out the worst in us. When I’m deep in uncertainty about work, I can get impatient and snappy with the people who mean the most to me—and that feels terrible. I’ve learned that sleep, exercise and eating healthy make me more patient and calm.

Create an emotional clearing.

Fear tends to drown out our intuition, so it’s essential to carve out moments of quiet—time for meditation, prayer or just a long walk—to reconnect with our gut. I’m still learning to meditate (and it’s not going well), but you can bet that when I have a big talk coming up, I’m out walking near my house, rain or shine, listening for the sound of my inner voice.

Get support. 

Instead of begging everyone in your address book for answers, ask one or two loved ones to remind you that it’s normal to feel vulnerable when you’re in a period of change. As my husband often tells me, “It’s supposed to suck right now. Go walk!” Uncertainty is a necessary part of getting where we want to go.

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Credits:
O, The Oprah Magazine, Nov. 2013

Celebrating African Heritage Month

Dear Readers,

For as long as I can remember, the decision to dedicate the month of February to honoring  the achievements of people from the African Diaspora has been met with mixed emotions.

Many people of African heritage have asked, “Why are the achievements of our ancestors recognized for only one month out of twelve?”  They went on to view this designation as insensitive and inconsistent when compared with the years this history was not taught or recognized.

For others, in February 1976, when former President Gerald Ford extended what was then known as African Heritage week to what would become African Heritage month, this was a major victory.  The month-long celebration was embraced as an important way to recognize the significant contributions our ancestors made to America.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  As a nation, we have truly come a mighty long way.

Throughout February, many remarkable Brooklyn institutions will host programs for African Heritage month.  Brooklyn Legends applauds these efforts and receives them in the spirit of celebration.  We embrace the position that the accomplishments of people from the African Diaspora and the Caribbean transcend time.  This is especially true for the heroines you will read about here at Brooklyn Legends.  They embody the grace, determination and hard work which will impact future generations

In honor of African Heritage month, and the first year anniversary of Brooklyn Legends, we proudly salute the phenomenal Brooklyn women we have featured this past year.  The stories that we have shared are archived on our blog.  If you would like to become reacquainted with each one, please use our search browser.

Here’s our salute to another African heritage month, and another year of Brooklyn Legends.  We are proud to have you share this journey with us.  Stay tuned for more highlights of some of Brooklyn’s most dynamic achievers.

Have a wonderful week!

Monique

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm Forever Stamp Unveiled Today

Brooklyn native Shirley Chisholm will be featured nationally on a postage stamp. Jeanine Ramirez, of New York 1 News, shared the following report.  

Shirley Chisholm’s portrait hangs at Brooklyn Borough Hall, right next to the nation’s founding father. Appropriate, because Chisholm was also a first. In 1968, Chisholm was the first black woman elected to Congress where she served seven terms. The Bedford Stuyvesant resident was also the first African-American man or woman to make a serious run for president in 1972. Now nine years after her death, the United States Postal Service will issue a Shirley Chisholm forever stamp.  The unveiling will take place today, January 31st, at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall.

“It’s something that should be done for the country. And it’s something that should be done for New York City and for the Chisholm family, so we are all grateful for the long process,” said William Howard from the Shirley Chisholm Cultural Institute.

The push for a stamp for Chisholm began shortly after she died. Howard was Chisholm’s campaign treasurer who now helps run the Shirley Chisholm Cultural Institute for Children. He says he pulled together a group of local elected officials to advocate for the stamp, with a big push coming from California.

“The person that really took the lead role was an intern in Chisholm’s office back in the late 60’s and 70’s, and that’s Congresswoman Barbara Lee out of California. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the person that has championed the legacy of Shirley Chisholm in Washington,” said Howard.

Chisholm’s legacy includes serving in the New York State Assembly during the civil rights movement, representing Brooklyn in Congress, advocating for early childhood education and civil and women’s rights.

“Shirley Chisholm and Billie Jean King were able to change Title 9 for women who, now and have been for many years, get scholarships equal to men in colleges and universities in sports,” said Howard.

She was a Brooklyn College graduate. College staff will be among those at the stamp unveiling at Brooklyn Borough Hall. The school has the largest collection of Chisholm archival materials for its women’s activism study. And surely the postage stamp will be a highlight of the collection.

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Credits:
New York One News – January 28, 2014 Edition

Meet Rochelle Ballantyne – Revised Jan. 29, 2014

Dear Readers,

It is always a pleasure to celebrate the achievements of dynamic, young women like Rochelle Ballanytne; the child prodigy whose story was prominently featured in the documentary Brooklyn Castle.  This documentary examined how Rochelle, along with a few select students from IS 318 in Brooklyn, excelled at chess.  What is even more compelling, Rochelle is the only female chess player featured in the film.  Here is the official trailer for you to watch.

On November 8, 2012, Huffington Post Teen recapped an interview Rochelle granted to Teen Vogue.  I was impressed with the tone and substance of the interview.  It is clear that she is a poised and gracious young lady.  I am even more proud of the fact that she was raised in Brooklyn by a single mother from Trinidad.  She was also greatly influenced by her grandmother who was a teacher.  These strong women clearly equipped Rochelle to excel on a larger platform.  A few weeks after the article in Teen Vogue, she was a guest on The Melissa Harris Perry Show.  Here is the link to the interview.  I encourage you to take a look when you have a moment.

Rochelle’s grandmother introduced her to chess when she was in the third grade.  By the time she reached the fifth grade, Rochelle had won her 1st National Tournament and placed 4th at the Girl’s National Championship.  After these two impressive victories, she began to see herself excelling as a chess player.  Her goal – to become the first African-American female chess master!  How awesome it must be to know exactly what you want to do at such a young age.

Rochelle gives full credit to her grandmother for planting the seed in her mind.  As we know, the road to success is not easy at any age; particularly when you are young.  There are so many things, and people, competing for your attention.  When asked how she stays focused, she admitted that there were times when this goal seemed elusive to her.  However, when her grandmother passed, she was even more committed to this dream.

Once Brooklyn Castle was released, Rochelle’s life was front and center.  She was happy to see how everything came together, but I also imagine there were days when she missed her privacy. She admits to feeling emotionally burdened at times, however she drew strength from each victory.

After graduating from IS 318 she went to Brooklyn Tech High School, where she continued to excel in her studies and chess.  With the help of a full scholarship, Rochelle is completing her freshman year as a student at Stanford University in California.  This is truly a tribute to her drive, commitment and focus.

Brooklyn Legends is proud of Rochelle, and we are excited to be on this journey with her.  We also congratulate her mother On this accomplishment. We will continue to update you on her progress.

Have a great day!

Monique
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Credits:
Background information:
Jan. 6, 2014 article by Doyle Murphy, “Brooklyn Chess star battles the pressure of expectations,” New York Daily News
Nov. 8, 2012 Huff Post Teen reprint of Teen Vogue interview
Jan. 30, 2013 article by Nicholas Kristof, “Meet The Champs,” New York Times
Rochelle Ballantyne via The Chess Drum
Rochelle Ballantyne via Wikipedia.org