It is time to dig in and do the hard work.
That was the repeated message from the inspiring awardees at the Salute to Excellence in Business, presented by the St. Louis American Foundation and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis at Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Friday, November 30.
“Lip service will no longer serve us,” said James Clark, community outreach director at Better Family Life Inc., who received the 2018 Non-Profit Executive of the Year.
“We need a real social equity lens. This social equity lens starts at the NPL – neighborhood, front porch and living room. That’s where we have to be to come up with real-time programs to impact the lives of the people trapped in the urban core.”
Clark talked about the initiatives that Better Family Life has done in neighborhoods that he called resource deserts, “where you have families trapped in neighborhoods where the only resource providers for them are the police,” he said.
Two other awardees – Vanessa Cooksey, senior vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo, and Maryville University President Mark Lombardi – expressed the importance of creating a more inclusive St. Louis.
“I ask you today that we all continue to be intentional about developing the talent around us, both in our companies and in this community,” said Cooksey, who received the 2018 Corporate Executive of the Year Award.
Look not just at people that you like or who make you comfortable, but find ways to engage and include all of our region’s talent – especially our young people and our elders – so that everyone in our St. Louis community will grow and prosper.”
Lombardi said that America has always been challenged with inclusion, and the universities and business sector need to lead the way in creating a more welcoming country.
“Let’s show this country what a truly diverse community looks like,” Lombardi said to the crowd. “Let’s get back to work.”
The two 2018 Entrepreneurs of the Year – Jeanetta Hawkins and Debra Owens – were called “any meeting planner’s dream” as they often work together. Hawkins owns Personal Touches by Jeanetta Inc. and Owens is the CEO of Premiere Production Choice. Hawkins provided the gorgeous table decorations for the event, and Owens’ team was in the back seamlessly holding down the audio/video productions.
“This was the best thing I ever did in my life,” Owens said. “If you want to be an entrepreneur, step out on faith because that’s exactly what I did.”
Hawkins said that she was raised in a foster home that loved her the best way they knew how, but often told her she would end up just like her mother, a “nothing.”
“What I want people to understand is your beginning does not have to define your end,” Owens said.
Back in September, the Regional Business Council committed $12,500 to the St. Louis American Foundation to fund scholarships for students pursuing business-related college degrees. The gift was made in honor of Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, in recognition of his vital work in leading the Urban League and its programs that support job training and employment opportunities that strengthening our local economy.
Kathy Osborn with the council announced that five high-achieving African-American college students from the greater St. Louis area have received $2,500 scholarships.
“Not only are they excelling in their pursuit business-related degrees, they’re also active as leaders on campus and at community-based activities and organizations,” Osborn said.
Darah Ballard is a junior at Maryville University pursuing her accounting and business administration bachelor's degrees. Hope Grant is a junior at Harris-Stowe State University majoring in accounting. Le’Asia Harrington is majoring in business administration at Southeast Missouri State University. Myrina Otey is studying psychology and workplace and organizational science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Jay Ross attends Harris-Stowe State University, where he’s pursuing an undergraduate accounting major.
The event celebrated the Top 25 African-American Businesses of the Year, who create jobs and improve conditions in our community. Special congratulations went to Document Imaging Systems, Regency Enterprise Services and X-L Contracting who made the Top 25 for the first time this year.
Three people received Excellence in Business Performance Awards for their outstanding performance in their respective corporate organizations: Kevin Buie Sr., department leader of U.S. and Canada receipts and Canada disbursements at Edward Jones, Pamela Kelly, talent and inclusion manager at Dot Foods, and Patrick Smith Sr., vice president of division operations for Ameren Missouri.
The event’s lead sponsors were World Wide Technology and the Steward Family Foundation.
In his final words, Clark stressed that development of buildings cannot continue to be the region’s sole focus.
“We have to focus on the human capital,” Clark said. “We can no longer continue to focus on brick and mortar. I am happy to hear that we are in the running to get a soccer team, but in one year someone will be robbed leaving a soccer game. I’m happy to hear the trolley is up and running. Before the end of the upcoming warm season, an innocent unassuming person will have a violent act happen to them getting on or off the trolley. We cannot continue to overlook the human capital crisis we have in the St. Louis metropolitan area.”