U.S. Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson, Mayor Karen Bass, and BBA CEO/President Sarah R. Harris. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

The Black Business Association (BBA) sponsored the 21st annual Salute to Black Women Business Conference, Vendor Faire & Awards Luncheon on March 23, in recognition of National Women’s History Month. The theme was “Celebrating Women Who Advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

The event celebrating phenomenal Black women was held at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles. Designed to be a source of inspiration and empowerment the festivities attracted hundreds of women entrepreneurs, executives, community leaders, elected officials, mothers, daughters, and sisters to serve as a platform for high-level networking and motivation.

Among the high-powered honorees was Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass. “When I think of those three initials [DEI], I think of how lucky we are to be Californians and Angelenos, because in our state, it is an assumption, but in other states, diversity, equity, and inclusion is being made illegal. People are losing their jobs, they’re losing their professorships if they even talk about the word diversity. There’s some people in our country that only want to talk about the good stories and don’t want to talk about the challenges that we face in this country,” stated Mayor Bass just moments before U.S. Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson gifted her with a Barack Obama Presidential Medal.

“I always say that they want to talk about George Washington and the cherry tree, but they don’t want to talk about the 300 human beings that George Washington owned. All of it together is what makes this country great; the good, the bad, and the ugly,” she concluded.

L.A. County Board Supervisor Holly Mitchell who was also honored during the awards luncheon took time during her acceptance speech to discuss grants and resources that are available especially for Black women business owners that were disproportionately affected by the economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miss Black USA Pageant Queens join the BBA’s “Salute to Black Women” Awards Luncheon. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

“We’ve invested more than $25 million in a new Economic Mobility Initiative that’s giving technical and legal assistance as well as entrepreneurship training and commercial lease opportunities to our small, minority-owned businesses throughout the county. Over the last year, through a partnership with a non-profit organization called Inclusive Action, my office knocked on more than 900 doors of small businesses to provide the opportunity to receive tenant improvements and help commercial spaces. We’re also helping small businesses acquire their commercial buildings” Supervisor Mitchell detailed.

“We did a pilot project and the first one we helped was actually in my home community of Leimert Park. This initiative provided $2 million to help Black owned and operated community land trusts buy the commercial building in which Black businesses were operating.”

Mitchell also informed attendees about the new Los Angeles County Department of Economic Opportunity and its grant programs. “We created a new office to help streamline contracts with the county. The county does $6 to $8 billion a year in contracts with small businesses. Sometimes it’s hard to navigate the county, but we created a single point of entry.

“When I say this is not your grandmother’s L.A. County, we are understanding that small businesses, faith-based organizations, and non-profit organizations are critical to the economic health and recovery of L.A. County. I know that’s the space where Black women occupy.”

The BBA’s “Salute To Black Women” also honored U.S. Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson and Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins in recognition of their outstanding contributions to advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion as corporate partners.

A new addition to the ceremony included competitive categories. Among the award recipients were Margo Wade LaDrew, CEO, Wade & Associates Group, LLC, and founder and executive director for Unsung Excellence; Viviana Nell Harvey, president/CEO, Sparkling Clean Cleaning Services and Carpet Care, Inc. for Excellence in Business; Joy Atkinson, executive director, Los Angeles African American Women’s Public Policy Institute for Excellence in Service; and Ta Lese Morrow, publisher and chief executive officer, Inland Valley News for Rising Star.

Another highlight was an inspiring and informative “Role Models of Success” Youth Forum moderated by Dr. Sudonna Moss; and “Women, Money, and Inclusion” Symposium moderated BBA’s CEO/President Sarah R. Harris.

“The event uplifted and strengthened women, especially during challenging times. We believe that Black women are playing a pivotal role in shaping the future,” declared Harris.

“In alignment with this year’s theme, we were privileged to spotlight a remarkable group of women who consistently advocate and lead in their own unique ways. Those who joined us were welcomed to an extraordinary celebration.”

The BBA which was founded in1970 is headquartered in Los Angeles and is the oldest, active ethnic business support organization in the state of California. With more than five decades of service, the BBA has been instrumental in the development and growth of thousands of Black-owned businesses locally and nationally. Its mission is to advocate and promote the development of Black-owned businesses with the goal of creating a firm economic base that supports the self-determination and prosperity of Black and urban communities locally and nationally.

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