Catalysts in the Community Archive
Become a part of the greater African-American journey. Our true beauty shines when we use our inner strength, kindness and generosity to live out our passions and help others. Discover the stories of those who help make a difference and act as positive role models in black communities. Get inspired to start something positive and become a catalyst in your own neighborhood.
Kiara L., Motivational Speaker
My little sister, Kiara L., truly deserves to be considered a Catalyst. She is a full-time college student who uses just about all of her spare time to encourage and empower women, young and old. She has written and self-published a children's book on colorism called "Light-Skinned, Dark-Skinned or In-Between?" She has created a documentary of the same name, and travels for seminars and speaking engagements about self-esteem and colorism. She is only 20, and this is only the beginning.
She is very passionate about self-esteem in the black female community, more specifically, colorism, which is discrimination within an ethnic group based on the shade of one's complexion. As this is a major issue in the black community, she is eager to combat it. She urges each and every person she meets to love themselves, no matter who they are or what they look like. At her book signings, she often signs books with these powerful words, "You are BEAUTIFUL. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise."
Kiara loves making others feel good about themselves. In my opinion, we need more people like her to work with the low self-esteem we often face. For more information about my sister, please check out her Web site, theblackertheberry.org.
Kaydra E., Teacher/Coach
Ms. E., teacher, coach, mentor and most importantly, child of God, has coached my daughters this past year. She coaches the Northside High School Drill SQUAD in Lafayette, LA. She has done so for the past seven years. She has made a difference in the lives of many children who could have ended up on the streets.
Ms. E. teaches the kids she coaches the importance of higher education, community service and self-respect. Through her program she gives these kids a real family environment. She dedicates countless hours to these kids.
Every now and then you will meet a teacher who cares more about the children than the position or the paycheck, and she's one of those teachers. I am certainly happy and grateful that God has sent Ms. E. into our lives!
Tracey F., Community Activist
My wife is full of life, full of joy, and full of ideas. Tracey is building her own little mini-empire that not only includes a part-time retail space, but also a brand that celebrates culture, diversity and humanity. If you were to ask her, however, she would say the most important work she does is being of service to girls of color by empowering them with "a world view through travel and encouraging social and environmental engagement through camp." The name of this service is OBG Adventure Camps. While it's still a grassroots effort, and her resources are limited, my award-winning wife owns and operates the only travel-and-learning-adventure program of its kind in the nation for girls, 11-16, nationwide.
Her personal camp story is on the Oprah's Angel Network website, and her work with youth travel advocacy was profiled on American Airlines® BlackAtlas.com. Even though parents have to pay to send their children to OBGAC waterfront locations (U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Lake Shasta, Catalina Island, Martha's Vineyard, Lake Tahoe, etc.), she spends all of her time and all of her money picking up the slack so that girls can afford the trip, travel and grow independently. She won a national travel writing contest from Women on Their Way by Wyndham Worldwide this year, too. I love her, respect her and admire her, but mostly I want you to know about her. She is an innovator and a catalyst in our Bay Area community with a huge heart.
Byron Lars, Fashion Designer
Clothing designer Byron Lars knows how to make designs work for him. He created his own label in 1991 with a small collection of sportswear that focused on what Lars refers to as "twisted American classics."
"When edgy fashion is steeped in something familiar, it becomes far less alienating to the consuming public," Lars says.
After only his second season in business, "Women's Wear Daily" hailed Byron as "Rookie of the Year." His line was immediately snapped up by prestigious retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's, as well as 100 other specialty stores throughout the United States, along with some distribution in the U.K. and France.
"I saw it a few days ago and was blown out of the water," exclaims Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president and fashion director of Bloomingdale's, referring to Lars' premier fall collection. "He has the freshest point of view of all the young American designers."
Lars' range of designs became most apparent in his sixth or seventh runway presentation, where he created accessories as mere fashion-show props, only to attract the attention of licensees in handbags, furs and hats. His notoriety also led to his designing a limited edition of designer Barbie™ dolls for Mattel.
By the contractual end of his licensees, Lars chose to direct his energy away from the designer collection and focus on a contemporary line and pricing structure. This redirection was the beginning of "Byron Lars Beauty Mark." Initially a cotton LYCRA® shirting-based offering, Beauty Mark took its cue from the shirts and shirt dresses of the previous collection that put the designer on the map. Since its inception, Beauty Mark has enjoyed eight years of success and is now expanding its product line to include knits, sportswear and dresses, in addition to the chic and sexy shirts for which the line is highly sought after.
Sam Fine, Celebrity Makeup Artist/Author
What do superstars Patti Labelle, Vanessa L. Williams, Halle Berry and Brandy, and supermodels Tyra Banks, Veronica Webb, Iman and Naomi Campbell all have in common? Sam Fine! They've relied on his expertise in makeup to help them look glamorous.
The Chicago native paid his dues working behind the makeup counter of department stores, an experience he fondly refers to as "the real school of beauty." There he came in contact with women from all walks of life who wanted one thing — to look their absolute best.
Fine made it his mission to show them how to accentuate their unique beauty by using colors and shades that would best complement their complexions. He helped them eliminate their doubts and apprehension about applying makeup so they, too, could achieve dazzling results.
Fine's talent and determination have taken him far from the makeup counter, making him one of today's most sought-after makeup artists. His work has appeared on models who graced the covers of "Cosmopolitan," "Harper's Bazaar," "ESSENCE," "VIBE" and "Marie Claire" magazines. He also was chosen as the first African-American spokesperson for Revlon® and CoverGirl® cosmetics.
Still, it was his experience selling makeup that inspired him to write his first book, "Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African-American Women."
Fine introduced his first instructional DVD, "Fine: The Basics of Beauty" in October 2009. This step-by-step tutorial features three individual makeovers and addresses a myriad of beauty challenges by focusing on tools, technique and product selection.
Sharing his wealth of experience and expertise, Fine enables viewers to fully understand all that goes into creating a flawless, natural-looking face.
Sessilee Lopez, Supermodel
Sessilee Lopez knows what she wants out of life. Labeled the "it" girl of fashion by photographer Steven Meisel after she was selected to do a photo shoot three years ago for the "Vogue Italia" 2008 acclaimed Black Issue, she has taken the fashion world by storm.
When the iconic cover appeared in the states, Lopez was invited on "The Tyra Show" to promote the issue. A few months later, the two models — Banks and Lopez — appeared in a "V Magazine" spread.
"We had such a fun time working together, I learned so much from her," Lopez says. "I was like a sponge."
Born in Philadelphia, Lopez moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida, while still a pre-teen. She heard about a local modeling competition and begged her mother to allow her to enter. "I learned from that first competition what I wanted to do," Lopez says, "and would stop at no end to get it!"
With a heritage that consists of Dominican, African-American, Portuguese and Cuban, Lopez's unique hybrid has caught the attention of campaigns such as Calvin Klein's CK perfume, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, M.A.C Cosmetics, NOIR and GAS Jeans to feature her in their ads.
Lopez's biggest dream came true when she walked the prestigious Victoria's Secret runway and made an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" modeling Narcisco Rodriguez's line.
"I might not be endowed well up there, but my whole life I've loved Victoria's Secret and their amazing bras!" Lopez says. "To walk in their biggest show was really huge for me."
Originally signed by IMG, and then signed to Major Models Management, Lopez's innate beauty has made her one of the most celebrated models in the business. On the top 50 global models list, she ranks in at No. 13.
Aside from modeling, Lopez is an aspiring actress. She has started acting lessons with the famed Emmy®-nominated acting coach Susan Batson, who's worked with everyone from Tom Cruise to Jennifer Connelly. Lopez's striking features also caught the eye of rap artist Kanye West, who cast her in his "Flashing Lights" video.
Despite her fame and international notoriety, Lopez does a good job of not letting any of it go to her head. "I try not to get caught up in the 'it girl' or 'supermodel' labels people have given me," Lopez says. "To me, it's not about a pretty face or having a diva attitude ... it's a presence you command."
Mercedes Cunningham, City Year Volunteer
Los Angeles native Mercedes Cunningham is a young person dedicated to transforming the lives of others in her community. The youngest of four, Mercedes grew up in the Watts area of Los Angeles, a gang-infested community where she witnessed firsthand violence, drug deals and gang-related activity as a normal way of life.
Mercedes attended King Drew High School but dropped out in the 11th grade after feeling disengaged and disconnected with the students and teachers. Mercedes was on her way to becoming another statistic until she became involved with Summer Night Lights, a program dedicated to keeping local parks open late to decrease youth violence.
Mercedes was later recruited by City Year and became an active volunteer with the nonprofit organization and its programs while obtaining her GED. Mercedes describes her life now as a complete turnaround from the life she lived before, and she now aspires to attend UCLA and pursue a career in gang prevention. Her ultimate dream is to work with the mayor of Los Angeles to create options for underprivileged and underserved youth.
Adrienne Lamar, Associate Director, Jenesse Center
Adrienne Lamar is the associate director for Jenesse Center, Incorporated. Jenesse Center is a nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive services to women and children who are survivors of domestic violence. Adrienne works tirelessly to support Jenesse's creed: "The Center is more than a shelter for battered women and their children; it is an institute that seeks to heal communities by healing families." Jenesse Center provides a variety of mental health, health education, vocational and economic empowerment services that help rebuild self-esteem as women transition toward self-sufficiency.
Adrienne's involvement in the leadership of the organization has enabled Jenesse Center to increase its participation in policy issues at the local, state and federal levels. Recently, Adrienne participated in a national planning effort with the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community to address domestic violence in the African-American community in the Greater Los Angeles area and surrounding counties.
Adrienne has been recognized for her commitment to battered women and social justice by several county, state and national organizations, including Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council, Department of Children and Family Services Family to Family Initiative and UCLA School of Social Work.
In addition to her responsibilities at Jenesse Center, Adrienne is active in other community and national human-service-related organizations, including:
- Mentor for the Women of Color Network® — a program of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) designed to mentor women of color in new social-justice leadership roles
- SPA 6 Advisory Council
- Advisory Council Member for the South Central Training Consortium — a rotating group of graduate-level interns who provide direct services to community-based agencies
- Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Task Force
- Los Angeles Domestic Violence Council
Adrienne has spent the past 14 years as a staunch advocate for black women's health. She is dedicated to providing vital health and social-service resources and information to women and other unserved and underserved communities. Adrienne also is the former associate director for the California Alliance Against Domestic Violence (now known as California Partnership to End Domestic Violence). There, along with her team, she provided cultural competency trainings for the entire U.S. western region.
Adrienne's career in the nonprofit sector began when she served as a national minority recruiter and national campaign coordinator for the American Red Cross. Her background as a minority recruiter enabled her to identify areas and cultures where she could best serve. Adrienne also is the former program coordinator for the California Black Women's Health Project. Her successes with the organization include the establishment of additional "Girl Talk" groups along the South Central Avenue Corridor. As a result of the "Girl Talk" groups in the area, the program received national recognition as a model program and was adopted by several housing developments in the Greater Los Angeles area.
Javette Orgain, M.D, M.P.H.
Chicago native Dr. Javette Orgain is a family-health practitioner at the Mile Square Health Center at South Shore. Javette purposely chooses to work with uninsured and underinsured patients in order to better educate them in health and wellness, which ultimately increases their life span and improves their quality of life.
Javette is also an assistant dean of the UIC Urban Health Program, where she recruits, mentors, advises and supports African-American, Latino and Native-American students who desire a career in medicine. As a testament to her care and talent as a physician, Javette has served as the 100th president of the National Medical Association and is the first African-American president of the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.
Javette was recognized as a 2009 Woman Pioneer during the My Black is Beautiful Tour event in Chicago. She regularly participates in health forums in order to educate her community about health and wellness. Javette also serves as a community advocate in the development of health-care policy and research in an attempt to eliminate health disparities in the African-American community. Her involvement and dedication to her community make her a true catalyst.
Cheryl Burton is an Emmy®-award-winning co-anchor. She works on two of Chicago's top-rated newscasts on the local ABC affiliate, WLS-TV. As a result of her excellence in journalism, Cheryl was awarded the Vernon Jarrett Par Excellence Award and the coveted 2008 National Association of Black Journalists Salute to Excellence International Award for her coverage of the opening of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.
During the little time she has away from her news desk, Cheryl volunteers for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and serves as a motivational speaker for the Chicago Public Schools. She also serves on the boards of the Life with Lupus Guild, the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center and City Year. The Thurgood Marshall Award also has honored her community efforts and commitment to justice and righting wrongs for those who don't have a voice.
Cheryl also hosts an annual Christmas toy drive benefitting homeless women who are victims of domestic violence and their children living at Tabitha House. Tabitha House is a Chicago-area shelter, which is dedicated to serving the immediate needs of women and children who have been victims of domestic violence or homelessness, and who are recovering from substance abuse.
Cheryl was recognized as a 2009 Woman Pioneer during the My Black is Beautiful Tour event in Chicago. She strongly believes that it is important for each woman and girl to feel uniquely beautiful, to be encouraged to love themselves and to dream. Cheryl shares that My Black is Beautiful means a great deal to her, not just for herself, but for all of the little girls out there who need role models and positive reinforcement about how beautiful they are and what they can achieve. As a role model and catalyst in her community, Cheryl's wish is that she can offer hope and affirmation. She strives to show girls that they are beautiful and that if they dream and believe, they, too, can achieve.
Evelyn Brown is the founder and director of National Stork's Nest, a program designed to promote prenatal-care participation and healthy behaviors during pregnancy. She is an advocate of prenatal-care education, and encourages her clients to take good care of themselves and their babies.
When Evelyn isn't busy working with young mothers, she volunteers with various organizations, including 35 years of volunteerism with the March of Dimes®. In the past, she has been a recipient of the American Academy of Human Services Award and the Economic Opportunity Atlanta Service Award.
Evelyn was recognized as a 2009 Woman Pioneer during the My Black is Beautiful Tour event in Atlanta. Her dedication to working with and helping children in the Atlanta area throughout her career is truly inspiring. She started her career as an elementary school teacher, and then became a special education teacher. She later worked for Atlanta's Children and Youth Services. Evelyn always strives to improve the lives of children and young adults, which makes her a true catalyst in her community.
Trina Renee Proctor
Trina Renee Proctor is a mental health therapist. She has been recognized by the state of Georgia for three years of excellence in her work and by Northside Hospital for five years of outstanding performance in the field of social service. Trina currently serves as first vice president and membership committee chairperson of the National Association of University Women's Atlanta branch. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association and the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of Georgia.
When Trina is not working, she volunteers with kids from her church and in the community. Trina serves on the scholarship committee board, which annually aids in identifying scholarship recipients to promote college education.
Trina was recognized as a 2009 Woman Pioneer during the My Black is Beautiful Tour event in Atlanta. She is a woman who not only believes in her own worth, but in the worth of others. She exemplifies confidence and pride in herself and is instrumental in instilling similar attitudes and values in others. Through years of providing therapy and counseling, Trina has educated her local community about mental illness and the various resources and support groups available for wellness. Trina also has been an entrepreneur, a teacher and a strong supporter of women's rights. Her knowledgeable, caring and passionate nature makes her a valuable catalyst in her community.