Honored, humbled and grateful were the adjectives used by the majority of the awardees during the Aug. 18 A Legacy in Black: Celebrating the Entrepreneurial Soul sponsored by Onyx Woman Network as they expressed their feelings on receiving recognition.

“I’m deeply honored that Ola feels I have made an impact on the economic empowerment of Pittsburgh’s African-American community,” said Grace Robinson. “She is the one who has made an impact. It has been exciting watching her grow, develop and keep up with the digital age.”

HONOREES—Front row left to right: Rod Doss, Lynne Hayes-Freeland, Philip Petite, Wrenna Watson, Ruth Byrd Smith and Robert Hill. Back row left to right: Connie Portis, Me’chelle Humphries, Rosemary Crawford, Debra Hickman, Grace Robinson, Chris Moore, Pamela and James Johnson, and Doris Carson Williams. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

In celebration of her 20 years of giving a voice to women and Black entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh, Ola Jackson, owner of OWN celebrated 20 distinguished business owners and business advocates.

“You all have played some role in my life along my journey,” said Jackson. The awardees, she confessed she has admired afar and up close throughout the years were Ruth Byrd-Smith, Dept. of Minority, Women & DBE; Grace Robinson, State Farm Insurance; Chris Moore, radio and television Personality; Doris Carson Williams, African American Chamber of Commerce; Rod Doss, editor and publisher, New Pittsburgh Courier; Eric Strong, Strong’s Cleaners; Lynne Hayes-Freeland, The Lynne Hayes-Freeland Show; Rosemary Crawford, Crawford McDonald, Esq.; Connie Portis, The Pittsburgh Black Business Directory; Vice Chancellor Robert Hill, Public Affairs University of Pittsburgh; Me’chelle Humphries-Hayes, Center of Attraction Hair Salon; James and Pamela Johnson, African-American Music Institute; William Pryor, Pryor Furs; Wrenna Watson, solicitor to the Allegheny County Controller; William (Bill) Robinson, County Council member; Debra Hickman, Giant Eagle Franchise, East Hills; Phillipe Petite, Equal Opportunity Review Commission – City of Pittsburgh; and Ronald and Judith Davenport, American Urban Radio Network. Bev Smith, the Bev Smith Show, received the Lifetime Achievement Award and a special honor went to the late Robert Lavelle, Dwelling House Savings and Loan.

The youngest awardee, Janai Williams 30, principal, E. Holdings LLC, was passed the gauntlet from her father, Irv Williams a long time entrepreneur from the Hill District. “Janai is the ideal individual to succeed us. We are honored as a family to pass the business on to her. We know she can take it to the next level,” said Irv Williams joking that his only request is that he and his wife Janicee receive a monthly check.

Operating on the premise that public participation is a necessary element needed to spawn economic growth and create sustainable and successful developments, E. Holdings implements effective public outreach, public relations and community relations programs, as well as urban planning and strategic planning with a focus on non-profit and government sectors.

Involved in the family real estate development business since she was 14, Janai is up to the challenge of taking E. Holdings to the next level. The University of Pennsylvania graduate with a BA in economics and urban planning and a master’s degree in urban planning said she plans to take the business savvy style she learned from her dad and combine it with her education. “By using our core values of innovation, service excellence, collaboration and connections my goal is to implement public participation programs that are specific, purposeful and productive,” she explained. “We operate on the premise that public participation is a necessary element needed to spawn economic growth and create sustainable and successful developments within our communities.”

Fortunate to have her parents as great role models, Janai said it is important for aspiring entrepreneurs to follow the success and careers of people like Jackson and the awardees. “These are the pioneers of the Black community, people like Mr. Lavelle, and Mr. Pryor have left legacies,” she said.

Jackson founded OWN to address the issues concerns and lifestyles of women of color. For two decades she has utilized workshops, seminars, conferences and broadcast media to give a voice and be a voice for career women, professionals and entrepreneurs. The recipient of many awards and accolades is an award-winning publisher, who last year won the SBA Minority Champion Award for her advocacy of minority-owned businesses. Jackson used the reception held at the Hill House Kaufmann Center’s Elise Hillman Auditorium as a way to celebrate her 20th year anniversary as well as a way to salute others. “These leaders have been in business for decades, or have supported minority business ownership over the years,” she acknowledged. “They have served as inspiring role models, mentors and trailblazers.

Pleased with the success of the capacity crowd event, she said she is planning A Legacy in Black II, a business seminar to be held in October. “I was elated, excited and honored to be in the presence of such esteemed people,” she said.

E. Holdings, LLC, FedEx Ground, PNC Bank and Fifth Third Bank were co-sponsors for A Legacy in Black: Celebrating the Entrepreneurial Soul. Along with Janai, Sonya Tilghman, VP and CRA Manager of Fifth Third Bank and Bridgette Cofield, senior manager–HR Diversity for FedEx Ground served as award presenters.

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