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A DAY OF MOTIVATION—From left; Erica Upshaw-Givner, Queba Patton Bey, Dr. Angela Ford, Connie Portis, Dr. Marcia Sturdivant. (Photos by Gail Manker)

Courier reporter Renee P. Aldrich shares the significance of the 10th year of her event, held Nov. 4 at The LeMont

It was a lavish luncheon held at the beautiful LeMont atop Mt. Washington. Nov. 4, 2017, I celebrated 15 years of my empowerment and self-esteem building program, “Softer Side Seminars,” and also the annual event that stems out of that program, “Woman to Woman Empowerment Symposium—streaming self-esteem from one woman to the other.”


It was encouraging and delightful to see over 85 people pour into the lower level dining area, an “L” shaped space wrapped in windows providing for a spectacular view of the city from everywhere you sat or stood in the room. The five crystal chandeliers hanging strategically around the ceiling added to the elegance as well as classic sounds of “Just Us,” a flute and guitar duo who played an array of popular easy listening and light jazz songs as the attendees entered, during lunch and closing out the event. Local Songstress, Theresa Hawthorne, was also on hand to lend her voice with an India Arie song of empowerment, “I am Light.”

When I started Softer Side Seminars 15 years ago, it was to convene women and girls and hold seminars and workshops around building self-esteem. Five years in, I began the annual event—Woman to Woman Empowerment Symposium. I had personally experienced being lifted out of a place of low self-esteem, and knew that building a healthy sense of self was key for women if they are to stay on track for success in relationships, in their education, in the workplace, and even in pursuing entrepreneurship. I believed also that women play a major role in either diminishing the self-esteem of one another or…in working with them to build it up. So, it made sense to celebrate this journey by recognizing and honoring women whom I had witnessed, through their professional as well as personal activities, deposit into other women, helping them develop, cultivate and sustain a healthy sense of self.


The honorees of the afternoon were Dr. Angela Ford, program manager, Black women’s health imperative in Washington, D.C. Ford previously held the positions of co-director and director of the University of Pittsburgh, Center for Minority Health; Connie Portis, former Editor of Renaissance Publications and for 30 years the Publisher of the Black Business Directory; and Erica Upshaw Givner, Lead Clinician of Vision Towards Peace Therapy Services, and co-founder of A Peace of Mind Inc. a non-traditional holistic health dance and art studio. A special award was presented to Raqueeb Patton Bey, as a rising star—one who has pushed past her personal challenges to become an expert in the area of Urban Farming. She is a sought-after panelist and speaker on the topic and most recently was the recipient of a $10,000 grant to pursue this passion.


As a life skills coordinator and case manager at a local woman’s shelter, I get a firsthand look at the diminished capacity and broken esteem of women who are homeless with their children. Each year through this event we’ve targeted some social service agency or entity of which to make a contribution. This year, Woman Space East, a shelter that has been serving women and their children for over 40 years, was the organization we identified. And we’re proud to announce that we collected close to $350 by making an appeal on behalf of this deserving agency.

We celebrated 10 years of empowering women, we recognized five champions for the cause of women, and we were able to make a small donation to a shelter serving women and children. And most importantly the event was the launch of my book, “Notes From the Softer Side—A Roadmap to Achieving the Plans God has for your Life.” Our goals for the day were met.


Attendees enjoyed a 13-minute video presentation highlighting participants from the previous nine years, each sharing a powerful testimony of the impact of the seminar they attended. Keynote speaker for the afternoon, Dr. Marcia Sturdivant, President and CEO of Negro Emergency Education Drive (NEED), encouraged the women to know their strength, know their value and make that knowledge a foundation for their lives.

Notable attendees for the afternoon included Evan Frazier, Senior Vice President for Community Affairs at Highmark, State Representative Jake Wheatley and his Chief of Staff, Kirk Holbrook, Brother Melvin Hubbard El, Chief of Staff, Office of Ed Gainey, William Generett, Valerie McDonald Roberts, Chief of Urban Affairs, City of Pittsburgh, to name a few.

Also, Mistress of Ceremonies, Eileen J. Morris, former artistic director of the Kuntu Theater, came in from Houston to participate. The significance of the work we’ve done over the past 10 to 15 years has been further validated by three proclamations, one from the state, from the county, and from the city. And Nov. 7, 2017 was designated Softer Side Seminars Day by Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle.


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