FIRST LADIES OF LA
The First Ladies of LA
By Teryl Warren
For many who grew up in the church, First Ladies have typically held a place of honor, glamour and mystique. But, to the surprise of many, First Ladies are far more than elaborate hat-wearing showpieces. They, like the men of God they’ve married, are leaders, role models and tireless servants of the community.
On Saturday, October 12, Wiles Magazine – along with about 1,000 other fashionable attendees – flocked to the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel for L.A. Focus News’ 16th annual “First Ladies High Tea.” The event was hosted by Dr. Beverly “Bam” Crawford and Sheree Fletcher (Hollywood Exes) and featured performances from Gospel recording artists Isaac Carree (Clean This House and In the Middle) as well as BET’s 2013 Sunday Best Winner Tosha Page-Lockhart.
The afternoon tea is an annual red carpet affair for the who’s who of women in the church and black community, featuring celebrity guests, community leaders and honorees. From the onset, co-host and First Lady Sheree Fletcher encouraged the attendees-who typically work in the service of others-to “Kick back and enjoy being served.”
Tea attendees went on to enjoy a delicious menu of buttery scones, tea sandwiches made from chicken salad,egg salad and lox with cream cheese and dill, sun-dried tomato quiche, mini lemon tarts, white chocolate-covered strawberries and espresso-dipped sponge layer cake.
In the decade since its inception, the tea has served to inspire women, both young and old, to join forces and create a movement of service towards each other, the communities in which they live and to God. Past honorees include former California First Lady Maria Shriver, former LA County Supervisor Yvonne Burke, renowned vocalist Nancy Wilson, gospel recording duo Mary Mary, TV One founder Cathy Hughes, actor/activist Hill Harper and The Honorable Kamala Harris, Attorney General of California, to name a few.
“The First Ladies High Tea” was conceived in 1997 to celebrate and embrace the role First Ladies and women in the church play in providing services to the community and shaping the lives of young girls and youth,” Publisher Lisa Collins explains. “So often the work that they do goes overlooked and we wanted to change that and provide a forum to recognize them for all that they do and all that they are to us.”
The event honored women and First Ladies who have served the communities well, through their activism and charitable contributions. The First Lady Honorees included: Bunny Wilson; New Dawn Christian Village, Mia Whitlock; Christ Our Redeemer AME, and Sandy Iverson; Paradise Baptist Church.
Carol’s Daughter Founder, Lisa Price, received the Focus Award and Grammy Award winning artist, Deniece Williams received the Legacy Award, presented by her friend and collaborator, legendary recording artist Johnny Mathis (It’s Not For Me To Say). Mathis and Williams surprised and delighted the audience by singing songs separately and together, and briefly danced on stage.
“Johnny Mathis is a legend and it’s wonderful to have him present an award to a woman who is not only an extraordinary music talent, but to a woman who has —at the height of her career—maintained her commitment to Christ and spreading the word. I mean she’s topping the charts and at the same time, holding Bible studies in her home,” Collins shared.
“Niecey” as she is known by peers and fans, alike, showed off her signature soaring vocals with a riveting a capella rendition of “Only What You Do for Christ Will Last” as part of her acceptance speech. “I grew up in the Church of God in Chirst. I’m a holy roller,” Williams shared. ”The last thing we were supposed to do is sing ‘the devil’s music,’ and it was hard for me to sing secular songs, at first. That’s why I decided to put a gospel song on every album [I recorded] – which wasn’t easy, but I did. Because my fear and love of the Lord is greater than my fear and love of man.”
Other notable presenters and speakers included Shamicka Lawrence (Hollywood Exes), Actress Alley Mills (The Bold & The Beautiful) Recording Artist Freda Payne (Band of Gold), Myesha Chaney (L.A. First Ladies), Sheriff Lee Baca, and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Directly following a PSA sponsored by event partner Wal-Mart, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urged the First Ladies to rally behind his current cause to end the epidemic of slave trafficking that plagues Los Angeles County and the world. ”This is a time for serious business,” Ridley-Thomas said as he spoke about his mission. At least 100,000 children, Ridley-Thomas noted, are sold for sex each year in the United States; and at least 3,000 children - 92% of whom are African-American – are affected annually in Los Angeles County.
“ The selling of our children for the pleasure of irresponsible men is moodern-day slavery,” Ridley-Thomas said. ”The fine for riding MetroLink without a ticket is higher than the fine a man caught having sex with a child will receive. Something is wrong with that picture.”
As the ladies cheered Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ mandate to change California’s law so that sex traffickers are charged as felons, event co-host Dr. Beverly “Bam” Crawford urged the women to personally pick up the mantle, as well.
“It’s time to take this fight out of the church – beyond the walls and into the streets,” she implored. “As a family, we have to do as much as we can to protect our kids. Girls have turned to to the streets and trusted pimps to protect them because they couldn’t trust their mothers to protect them from the men they’re dating who are abusing their daughters.”
A further testament to the First Ladies’ commitment to improving the lives of young girls and women is the tea’s annual essay contest – sponsored by Wells Fargo. This year, young women aged 15-18 submitted essays in accordance with the theme, “Investing In Tomorrow Today.” Cash prizes were awarded to third place winner JordanBell Thompson and second place winner Tatiana Samuels in the amount of $750 and $1,000 respectively.
The Grand Prize winner – 17 year-old senior at Washington Prepratory High School Jamilah Sims - was presented with a $1500 cash prize and an excerpt from her winning essay was read aloud. The young single mother’s words moved the crowd to tears as she wrote about her commitment to succeed in life by always keeping God first. “I choose to listen for the voice of God,” she wrote. “I do not have to be perfect to hear the voice of God, but I do have to listen.”