Black Women Rock! event grows as it honors women's contributions

Saturday, March 8, 2014 | 10:44 p.m. CST; updated 11:13 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 8, 2014
Black Women Rock! is an annual event that recognizes black women in Columbia who have made a difference in the community and inspired others. The event included musical performances in addition to acceptance speeches from the honorees.

COLUMBIA — One woman raises money to assist rape victims in the Congo. One is the director of a nonprofit that teaches children about global issues. Another is a poet who uses the power of her words to blend artistry and activism.

These women and others were honored Saturday at Black Women Rock!, an annual event that recognizes black women in Columbia who have made a difference in the community and inspired others.

2014 Black Women Rock! honorees

Here are the women who were honored at this year's Black Women Rock!:

  • Patricia Mabengo: Mabengo received the Humanitarian Award for her dedication to assisting women in the Congo.
  • Simone McGautha: McGautha was given the Visionary Award. The MU senior is devoted to educating youth and has spent time teaching in Ghana and South Korea.
  • Pamela Ingram: Ingram was given the Living Legend award. She founded Granny's House in Columbia, an after-school center for inner-city children.
  • Ebony Francis: Francis received the Star Power award. The MU junior is majoring in journalism and was honored for her work to increase diversity in journalism.
  • Naomi Daugherty: Daugherty received the M.A.D. (Making a Difference) Woman Award. She is a poet and a social activist in Columbia, as well as the executive director of SPEAK Community Theater.
  • Nadege Uwase: Uwase was given the Unsung Hero award for her work as the director of Global Issues Leadership Development, a nonprofit that helps teach students about human rights and issues of global importance.
  • Valencia Seuell: Seuell was awarded the Young, Gifted, and Black award for her numerous fundraising efforts, including establishing an organization at MU that empowers young women to make a positive impact in their community.

The keynote speaker and a recipient of the Black Women Rock! Award was Mary Nelson, who graduated from the MU's School of Law in 1981 and the first African-American woman to be appointed to Missouri's Administrative Hearing Commission.

The event was coordinated by a committee of students and is meant to celebrate the accomplishments of black women who wouldn't otherwise be honored.

"Black women are often invisible, but the work we do is so vital," said Amina Simmons, who served as the graduate adviser.

Now in its fourth year, Black Women Rock! has honored more than 70 women in the Columbia area, including Lyah Beth LeFlore, a New York Times best-selling author and a member of the Stephens College Board of Trustees.

"The show is supposed to encourage and empower black women," said Kelsey Harris, design coordinator for the event.

"We never want to get lost in the shadows," Harris said. "We do so much for others, and we forget to stop and acknowledge ourselves."

Valencia Seuell received the Young, Gifted and Black Award. The MU sophomore started volunteering when she was in fourth grade, when she raised money for Hurricane Katrina victims.

"Embrace who you are, and you can do anything," she told audience members after receiving her award.

Hundreds of people filled the seats at MU's Conservation Auditorium. The event included musical performances in addition to acceptance speeches from the honorees.

Bianca Merriwether coordinated the talent for the event, which included dancers from Boys & Girls Club in Columbia and singers from the Legion of Black Collegians' gospel choir.

Merriwether sang at the first Black Women Rock! and has enjoyed watching the event grow each year.

"It started as just a normal Mizzou classroom with one microphone. We take it up a notch every year," Merriwether said.

She recruited Columbia resident Aaric Wright to get more people involved.

"I don't know how anyone can come and not want to be a part of this," Wright said.

He believes the event encompasses everything that is good and positive about black culture. He said his mother has always been an inspiration to him.

"Not only does she rock; she is my rock," he said.

Simmons praised the committee who organized the event, calling them "some of the bravest, most tenacious and hardworking women I've ever met."

She said she thinks the event is important because it empasizes that black women thrive in the community.

"Part of this is about claiming space in a place where black women were not expected to survive," she said.

The event gets bigger and better each year, Merriwether said.

"We hope it grows to the point that we can't hold it in this auditorium anymore," she said. "I can't wait to come back and see what it looks like in 10 years."

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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