Rolling out is proud to announce its fourth annual Top 25 Women of Houston issue. The illustrious list of women you’ll hear from in the next few pages was constructed with this year’s theme — Divaism at the forefront. The FSF Top 25 focuses on dynamic women in a cross section of industries and professional pursuits, but particularly those who have mastered the art of managing the rigors of business while fostering lasting personal development strategies. 2009 is a benchmark year as these celebrated women join with FSF alumnae to complete the list of Houston’s Top 100 Women, which includes such notables as former city council member Ada Edwards; Deavra Daughtry (Texas Women’s Empowerment Foundation); Kandi Eastman (Majic 102.1 FM); Judge Clarease Yates; Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Yolanda Adams; Tracye McDaniels (COO, Greater Houston Partnership); Pastor Juanita Rasmus; and Karen Jackson (founder, Sisters Network Inc.). –roz edward
Creative Director LAMIK Cosmetics
“I felt as if I was an outcast to the beauty industry. So my personal mission has been to break the stereotypes for what is considered beautiful. I am beautiful,” declares Kim Roxie, the founder and creative director of the exclusive beauty line Lamik. The company’s slogan “Beauty is revealed not applied” captures what Roxie says women have been missing out on in the cosmetic and beauty industry. Roxie, is recognized in industry circles for her high ethical standards which are more physically and socially in tune with consumer sensibilities. Lamik wearers say the line is essentially easy to wear, but the pigments are still strong enough to handle a high pressure fast paced lifestyle. Roxie strategically planned, sacrificed and saved to start the company. At 21, while still attending college and working a minimum wage job she took $10,000 of her savings to open her first store. The artful entrepreneur credits value menu meals at Wendy’s helping her make that possible. Roxie says she continues to learn from the experiences of those around her and apply those lesson learned to her own life and business.
Senior VP, Comerica Bank
Every business started small somewhere at sometime. We get to see the businesses in their early stages, when they’re growing and and when they’re moving towards maturity. So we are allowed to have a great deal of input in the road that they take,” says Comerica’s Donna Mittendorf, regarding the institution’s role in business development in the Houston area.
Mittendorf echoes the generally held sentiment that education is key to improving one’s lot in life and elevating oneself financially, explaining that she earned her bachelor’s degree after 11 years of resolving to see it through to it’s end, achieving an MBA several years later.
The beloved banker encourages women to surround themselves with business and banking experts to create a fertile environment in which to establish and cultivate their businesses and careers. “The economic climate for women is great. In my industry we see so many more women moving into top tier jobs. I’m a senior vp at the corporate level, my boss is a woman and she’s an executive vice president. … Women have more of a collegial tendency to help other women and pull them along,” adds Mittendorf enthusiastically.
Founder and Executive Director,
“In 1984 I had surgery and was given tainted blood. I was diagnosed HIV positive in 1990. … It’s 20 years later and I’m still HIV positive, but I’m still here,” says Barabara Joseph, founder and executive director of Positive Efforts, a much lauded nonprofit agency that assists women facing a similar plight.
Although Joseph’s story is a remarkable one it is not entirely uncommon. “I have devoted my life to bringing awareness to African American women because for some reason we don’t believe that it affects us.”
Joseph says it’s difficult for African American women who — along with the fear and the stigma attached to the disease — encounter great difficulty in accessing quality health care. “So for a person trying to survive it gets very complicated,” laments the HIV/AIDS champion.
|Carol Mims Galloway
NAACP Houston Branch President
HISD Board Trustee District 2
“I get riled up when I see injustice done in any arena, especially when it is directed at African Americans,“ pronounces longtime civil rights advocate Carol Mims Galloway. “You have a passion when you are set free … and after the Civil Rights Bill I was set free. That’s when I decided to work to make things better in terms of racism and discrimination,” she adds fervently.
Galloway’s longevity as a distinguished community stalwart of social causes is not limited to civil liberties. She is also a vocal HISD board trustee who says she is equally passionate about education and parental involvement in school. “I saw the difference in education in impoverished areas compared to the middle and wealthy [income] areas as it relates to resources and teaching techniques. And now I’ve gone through four decades of doing this work.”
BoneFide Financial Services
“I’m a fan of Wonder Woman and I enjoy using my wonder-working powers in building financial infrastructures for small businesses desiring bigger bottom lines and broader market shares,” confides Sharwin Wiltz-Boney, VP of BoneFide Financial Services, a solutions driven firm whose forte is building strong financial infrastructures for businesses on the Houston business scene.
“I find it absolutely rewarding to be able to walk into something chaotic and be a stabilizing force that breeds better business [practices],” says Wiltz-Boney,
“If the goal of a business is to make a dollar, then know how many cents on the dollar it takes to make it. … Know your numbers, have a team around you that is willing to go in the same direction your company is going and have the determination to ‘go get it’ every day,” advises the financial specialist.
First Lady, Church Without Walls
Sheretta West knows that the greatest trials can lead to the greatest breakthroughs. In West’s case, her personal tribulations divinely navigated the first lady of Church Without Walls to her ultimate destiny — serving and helping women.
“It became very clear to me that my calling is to support women from various walks of life – from those who are serving with their husbands to those who are battling cancer. There was a need out there,” says West, who is the editor of Mosaic magazine, the official magazine of the church, as well as the founder of Pamper, Pray and Play: A Spiritual Retreat for Pastors and Ministers Spouses. “But it was like nothing that was offered to fulfill the need. So looking back, it was my opportunity for me to create venues to help women. And that was the moment that really started the ball [rolling].
|Lora L. Mayes, R.N.
CEO, Beacon Home Health Agency
Lora Mayes, the CEO of Beacon Home Health Agency, had an epiphany when she heard an inspirational speaker say when you find your anger, you’ve found your passion. That’s when Mayes’ anger at society’s callous disregard and blatant mistreatment of senior citizens would eventually manifest as the Beacon Home Health Agency.
“It makes me angry because people think that seniors, because they are old, are dumb or don’t know when they are taken advantage of. It makes me angry when they [don’t] receive the appropriate level of care that they are entitled to. And it makes me angry when … someone doesn’t take the time to make sure that they walk away with understanding about any process they are entering into,” says Mayes.
“I found this to be my passion because I love the wisdom and the knowledge that the seniors share when you visit them in their homes,” she says.
Fox 26 News
As we continue to be inundated with a torrential downpour of negative news filled with violence, despair, scandal, corruption and hopelessness, Damali Keith of Fox 26 News offers a blessed respite with uplifting news about people doing positive things for others.
|Dr. Reagan Flowers
Founder and President, CSTEM
“The pivotal point in my career came when I entered my students in a national competition. … We were the only minorities in the room. I thought my students were prepared. I’d been telling them that they could become first-rate engineers and scientists. But I had to examine myself as a teacher when I found that my students and our level of competition was not up to par on the national scale,” admits the venerated scientist, educator and author, Dr. Reagan Flowers.
As a good scientist does, she responded to the challenge by identifying and creating a solution — CSTEM, an amazingly innovative and comprehensive training program dedicated to enhancing student and teacher skills in over 70 Houston area schools in the fields of communication, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Flowers’ celebrated program reaches over 500 teachers, 20,000 students and 250,000 households annually.
|Margo Williams Handy
Principal, MWH Public Relations
“There are so many good organizations out here contributing to the health and well-being of our citizens. Many of them have heart, but they don’t have the resources to let people know what they do or how to raise funds for [it],” explains Margo Williams Handy, principal of MWH Public Relations, a full-service PR firm that specializes in image and communications for nonprofit organizations and for profit clients.
Handy, who is held in high esteem in the nonprofit circle as much for her fundraising experience as she is her PR services, says she is anything but shy about asking for money. “Some people are a little timid about asking for money, but when I’m asking for money for others I don’t hesitate,” she adds confidently.
“My strength of my commitment to others gives birth to the realization of their dreams,” says community activist and fundraiser Merele Yarborough. Having served the Houston community for more than 20 years, the beloved advocate has raised millions of dollars for such worthy organizations as the March of Dimes, The National Kidney Foundation and the American Heart Association. The phenomenal philanthropist is the personification of grace and humility and her efforts are credited for local advances for these direly needed causes. Yarborough is a powerful proponent of reaching out to others and offers her assistance at every turn.
“When you’re doing charity work you don’t do it for the accolades. … This is what I am supposed to do and we are here on this earth to serve others,” she says thoughtfully.
McDonald’s Owner and Operator
“Being a successful woman makes a statement in life. Men have always had the higher paying jobs and men have been successful. It’s a joy and a privilege for women to be successful and show the world that we can do the same jobs that men do,” explains Denise Bentham, owner and operator of three McDonald’s franchises in the Houston area.
The former El Paso Energy executive secretary’s strategic rise to becoming a franchise owner for the most recognized brand in the world was predicated on solidifying the future for she and her children. “My husband and I discussed what life would look like if he weren’t in the picture … and we decided I should go into the business,” she explains of the savvy move from the corporate world to self-employment.
|Reshonda Tate Billingsley
Best-Selling Author/Motivational Speaker“I write what I know. It’s faith-based fiction, but I don’t … try to be overzealous and preach religious messages, I just tell stories. I’m kind of like the Tyler Perry of the literary world,” quips best-selling author Reshonda Tate Billingsley. The former television and print journalist has profoundly impacted the world of literature having caused a stir with her sophomore novel, Let the Church Say Amen, which is currently in production with renowned actress Regina King directing, and slated to hit the big screen in 2010.
The prolific and tenacious writer has penned 18 books to date. Although Billingsley admits leaving her day job for a full-time writing gig was more than a leap of faith, she demonstrates real ingenuity having self-published her debut novel, My Brother’s Keeper, which was eventually picked up and published by the esteemed publishing house Simon and Schuster.
Houston City Council Member
“I haven’t always looked for the popular position [in politics]. I often preferred to explore the unpopular issues and the places where no one else wanted to go,” says Houston City Council Member Wanda Adams. The passionate politician is know for her willingness to embrace the issue of homelessness in Houston, which provided her a clearer perspective on poverty and its impact on the local community.
The dedicated public servant and former coordinator for the city’s Recycling Education program, put her money where her mouth is and took the plunge and spent a night living on the city’s streets. Since that experience, Adams says she is more committed than ever to eradicating homelessness and improving the quality of life for all Houstonians.
“To be an effective African American woman in the community [who] gets things accomplished, I can’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. I don’t accept no when I know yes is on the other side,” declares the charismatic politico.
The Root of You Salon and Day Spa
“Whatever you’re doing you have to have a love and a passion for it. You can’t create things strictly to be money entities. We opened right after Sept. 11, so we’ve been through the fallout from that and the economic downturn, especially since we’re a luxury service,” explains Deidre Boone, co-owner of The Root of You Salon and Day Spa located in one of Houston’s most exclusive communities. The connoisseur of comfort says she noticed a lack of all-inclusive, full-service beauty and spa services for African American women in Houston, so she decided to hang out her own shingle and fill the service industry niche.
Boone says it was important to her that her business be a vehicle for launching and supporting other African American product lines, so she incorporated a full retail store in the front of the 3,000-square-foot establishment. “We are trying to bring the products to the African American community that are sensitive to our needs physically,” explains the expert in aesthetics.
|Roslyn “ROZZY” Shorter
Co-Chair, Houston CARES
“I longed to be a part of a great movement and when I heard Susan Taylor speak at the Metamorphosis Conference talk about mentoring and the impact it could have on the African American community … I decided that was the direction I wanted to go. … [Taylor] asked me to join her and dream big,” comments Rozzy Shorter, co-chair of the Houston Cares Mentoring Movement, whose objective is to identify and recruit one million African American men and women to mentor and help guide the paths of one million African American young people.
Shorter is currently focusing her sights on winning a Houston City Council seat at large in Houston’s November 2009 general election. The confident city council hopeful says giving of herself is not only an extension of her personality, but it’s also a smart investment in the future. “I believe that what we invest in our children today, we withdraw 30 years from now,” she explains with zeal.
|Dr. Letitia Plummer
Entrepreneur and Dentist,
Maxwello Dental Spa and Wellness
“Entrepreneurship is a different animal from working in corporate America. You don’t know how every month is going to be, you don’t know that you’re getting a check every two weeks … and you have to be OK with it,” says Dr. Letitia Plummer, who specializes in cosmetic dentistry.
The irrepressible professional’s appreciation for continuing education provides one of the cornerstone’s for her success. While the state of Texas only requires dentists take 12 hours of continuing education annually, Plummer takes in excess of 100 hours to keep her sharp and her patients returning visit after visit.
This skilled dentist is probably more versed than most in the dynamics of self-employment having come from three generations of entrepreneurs. Plummer adds that she’s pleased that even in the current economic climate she will open a second office in Houston in the near future to expand her services in the community.
Director, Office of Procurement
NASA and Johnson Space Center
“I like to spend money, so I thought why not find a position where I can spend somebody else’s money and the space program has billions of dollars so I went into purchasing,” says Debra Johnson, director of the Office of Procurement for NASA and the Johnson Space Center. The unique buying opportunity allows Johnson to fulfill a dream and accomplish another mission — to contract with small and minority owned companies. Her job description is to ‘Purchase products, services and supplies to support the mission of going to the Moon, Mars and beyond.’
Johnson was recruited from Texas Southern to begin her career with the government’s space program. She notes that when she came to work at NASA in the ‘70s, women did not hold director’s positions. “It’s a tremendous change that minorities and females are in positions or responsibility and accountability. I love it,” exclaims a jubilant Johnson.
Senior Director, Families Under Urban and
“When I started my career with the state of Texas, I was sent to work in a little town in east Texas. There, I saw African Americans living and working in circumstances that reminded of the turn-of the-century and slavery. It was an enlightening time for me though, because … I realized that I could help them gain some independence in terms of making their lives better,” explains Helen Stagg, senior director of Families Under Urban and Social Attack, a community-based social service organization. FUUSA provides invaluable support for a myriad of issues ranging from youth programs in Houston’s Third Ward to mentoring programs for children of incarcerated parents.
The seasoned activist is also heavily involved in directing local and statewide efforts to effect policy change for the target population. “I continually encourage our program participants to work through challenges and not get discouraged,” says the sage Stagg.
|Irma Diaz Gonzalez
Employment and Training Centers Inc.
“I am the daughter of migrant farm workers … and [early on] I decided that that was not going to be my permanent condition in life. I was motivated to overcome my circumstances. So, I went to school and achieved because of those who said I couldn’t,’” explains Irma Diaz-Gonzalez, president and co-owner of Employment & Training Centers Inc.
The uber-talented Gonzalez is a walking resource of knowledge, having amassed an impressive 25 years experience in the field of workforce development. She can boast of a multitude of accomplishments, not the least of which is being named the interim — and soon to be — appointed chairperson for Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The acutely astute human resource specialists extends her talents beyond the work world. Gonzalez has assisted in establishing a project to help Hispanic and Latino residents become U.S. citizens, and increase voter participation in the Latino community.
Senior communty Affairs Advisor
Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas,
“I [was] on the board of the [Houston] Urban League and we had intervention and we still do. And I was able to pair this lady up with people to help her save her house. And it was like I was put there for that reason,”she says of the work she’s been called to do.
Today, Jaquelyn Hoyer thrives as the senior community affairs advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Houston Branch. There, Hoyer fulfills an invaluable role as the liaison between the federal reserves and the banking community with respect to the Community Reinvestment Act. Through her diligence and plethora of contacts with those in the nonprofit sector, city, county and federal government, Hoyer is able to help with access to credit for low- and moderate-income people for affordable housing, small business development and community and economic development.
|Judge Hilary Green
Presiding Judge, Harris County
Justice of the Peace
“I can honestly say that there have been specific instances when I recognize that I have been able to help a person and had the luxury of seeing how my assistance has helped a person realize or learn something about themselves,” says Judge Hillary Green, presiding judge of Houston’s Harris County Justice of the Peace Court. The thoughtful adjudicator expresses profound passion for the law daily while working with Houstonians to assure that they are fairly treated and positioned to be productive citizens.
“It’s great to have an opportunity to help [people] move on with their lives with a sense of newness and more positive outcomes,” explains Green, who adds that she finds great power in knowing the source of her strengths. “Recognize that what you do is not just about you. The people around you are the reason you do what you do … so find that one thing that you’re passionate about and be relentless in the pursuit of it.”
Owner and President
Foston International Inc.
“I have worked all over the country selling. I was a traveling saleslady back in the day when [companies] thought that women couldn’t do it. But I knew I had to do a good job in order to bring other women through … and I did,” explains Judy Foston the president and owner of Foston International Inc., a Houston-based multimedia consulting firm.
The prodigious entrepreneur operates a turnkey operation for celebrity and corporate clients nationwide. Her comprehensive markteing services include everything from promoting new businesses to taking established clients to new heights of profitability and brand recognition.
‘You have to be both consistent and compassionate to be in this business. If it’s not in your soul, you won’t succeed,” advises the energetic Foston, who explains that she was one of the first women to work in corporate sales and marketing for a Fortune 500 company when she began her career.
|Nina Wilson Jones
Vice President and Chief Programs Officer
Big Brothers, Big Sisters of
“It’s not about how much money you make, but how much difference you make in the lives of others. … I understood that a lot of my corporate experience [as a banker] would be very helpful in nonprofit leadership,” asserts Nina Wilson Jones, vice president and chief programs officer for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Houston. The seasoned banker turned child advocate administers mentoring programs throughout a five-county service area that serve approximately 2,200 young people annually.
Jones remains unabashed and unapologetic in demonstrating her pride in making a meaningful impact in her community and exerting her considerable gifts to positively impact children. “I made a career change because I didn’t want to be typecast as solely a banker … and through relationships in networking it evolved into the position I now enjoy,” concludes Jones.
|Phyllis J. Bailey
3B Resources Group Public Relations
Initially, Phyllis Bailey started her own business, 3B Resources Group Public Relations, for one simple and understandable reason: she just wanted to be able to go to the movies every Friday night.
Of course, since starting her business, Phyllis still hasn’t gone to a movie on a Friday night. But something else happened. Because Phyllis performed her duties with consistent excellence at the Four Seasons Hotel, a former NBA champion named Kenny Smith took notice. And when he found out that Phyllis started her own business, Kenny Smith called her and asked her to do some work with him and his wife. So Kenny became her first client and Phyllis has not looked back since.
Bailey tells why she always works so hard for her clients: “Just knowing that a client comes back and says ‘thank you so much for all you’ve done for me.’ That just sends me over the top.”
CEO, En’terior Designs
“I was brought up during the era when there was no degree in interior design and African American’s didn’t go into it at all. So, I was unable to become a designer until I retired from the corporate world,” explains Thomasine Johnson, founder and CEO of En’terior Designs. So after 30 years she got a second degree in interior design and a master’s degree in community development and successfully combined the two. She says design concepts are the same whether the project is one room or an entire community, which is Johnson’s design forte.
The practical planner helps dispel the notion that interior design is limited to the wealthy. “Just because you can’t spend $10,000 on a sofa doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a room to [enhance] your environment,” says Johnson, winner of ASID’s National Design Award after designing the interior of a model home for the internationally renowned Habitat for Humanity organization. “They wanted something special and they got it,” she says confidently.