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Malinda Williams

Source: Malinda Williams / Malinda Williams

Legendary radio station WBLS 107.5 and Circle of Sisters have joined the Café Mocha Show to celebrate phenomenal women with the Salute Her: Superwomen Making A Difference Awards.

Launched in 2012 at the historic Audubon Ballroom, now the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center, Past Salute Her honorees include businesswomen Vy Higginsen and Marty Gillis; media personalities Shirley Strawberry and Egypt Sherrod; journalists Constance White and Lola Ogunniake; publisher Jamie Foster-Brown; actresses Sheryl Lee Ralph and Terri J. Vaughn; authors Demetria Lucas and Ilyasah Shabazz; civil rights activists: Sandra Barnhill JD, Dr. Bernice King, Evelyn Mejil and Sybrina Fulton; entertainers Gloria Gaynor and Cynthia Bailey; spiritual leaders Rev. Dr. Jo Ann Browning and Omarosa Manigault; and civic leaders, Esther Aguilera and Helen Ho.

This year’s Salute Her Awards will take place at the same NYC location this Thursday, October 15, 2015. 2015 honorees include actress Malinda Williams; CNN anchor Michaela Pereira; President of the Comcast Foundation Charisse Lillie; Award-winning gospel singer and actress Tamela Mann; founder/CEO of Odyssey Media Linda Dunn; and legendary Broadway Publicist Irene Gandy.

I spoke with Malinda Williams, who will be presented with the Salute Her style award by Dr. Miracle, the fantastic hair care company with which she partners for her series of hairstyling tutorial videos, Mane Taming. Of course we’ve known Malinda as an actress in her third decade of terrific professional performances, and she was on location in Atlanta when we spoke, working on a television feature for Up TV that is the third installment of a continuing series of holiday movies for the network. Malinda is not only the star but she’s also the executive producer, putting her decades in the biz to use both in front of and behind the camera.

One thing Malinda and I agree on is a sense of sisterhood in the community and responsibility for our young sisters. Malinda told me about having just been shown one of the many “girlfight” videos that make their way around the internet, showing young women in fistfights and worse. Malinda lamented, “Girls are videotaping these fights, amongst the younger generation, like it’s entertainment. It made me feel a way, just in my soul. It was hurtful, and it also made me think; I wonder how others, people who are not black, and who are not black women, how are they looking at us?”

“Sometimes we believe that we’re not responsible for how other women are perceived based on our behavior, but I try to lead by example. A message that I like to tell young black women is that I represent you, whether I want to or not. I’m aware that someone may treat you a particular way because of something that I have done, or because of a behavior that I have exhibited. So I do want to take responsibility. Not that I can control everyone’s actions or reactions, but I do have that in the back of my mind. I represent you, so I do my best to make sure that you are treated in a respectful manner by carrying myself in a way that commands respect.”

As Malinda spoke, I felt her warmth, and her words came across as a positive counterpoint to vile respectability politics; she’s not stooping to any sort of admonishment antics or separating herself from young sisters who may not make the same decisions today, but encouraging them to consider their actions for the betterment of their own experience in a world in which she’s logged a few more years than they have.

She continued, “[My choices] are not just about me, but also about women who look like me, because I may be more visible than you are. My job isn’t more important than your job, but my job is more visible than your job. So I feel that responsibility to carry myself in a way that will command respect, not just for myself, but for you. I just ask that you do the same: keep in mind that you don’t just represent yourself all the time.”

Not everyone wants to take on the mantle of ‘role model,’ and you know that I actively fight against celebrity worship, but honoring those in the public eye who actively choose to contribute positive ideologies to the world in addition to the talents that brought them to our attention in the first place is an entirely different matter.

Increased visibility is not increased humanity, but rather a chance to salute the humanity in each of us from a platform with a larger audience if one chooses to do so. Malinda has chosen to do so, which is why I salute her now, as she will literally be saluted at the upcoming ceremony.

If you’re in New York, or are able to be in New York this week, you can attend the Salute Her awards by purchasing a ticket for only $55. The ceremony is sponsored by Hyundai, and will be directly benefiting the nonprofit organization Donating Dignity.

Distributing Dignity collects and distributes new bras and feminine hygiene products for women who are homeless. Society overall doesn’t like to consider women’s periods if they can help it, and women who are in need, crisis, or a compromised living situation already have to battle for so much that we take for granted, so lack of sanitary supplies is a serious and ongoing issue with additional hurdles for women who simply deserve hygienic options and dignity. I have a long personal history of volunteering at a number of homeless shelters in both New York and LA. For that reason, I may be biased, but Salute Her would be hard-pressed to find a more worthy charitable organization to benefit than Distributing Dignity.

I spoke with Joanie Balderstone, who founded Distributing Dignity along with Rebecca McIntire, and she told me how the group began:

“It’s something we discovered by accident. We were providing gently-used business clothing to women at a homeless day center in Camden NJ; they go there basically to get a shower during the day, work on their resume, get help applying for jobs, and they can get a meal while they’re there. One day one of the women pulled me aside and said ‘thank you for this suit, but I don’t have a decent bra to wear underneath it.’ And that spurred us on to ask what else do you need?

She said, ‘we receive donations of clothes, and shampoo, and deodorant, but we rarely ever get donations of pads and tampons, and that leads us to either wash them out, or worst case scenario, go without altogether.’ We threw a party—just a household party, and collected 80 new bras and thousands of pads and tampons, and we took them back to the women at that day center.”

What started as a personal outreach mission turned into a yearly event, and through overwhelming support from individuals who recognize and respond to this great need, Distributing Dignity is now able to continuously provide this invaluable service to shelters and assistance facilities across the country. If you are unable to attend the Salute Her ceremony, you can contribute directly to Distributing Dignity here, and they even make it super simple to help with this Amazon wish list.

Also, the Salute Her awards ceremony happening this week is a part of a tour, and even if you’re unable to attend in NY, there’s an event in Chicago in December, and an even more amazing way for you to participate: by being saluted yourself or nominating an amazing woman of color that you think is deserving. Café Mocha knows that “honor” does not require celebrity to matter, and that there are countless nurses, teachers, mommies, ministers, etc. who are positively impacting their communities and deserving of being publicly honored.

And maybe even a car! Through the generosity of Hyundai, with “a mission to salute and reward women who are demonstrating new ways of thinking and creating new possibilities in their communities,” rewards for selected nominees will include one-on-one professional coaching sessions, all-expense paid trips to the 47th NAACP Image Awards and one grand prize, a 2016 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T.

How to enter: Open to women 18 years old and older, the Salute Her presented by Hyundai: New Thinking, New Possibilities campaign is looking for women whose work is making positive changes in their respective communities. Nominators can submit up to a 60 second video stating why their nominee deserves to be saluted at www.salutehertour.com. Each submission will be critiqued on creativity, originality, presentation and quality of message. All entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. PST on December 11, 2015.

Check out all the ways you can help and build within our community, and join Malinda Williams and myself in caring about our sisters. We’re not out here alone.

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