Bev Smith ‘challenges’ Black women to become more active
By George E. Curry
PITTSBURGH — On Aug. 28, when most African Americans will be focusing on the past — the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington — talk show host and activist Bev Smith will be concentrating on the future, kicking off “A Challenge to African American Women,” a 4-day women’s conference in Pittsburgh.
The goal of the conference is “to challenge all Black women to unite, become empowered, and focus on health, education, employment and spirituality to make a difference and change direction in these challenging times,” according to literature distributed by conference organizers. By the end of the conference, women will learn how to become more effective as activists.
“The idea for a conference about women started in the 80s when I hosted ‘Our Voices’ on Black Entertainment Television,” Smith recalled in an interview. “I was beginning to see a pattern developing and that didn’t make me happy. The pattern was that Black women in particular — especially from ages 20 to 50 — were not doing the kind of things that my generation of women used to do, in terms of civil rights and human rights.
“They were not demonstrating, they were not participating in national movements, so I had some concerns. So, I started talking about having a women’s conference for anybody who wanted to listen.”
Smith continued talk about the plight of Black women to anybody who would listen for more than two decades. But it wasn’t until last January that she began transforming talk into action.
This time, the talk show host was talking to Charlene and Cheryl McAbee, two sisters who are attorneys in Pittsburgh. “I said, ‘I need to have a conference with Black women like Minister (Louis) Farrakhan had with one million Black men. We need to get women together,’” she recounted.
Headliners such as comedian/social activist Dick Gregory, Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) host Iyanla Vanzant and actress Victoria Rowell are supporting the conference by waiving their normal fees and participating for expenses only, a testament to their commitment to Bev Smith in particular and Black women in general.
Among the confirmed participants are: Congresswoman Donna Christensen; E. Faye Williams, chair of the National Congress of Black Women; Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; former network TV newscaster Carol Simpson; and Cheryl Pearson-McNeill, senior vice president of Public Relations and Government Affairs at the Nielsen Company.
“When women leave this conference, they will have literally taken the challenge to return to our cause, and our cause is to lift up our people; our cause is to bring up a strong nation within a nation,” Smith said. “That has always been the role of the Black woman.”
She said women will stay in touch through a national newsletter that will chronicle their progress.
Smith is hoping for a major breakthrough as a result of the conference — change that will uplift the Black community. When asked why she took on this task, she replied, “Somebody’s got to do it, and it may as well be me.”
For more information on the conference, visit www.bevsmithconference.org or call 855.835.5238.