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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Women For Action Launched New Website Design

Women For Action launched a new website for greater accessibility of our content. This will be the last post on this blog. To visit our new website visit

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Interview with Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi, Ed.D, CEO of WOMEN Unlimited


Dr. Rosina Racioppi, Photo credit: Women Unlimited Inc.

Traditionally, mentorships are informal relationships that exist between two parties. The mentee may seek out advice and expertise from a fellow or senior colleague. The "mentor" offers consultation because she or he may envision the growth of the other person. In this case, a mentor manifests out of the willingness to support and expend time and resources on another. Women more often then men, long for this sort of career guidance, especially hence fewer women than men occupy corporate positions in leadership. WOMEN Unlimited Inc. bypasses conventional styles of mentorship by providing formal development programs for women who wish to scale-up their careers. Women gain ongoing support from vetted mentors, comprised of leading executives from WOMEN Unlimited corporate partners. Dr. Rosina Racioppi oversees the elite program which partners with the world's leading organizations to provide services such as mentorship, experiential development programs, and networking. Under her leadership, WOMEN Unlimited develops top-tier women performers, preps them for seniority, and fulfills the needs of Fortune 1000 companies to foster growth and profitability. WOMEN Unlimited states that “These programs continually attract the brightest and best corporations and individuals”. 

Women For Action: Dr. Racioppi, you have held various executive positions in the corporate sector. Yet the WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. platform is quite different than the companies you’ve previously worked for. What led to this new path?

Dr. Rosina Racioppi: In my previous corporate roles, I worked with business leaders to create employee development strategies that aligned with business objectives.  As you can imagine, it was very exciting and rewarding. That’s where my passion to help people discover their unique talents and put them to work for their organizations got started. Throughout my career, I have witnessed women not actively managing their development.  As a result, women do not enjoy the same career success as their male colleagues.  WOMEN Unlimited provided me the opportunity to have a greater impact. Through WOMEN Unlimited, I partner with organizations, senior leaders and women who are committed to changing the corporate landscape.

Women For Action: In your bio and recent article, “Visibility, An Advancement Strategy Women Often Neglect” it stresses that women should consider mentorship in their corporate careers. What would you say to women who might feel that seasoned professional women are unwilling to share their knowledge and expertise with women being first introduced to their fields, which makes it difficult for women to find the proper guidance and counsel? Secondly, what should one be looking for in a mentor?

Dr. Rosina Racioppi: I see senior women (and men) very active in mentoring the women in our WOMEN Unlimited development programs.  My advice to young women: be very clear on how a mentor can be of help to you.  I have seen women approach senior leaders and ask “Will you be my mentor?”  The question is off-putting because it fails to provide the prospective mentor with any specifics on what the mentee is seeking. 

In my research, women who gained the most from mentoring relationships first identified what they wanted from that relationship. They would approach senior leaders and ask for feedback (on a project or presentation).  If the leader was open to providing it, they would then schedule a follow-up meeting.  The women were gauging the leader’s willingness to be open and his or her interest in being a mentor.  In many cases, the women did not ask directly “will you be my mentor”.  The relationship naturally evolved. I also advise young women to not limit their sights to just senior women as potential mentors. They can learn as much from their male leaders.

What should one look for in a mentor?  That depends largely on what the individual wants to gain from the relationship.  If they want to have a greater understanding of the business, then they should identify someone who possesses that business knowledge.  If they are seeking to develop their communication skills, they should look for those in their organization who model the skill they are seeking to develop.  The key to an effective mentor relationship is for the woman, as the mentee, to “own” the relationship.  When women can manage the relationship with intent, they can ask questions, and request feedback that supports their growth and development.

Women For Action:  How does WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. differ in their approach to mentoring than to traditional methods?

Dr. Rosina Racioppi: Traditionally, mentoring relationships are one-on-one, with organizations identifying senior leaders who will mentor junior associates. A lot of time and effort is invested in developing the proper process for a mentoring program – how mentors are identified, how often they meet, for how long, etc.  While all these aspects are important, they often overlook the most important mentoring requirement: preparing mentors and mentees on how to have an effective relationship. As I mentioned before, an effective mentor relationship starts with women identifying what they require from their mentors. This focus ensures that mentees will gain the insight needed for their development.  Without it, they may have interesting, but not very helpful, conversations with their mentors.

The Mentor Component in WOMEN Unlimited programs provides women with specific guidance on fostering mentor relationships that support their career development. The mentors are selected based on their experience, their skill and their ability to engage in conversations that support women’s growth and development. The women who participated in my research shared that their mentors asked powerful questions that helped them gain valuable insights. Those are the mentors we look for.

Women For Action: It seems that WOMEN Unlimited has a mission to nurture and develop top tier women talent. In the about section it states, “These programs continually attract the brightest and best corporations and individuals because our underlying strategy of combining mentoring, education and networking is a perfect fit for today's highly complex global environment”. Would you say that this reiterates the message that women have to be twice as good to fit into today’s fast-paced competitive business environment which leaves them with greater insecurities?

Dr. Rosina Racioppi: Absolutely not!  Yet I do understand why women feel that they need to work twice as hard.  I often hear from women (both emerging and senior level) that they are frustrated that their good work seems insufficient for advancement.  The reality is that everyone needs to do good work.  Technical merit will only take you so far. Through our development programs, women learn how to demonstrate to their organizations that they have leadership potential.

They discover what attributes they need to be seen as key members of the organization and how to develop and showcase those attributes.

Women For Action: How is WOMEN Unlimited dealing with cultural diversity in its programming?

Dr. Rosina Racioppi: The women who participate in our programs have diverse backgrounds – functional, racial and cultural. Our programs provide a safe environment for women to gain an understanding and appreciation of differences, whatever those differences are. The women can then leverage that insight in dealing with individuals at all corporate levels.

In addition, to lead the activities in our programs, we identify women who are regionally relevant and who have a similar cultural background as our women participants. It’s important in every location we offer programs, from New York to Shanghai.

Women For Action: Was there anything instrumental that you learned through WOMEN Unlimited or even throughout your career that you wish you would have known a lot earlier on?

Dr. Rosina Racioppi: The one lesson I wish I learned earlier was the importance of understanding other individual’s perspectives and knowledge.  No matter how smart an individual may be, their knowledge is limited.  Being curious about another’s perspective is crucial as we consider the pace of business today.  It is impossible to know everything and it is vital to have relationships with individuals whose knowledge complements your own and fills in crucial gaps.

Women For Action: In your article, you stress that women often miss out on opportunities to promote themselves. In your opinion, what would be the number one strategy every career woman should adopt to make themselves more visible?

Dr. Rosina Racioppi: I don’t believe there is just one strategy.  It is essential for women to understand how their skills impact their organization.  How do they create results for their business?  For their customers?  This view shapes how women communicate and interact with others and helps identify where they should focus their time and energy.  Without this understanding, women often fall victim to feeling they must do everything.  Women also need to understand how to exhibit executive presence.  We often hear from the managers of women participating in our programs, that women have gained confidence.  “Confidence” is difficult to define, but we know it when we see it.  I believe that as women gain understanding of how to use their skills to impact their business, they gain clarity on how their contributions make an impact.  This clarity leads to increased confidence which, in turn, boosts their organizational presence.

Women For Action: WOMEN Unlimited partners and develops leaders for fortune 1000 corporations. How can nonprofit organizations become collaborators of the WOMEN Unlimited mission?

Dr. Rosina Racioppi: I am very proud that we have many women from nonprofit organizations participating in our programs.  Since our very first program in New York over 21 years ago, we have reserved space in each program for a woman from a nonprofit organization. 

Visit WOMEN Unlimited Inc. online!

Get Dr. Racioppi's book, 

Changing the Corporate Landscape: A Woman's Guide to Cultivating Leadership Excellence

Monday, August 24, 2015

Interview with Kamala Lopez, Actress, Writer and Film Producer


Kamala Lopez

With a grandfather imprisoned by a new dictator while publishing the main newspaper in Venezuela, then later becoming Consulate General to the United States from Venezuela, it's no wonder Kamala Lopez has become a political activist. Lopez's new film Equal Means Equal and innovation, ERA Education Project sheds light on a disheartening fact - equal rights for women are not protected under the United States Constitution. Plus the Equal Rights Amendment has never been passed, contrary to what many Americans might believe about equality for women.

Also an actress, Lopez worked in a number of featured films such as Born in East L.A., Deep Cover and The Burning Season. Adding to her long list of films, she's guest-starred in many signature television series including Medium, 24 and Alias.

Earning the title director and producer, Lopez formed the company Heroica Films which produces media for women, about women and utilizes women in front and behind the camera.

In an interview with Women For Action, Lopez explains why she feels the film and television industry may be headed in a new direction for women. Also, she shares some startling news about our U.S. Constitution, provided by feminist, journalist, and activist, Gloria Steinem and helps us understand why her longtime friend, actress Patricia Arquette made a public statement about women's inequality.

Women For Action: Kamala, can you tell our audience a little about you, your background and how were you first introduced to the work you do now?

Executive Producer and Mom, Liz Lopez with daughter Kamala Lopez

Kamala Lopez: I was born in New York City. My mother is Liz Lopez and is from a village in South India. She arrived in the United States at age fifteen because she was enamored with the history and vision of America taught to her by the nuns in boarding school and her grandparents indulged her. She joined her uncle who was studying in Kansas at the time.

My father, Robert Lopez, was a World War II veteran turned Madison Avenue Ad man who was creative director at an ad agency in Manhattan when my parents met.

Dad’s parents had emigrated from Venezuela before he was born due to political persecution. My paternal grandfather published the main newspaper in Venezuela that fell out of favor with the new dictator and was thrown in jail. With the assistance of the French and US Governments, he escaped hidden on a ship and was taken to New York City.  There he worked at the Tribune and started Lopez Press where Grandpa continued to print and ship angry newspapers back to Venezuela. When his wife and children were able to join him, they lived in Queens, then Brooklyn and eventually moved to Massapequa Park, Long Island. After the death of the Venezuelan dictator, my grandfather became Consulate General to the United States from Venezuela.

My mom was born in Rangoon, Burma.  During WWII, and after the death of her mother, she and her siblings moved to a small village in the southern state of Tamil Nadu to live with their grandparents. Mom’s grandfather was a scholar, accountant and philosopher and her grandmother was a teacher.  Our relatives still live in the house to this day.

My parents decided to move to Caracas, Venezuela from the States after a series of assassinations (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, MLK, JFK, RFK) and the rise of Richard Nixon made it too disheartening to stay.  They returned to the States when Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

As far as how I came to the work I’m doing now, while my profession has been that of an actress my entire life, I’ve also been consistently active on issues that I believe in.  The particular situation women find themselves in has been an ongoing preoccupation of mine. I have tried to make sense of it on a personal and a political level throughout my life. In the past decade my focus has become quite clearly the issues surrounding women’s rights mostly because I feel like I stumbled upon something that may be the key to the whole thing – the lack of explicit legal equality for women on a federal level.

Women For Action: Your mother is from South India and your father is from Venezuela - So you kind of have a personal connection with all sorts of obstacles that women face in different parts of the world such as femicide in Latin America and honor violence in some South Asian communities. How does it make you feel to know that women are still facing these sort of herculean obstacles around the world?

Director of Photography, Jendra Jarnagin, myself and Lauretta Prevost (2nd Camera) photo by Jaime Medrano Jr.

Kamala Lopez: I find it actually difficult to function if I allow the reality of the global situation for women to really infiltrate my consciousness.  I know enough about it to be completely convinced we need to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in order to compel our government to sign CEDAW (the international treaty on women’s rights that has been signed by 194 countries but not us) and start immediate global enforcement of women’s human and civil rights.  Every day that we sit on our hands and allow the false façade of female equality in the USA to be maintained we are complicit in the bloodbath around the world for women and girls.

Women For Action: You are currently wrapping up your documentary film, Equal Means Equal, which touches on some of the present day obscenities toward women in the media. What makes this film important?

Kamala Lopez: Actually the media landscape is not the focus of the film, although it does provide the audience with a backdrop for my experience; as an actress I have experienced a great deal of sexism and stereotyping in my work and environment.  But that’s nothing new -- what I am trying to get at is something deeper.  I’m looking at why there is so much sex discrimination hidden in plain sight and why we don’t recognize it.  Or why we accept it.  

Many young women today believe that society views them as completely equal to their male counterparts.  They assume they can “be, do and have” whatever they can achieve based on their individual merits.  But the reality is quite different from what young women are being told.  Being “empowered” is quite different from “having power.”  The former is a feeling; the latter an objective reality. What Equal Means Equal does is take the top dozen issues affecting women and do an analysis of whether the laws that are presently in place are working or not.  From the gender wage gap to sexual assault, from pregnancy discrimination to child sex trafficking, I found laws that are incomplete, insufficient and in some cases actually deleterious to the women they are supposed to be helping.

Women For Action: Actress Patricia Arquette is a longtime friend and an obvious supporter of Equal Means Equal. Her statement, and I am paraphrasing a bit, “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color, who we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” Why do you think her statement seemed to strike a nerve for some?

Kamala Lopez: I think that her words were completely misinterpreted to presumably show some racial/cis/class insensitivity. That assessment couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The reality is that women have been a major force in every single successful civil rights movement in this country.  We have been out there on picket lines and in marches, knocking on doors and getting arrested -- had skin in the game of every social justice movement to date.  So it’s kind of curious that the one obvious human rights movement that hasn’t gotten the traction it needs to put it over the finish line is the one that counts no men as its direct beneficiaries.  So while a lack of equal rights for women affects the majority of the population both globally and nationally, it is somehow dismissed by both genders as a problem of less worthy of solving.  

I think what Patricia was saying is that women need the support of all of our allies, in all of our communities to put skin in the game for us.  To stand up for us.  To take on this fight
with us – because we are not going to be able to do it alone.  And because we are always there, have always been there and will always be there for everyone else – that’s just the kind of human beings we are, generally.

Melvin Glover AKA Melle Mel,  Kamala Lopez and Rodney C outside The Shrine in Harlem, New York City at the W[r]ap Party for Equal Means Equal.  Old School rappers, led by Kurtis Blow, are supporting Equal Means Equal. There are plans to collectively raise money by recording a track. The demo is constitutes a list of various artists, including John Legend.

Women For Action: The ERA Education Project makes it clear that not only are women paid less than men, the discrimination is far more pervasive for women of color. Statistics shows that Latinas are paid less than African American women. How does this make you feel, to know that the gap is far greater for particular minority groups?

Kamala Lopez: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King. When black people got the right to vote in this country black women were not included.  There is historical and systematic bias in our legal system that we must address.  

What we are being subjected to in the United States today is a system that turns a blind eye to discrimination in the service of corporate profit. This is not surprising given the history in our courts dating back to the 19th century of corporations having legal precedence over women.  Corporations are protected under the 14th Amendment.  Women are not.  Corporations are held to be “people” under the law.  Women are often in a different nebulous class with fewer rights.  For example, race, religion, and national origin fall under a “suspect” classification, while gender or sex does not. This permits our legal system to avoid strict scrutiny when looking at cases involving sex discrimination.

Another major fundamental problem is that our biological differences are seen as “other” instead of the normative.  Meaning that for legal purposes human = man.  The implications of the male human being the “standard model human” imply that we are the “unusual” or “different” model.  Our particular features, which involve the ability to reproduce, leave the issues surrounding it, such as pregnancy, infant care, issues of rape or incest, etc. in murky legal water.  This non-normative classification also allows gender discrimination in dangerous areas such as medical research and safety testing.

So, back to your question, the fact that there is a race correlation to the gender pay gap makes complete sense in a system designed to take advantage of people wherever possible and in particular where they have limited resources to fight back.

Women For Action: What do you hope the Era Education Project and or the Equal Means Equal documentary film will achieve?

Kamala Lopez:  My hope for the film is that is will reach far and wide across the country and begin to educate the public on what I believe is the greatest civil and human rights violation of our time.  And that once informed, the people, in particular, the younger generations who have been shockingly kept ignorant to their own direct economic detriment, will not put up with it.  I believe the youth will use their collective energy and will to force a change to happen and make our country do the right thing.  The climate is right and ripe for full equality for women today.

Women For Action: What sort of positive and negative feedback have you received regarding the project?

Kamala Lopez: We are very grateful to have been funded by almost twenty-five hundred people through Kickstarter.  These individuals proved that, yes, the general public wants to see women’s issues addressed.  The film has not been released but seems to have moved and educated the few who have seen it so far.  My hopes are very high.

Women For Action: Just touching on your education project to promote the Equal Rights Amendment and the fact that people aren’t even aware that it has not passed, why do you think some Americans are under the perception that women have obtained equal rights?

Kamala Lopez: There is a very clear propaganda campaign in the popular culture designed to convince women that they are equal in every way to men in our society.  They want you to feel “empowered” and to think you can “have it all.” Go out there and conquer the world, girl! And most of the young women I speak with have, to some degree or other, bought into that narrative.  In fact, there are some extremely well-meaning allies and actual icons within the present feminist movement who subscribe to the mentality that it’s up to us to have great self-esteem and confidence, be bold and aggressive in negotiating for ourselves, speak up and have a unique and loud voice.  Do these things, they promise, and discrimination will crumble before you.

While all of these characteristics and strategies are excellent and I am all for them, they have ZERO to do with the situation.  Well, OK, maybe I’ll give them 10% weight on the very very outside – but that’s being generous.  The fact is that you being and doing all those things (speaking up for yourself, negotiating hard, etc.) while individually helpful and potentially useful, do nothing to rectify the situation collectively.  Meaning that each and every woman, black, white, brown, red, yellow, gay, trans, disabled, whatever, will have to take this on herself and try to fight back against a boss that’s trying to rip her off or harass her, or not get fired because she gets pregnant.  Or face off against a trillion dollar vertically integrated multinational corporation alone.  

The fact of the matter is that there is a fundamental legal problem with our Constitution.  This is not by error.  This is not a matter of opinion, discussion or nuance.  In 1787, when our Constitution was written, women were chattel (definition: an item of property other than real estate).  We were the property of our fathers and then, upon marriage, of our husbands. It is still this way in many parts of the world today.  In fact, Gloria Steinem told me that the legal model of wives was the basis for the legal model of slaves.
And while the society has evolved and changed, and women have achieved multiple legal rights, etc., the basic document upon which all legal precedent is based remains, as in 1787, failing to recognize that men and women enjoy the same legal status.  So they don’t.  And at this point in our history and culture, very few people know this. It has been conveniently forgotten, remains untaught and swept under the rug but has major ramifications that cut across all segments of our society.

Women For Action: You received the 2009 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women's Political Caucus for your film, A Single Woman (2008), about the life of Congresswoman Janette Rankin. What inspired you to direct this film?

Kamala Lopez: My second cousin, Jeanmarie Simpson, wrote a play about Jeannette Rankin called “A Single Woman.”  I saw it at a theater in New York.  I was blown away by the fact that I knew nothing about this incredible woman who convinced over 80,000 men in the territory of Montana to vote for her in 1916 and became our first female Congresswoman.  Rankin was elected before women had the vote!  She also voted against entry into both world wars – was the only member of Congress to do so.  A true pacifist, she studied the work of Mahatma Gandhi and went to India seven times.  She led five thousand women to the Capitol against the Vietnam War when she was ninety years old.  How’s that for a role model??!

Women For Action: You sort of grew up on television. You were a cast member on Sesame Street, and you appeared in several popular television shows and films over the years. Are there any plans to further pursue your career in acting?

Kamala Lopez: Absolutely plan to put some time and focus into my acting – things on TV seem to be slowly improving.  I remember when I started I literally would play only characters who were called Maria or Lupe.  I always had to put on a thick accent and speak in poor English.  I often was a whore or a crackhead (also a whore but even more degraded).  Now I see so many young Latinas playing strong professional characters and multi-layered human beings – I feel optimistic about the direction we are headed in and hope to be a part of continuing to make it better and get to play better parts.

I have several shows and films I’m developing which have many unusual female roles that propel the narrative and are active participants in the overall stories.  I think the days of the women being simply eye candy draped on the arm of the leading man are numbered.

Women For Action: What career achievement are you the proudest of?

Kamala Lopez: I think that this film, Equal Means Equal, is what I am most proud of so far.  It is intellectually rigorous which was very important to me.  I felt that the subject and the real-world implications compelled us to be extremely comprehensive in our investigations and not skip and steps or cut any corners.  But it is also a super personal film. It is a project that has spanned over six years, hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of work.  That is why I feel so solid in terms of the conclusions drawn. I believe the arguments are strong and well constructed and actually irrefutable.  Let’s see what everyone else thinks ☺

Women For Action: What sort of challenges have you faced as a woman throughout your career?

Kamala Lopez: Dear God – we don’t have time for me to write that encyclopedia.  Bottom line, never take no for an answer.  Ever.  Just find another way to get to where, who or what you want.

Women For Action: What sort of advice would you give a young girl that is interested in following in your footsteps?

Kamala Lopez: Never do something you do not want to do.  If it feels wrong or doesn’t represent you or what you believe, don’t do it.  Be proud to stand behind what you do, what you say and who you are. Stand up for yourself publicly and stand up for others too.  Be brave.  Don’t let people treat others incorrectly.  Call people on their sh*t even if they are powerful.  Don’t let intimidation or fear stop you from doing what you know is right.  But also be kind and remember that everyone is pretty much in the same boat, regardless of what it looks like.  

Care about things.  But don’t care too much about money and what it buys.  Don’t buy into your own BS – you can feel in your stomach if something is right or wrong.  Listen to that feeling and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.  If something is wrong – just don’t do it.  But, conversely, if there is something that the society says is right, but you know, in your heart, it is wrong then actively fight against it.  Don’t accept it, don’t stay quiet about it – change it.

Do every single job with every ounce of your being – don’t do anything half-assed.  If your job is to file paperwork – make sure you are the best paperwork-filer that has ever existed.  Or don’t file paperwork.  Your choice, but if you tell someone you are going to do something – do it, and do it the best you possibly can.  And that someone could be yourself!  

Realize that what you do is very important.  No matter what “they” may say, we have a great deal of personal power – own it, use it, and do well with it.  If you ever feel depressed or down, take the focus off yourself and go do something for someone else.  This is a much healthier and more effective anti-depressant than the crap they try to give you at the psycho-pharmacology office.

Life isn’t really that long at all.  Find your purpose and get going on it as soon as possible.  Human beings are really an incredible hive species – we don’t realize how connected we all are but if you stand back far enough it’s very obvious.  No one I know personally has the knowledge to build a bridge or transplant a heart, yet as a human being I get to drive over bridges or have that operation.  Our collective work builds on the evolution and continued survival of all peoples.

So remember that while you are a unique individual, you are also a member of a group and to consider others.  Civilization is something that took the human species thousands of years to develop.  The appeal of grotesque barbarism, ultra-violence and shock-culture is not cool or edgy, rather a quick way to set the species back a few thousand years in one generation.  

How much cooler would it be for us to all get behind some old-fashioned integrity, vision and creative collaboration to move into this new future together? I personally believe it is a matter of survival.

Women For Action: What would you like our audience to know about you that wasn't previously mentioned in this interview?

Kamala Lopez: My husband, Joel Marshall, is the father of the modern “planking” movement, meaning he started a fad where people just lie on their faces in weird places for no reason at all.

Husband, Joe Marshall

Women For Action: Kamala, thank you for your time and doing ALL the incredible work you are doing!

Kamala Lopez: Thank YOU for inviting me!!!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Interview with Renita Manley Garrett, Founder and Executive Director of The Arts of Humanity


Photo credit: Renita Manley-Garrett

Renita Manley Garrett is the Founder and Executive Director of The Arts of Humanity, an organization that educates the public about advancing human welfare through the arts. The Arts of Humanity front-running project, the Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete (FAHF) annually awards local leaders for using the arts for their humanitarian efforts. The project’s mission is unique considering this sort of recognition is usually bestowed upon celebrity philanthropists. For the first time, an initiative honors local creative heroes and connects their good deeds to their communities, with the mission to cultivate more creative humanitarians.

In our interview, Ms. Manley-Garrett reveals how the idea formulated for the successful innovation.

Women For Action: Can you tell us about your background and what led to an interest in the work you are doing today?

Renita Manley-Garrett: My interest in human welfare began early as a child. My father was a Vietnam veteran, and it was a struggle watching him cope with Vietnam Syndrome. However, it opened my eyes to the human condition and in general, human welfare.

I figured I could help people and the human condition by becoming a teacher. I attended Northern Illinois University and worked toward my B.A. in English Education. While student teaching, I took more of an interest in the public policies and community issues that directly affected my students, their families, and their communities. Instead of becoming a teacher right away, I wanted to learn more about public administration, so I enrolled in Governors State University, where I studied Public Administration and policies, earning my Masters in Public Administration and cultivating my childhood interest in human welfare.

Women For Action: You were a life coach to people who were formerly incarcerated. How did you get involved in that and what was it like?

Renita Manley-Garrett: While I was in graduate school, I had an opportunity to work as a Life Coach for the formerly incarcerated. It was a great way for me to blend my academic education, other skills, and my desire to work with willing people on their positive contributions to society. I built and modified curriculum that focused on conflict resolution, image enhancement, developing personal skills, dressing for success, making choices, and so on. It was a very rewarding experience because I learned why and how many formerly incarcerated individuals make decisions, and what life or community circumstances led to many of their choices.  

Women For Action: What led to your departure as a life coach?

Renita Manley-Garrett: As with many non-profits, a decrease in funding prompted me to decide if I wanted to work in another department or begin teaching. I decided to start teaching. I also just gave birth to my oldest daughter, so teaching had additional benefits that were in my family’s favor.  

Women For Action: You founded The Arts of Humanity and Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete (FAHF). Tell us about the mission and vision. What led to this different path? Can you tell us how are the two projects different and how are they related?

Renita Manley-Garrett: Yes I did, and it remains such an amazing journey. The Arts of Humanity is a 501(c) 3 organization that cares about teaching, developing, and recognizing creative humanitarians. We focus on creativity via the arts. Our vision is a world of creative humanitarians.  

I think this path was always a part of my destiny. I’ve always been involved with the arts and fashion. When I was a child and teenager, I studied and play both the violin and piano.  While I was in undergraduate and graduate school, I developed a keen interest in fashion. The topic of my master’s thesis was “How do I Look: How Personal Appearance Affects American Politicians’ Image”.  

I remember being in the computer lab, in Graduate School, and praying about how I can blend fashion and helping people. I loved the arts, and I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to advancing human lives. That’s what led to me becoming an Image Consultant, which also played a big role in my Life Coach position, and ultimately, to the creation of Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete.

While I was an emerging Image Consultant in Chicago, I met a lot of people in the industry who advanced humanity, and who were using fashion to advance humanity. Unfortunately, they fell under the radar, as the fashion industry can be presumptuously stereotyped as shallow.  A colleague and I put together a fashion show called Fashion Fetish Fete, with the main purpose of shining a spotlight on some notable entities that used fashion to advance human welfare. The show also featured makeovers from veterans who were participants in Catholic Charities veteran programs. The following year, I renamed the show to include all the arts and to put more emphasis on humanity, creating Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete (FAHF).

Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete (FAHF) became known as an annual awards show that honors businesses, individuals, and organizations that use the arts to advance human welfare. After the second annual FAHF, a lot of attendees wanted to know how they could get involved with the honorees, and they asked would I be doing anything to include youth since the show was full of great role models and inspiration. I figured, I can do more than inspire the youth. All FAHF honorees embody similar characteristics that our youth and adults should possess to be great contributors to the world. This is how The Arts of Humanity was born; the Arts of Humanity is the bigger picture, it’s an organization that cares about teaching, developing, and recognizing creative humanitarians.  After the founding of The Arts of Humanity, Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete became one of three sub programs of the organization, however, it is the organization’s most popular program.

Women For Action: What kind of feedback are you getting for The Arts of Humanity and Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete Awards?

Renita Manley-Garrett: Oh my goodness! People are so excited to see positivity in the spotlight! Not only that, attendees and critics love learning more about all the creative humanitarians that are out here. The curriculum that we developed for The Arts of Humanity has been well received by students and teachers. Both really appreciate being introduced to programming that enforces creativity, as well as humane characteristics. The Arts of Humanity has created the perfect strategy for blending the arts and advancing human welfare. People are really enthusiastic about The Arts of Humanity!

Women For Action: Tell us about FAHF 2015. What should we expect to see?

Renita Manley-Garrett: FAHF 2014 sold out! This year, we have secured a bigger space, more special guest appearances, and increased attendee engagement.  You should expect to see some of the best nonprofits come out for an evening of honor, recognition, and celebration. Our FAHF team like to say that FAHF is like the Grammy’s of Arts and Humanity. That’s how it is set up. Great people, great arts performances, opportunity for learning, and opportunities to become involved in progressing humanity.

Women For Action: Why do you think this work is so important? Why do you think the public should care about missions such as The Arts of Humanity?

Renita Manley-Garrett: There’s no other organization out there that recognizes entities who use the arts to advance human welfare, especially, grass-roots to mid-sized entities. We are always bombarded with images of celebrities who use their platform for humane purposes. But, there are even more creatives out there doing the same. Celebrities, more often than not, inspire individuals to think of how they can make a change, but because they are celebrities, it may seem as if you can only have a huge impact if you have a huge platform. At FAHF, we provide a platform where local and mid-sized creative humanitarians can not only be recognized but provide genuine inspiration to attendees.

The Arts of Humanity wants everyone to connect with their individuality, uniqueness, and creativity to give back to society. We can all be equipped with the knowledge, information, and motivation to be unforgettable volunteers, do-gooders, and humanitarians.

One thing that really makes us standout is that we go beyond encouraging volunteering. We strive to equip participants and our supporters with knowledge regarding how they can become memorable volunteers, thus creating a lasting effect. The knowledge that The Arts of Humanity provides encourages people to think daily about advancing humanity, beginning with self, our neighborhoods, and globally.

Women For Action: How are you dealing with diversity through your platforms? What methods are you using to ensure that women are being recognized and heard?

Renita Manley-Garrett: Diversity is no problem for The Arts of Humanity. It’s actually not difficult to find women who are serving mankind, especially in a creative manner.

Women For Action: What sort of projects are you currently working on?

Renita Manley-Garrett: I’m currently going into full FAHF mode. We are reviewing nominations that are pouring in and confirming the line-up for FAHF 2015. Additionally, we are revising our curriculum for our Who CARES program. Who CARES is The Arts of Humanity’s program that teaches youth, specifically, how to be creative humanitarians. We are in the process of making our curriculum more aligned with Common Core Standards, and then we will be publishing this curriculum on ITunes University and our website.

Women For Action: If any, what sort of obstacles have you faced as a woman throughout your career? Do you feel there are disadvantages being a woman of color, working as a leader? If so, tell us about them.

Renita Manley-Garrett: In the beginning, it was difficult to get men involved. Many were immediately disinterested when they heard the word “fashion”. When we added “Arts” to the title, and made men more visible at FAHF, we overcame that problem. We even got more women involved when we changed our name. Any obstacles that I may face as a woman of color are met with a great team of individuals who are fighters, and who believe in The Arts of Humanity. As we have grown as an organization and seek larger partnerships, as a predominantly woman ran organization, we have to make sure we are error free in negotiations, meetings, and unexpected professional encounters.  

Women For Action: Do you have any other career plans or ventures that you foresee in the future?

Renita Manley-Garrett: We are prepping The Arts of Humanity to be a national organization with ready curriculum for educators and we plan to develop workshops that offer teachers CPDUs for maintaining professional development requirements.  We are also looking to partner with more vetted organizations to develop volunteer opportunities for creatives and supporters of the creative industries. Additionally, we are in the planning process for developing FAHF into a nationally televised awards show.

Women For Action: Looking ahead, how would you envision The Arts of Humanity and Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete Awards Show will grow?

Renita Manley-Garrett: The Arts of Humanity will be a highly recognized social and emotional development organization that offers related resources to the public, educators, and organizations. We will continue to remain involved in local and national volunteer efforts and campaigns. Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete will be a nationally televised program with national/international honorees and it will feature big name appearances.

Women For Action: What career achievement are you most proud of?

Renita Manley-Garrett: I’m most proud of the team I have developed over the years. They are loyal, motivating, and supportive. They push me to do better and strive for more than I want at times. Sometimes, in life, receiving that extra push from your team, friends, and family is vital. I’m blessed to have such an amazing team.

Women For Action: What sort of advice would you lend to a young girl that is interested in following in your footsteps?

Renita Manley-Garrett: I tell my daughters, “Don’t be like mommy; be better than mommy.” I don’t want anyone to follow in my footsteps. I’m making my own mark in this world leaving behind a great legacy.  If someone follows my footsteps, who will remember him or her? When I’m no longer able to run The Arts of Humanity and Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete, I want someone to continue my legacy and make it bigger than I ever envisioned.

To any young girls who are inspired by my journey, the first thing they have to know is that at times, it can get lonely. You feel like you are out here with this huge vision that only you can see. Remain persistent and believe in your vision. That’s easier said than done, but it’s true, especially because you have to make others believe in your vision as well. Also, I heard this saying, and remind myself of this weekly: Happiness is a direction, not a destination.

Women For Action: Lastly, what do you want the Women For Action audience to know about you?

Renita Manley-Garrett: I don’t know if there is much else to know about me; these were some great questions! Honestly, I’m simply honored to be recognized in the Women’s Equality Exhibit and I’m looking forward to learning about other remarkable women taking action to advance their communities and humanity. 

Renita Manley Garrett is a change-maker and we congratulate her on leadership. To find out about the Women History Maker Project visit,