On the trek from the A Train to Jacob Javits Convention Center over the weekend a visitor is met with a veritable army of folks—mostly women—leaving the Circle of Sisters 13th annual event. An even larger gathering of women—mostly Black—are inside the center, crowding the hundreds of vendors, or seated at the Steve Harvey emceed “Family Feud,” or standing in line for the concert featuring Eric Benet, Keyshia Cole and Amel Larrieux.
But most of the attendees were there for the vendors in which a partial listing of 150 ranged from AARP to the YMCA of Greater New York. Essence magazine and the College of New Rochelle are familiar vendors, but how about Baby Bamas, Dr. Hair Tips, and Butter Body?
The program guide was stocked with ads and promos of notables, including Harvey, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and motivational maven Iyanla Vanzant, most of them like Imhotep Gary Byrd with shows on WLIB or WBLS, the event’s main sponsor. Sharpton and former Mayor David Dinkins had booths set up for book signings, and again the line was long.
Among a bevy of workshops and seminars were two sponsored by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, one focusing on business opportunities, and the other a tribute to Nelson Mandela and the international impact of his legacy. Culture doyen Voza Rivers led panelists on Mandela’s influence, and none of the speakers were as passionate and compelling as actress Tsidii Le Loka, and she delivered some of the same fire she emitted during her tenure in “The Lion King.”
“Nelson Mandela’s leadership was global,” she began, “and there was a time in South Africa when we could not mention his name and any image of him was banned. But we should also understand that long before Mandela became an icon of our struggle against apartheid, there were many others, including countless women. We cannot ignore the role that women played in the fight to destroy the racist, apartheid system.”
Composer Ron Khunene of “Sarafina,” and poet Rashidah Ismaili, and activist Danny Schecter were the other panelists. Schecter was there to help promote the biopic screening of “Long Walk to Freedom,” which is a moving depiction of Mandela’s life before, during, and after the 27 years of incarceration.
A message from Mayor Michael Bloomberg captured the magnitude of the weekend and the ever-expanding Circle of Sisters expo. “For 15 years now, COS had made for a fun, inspiring, and productive event for its many vendors and guests,” he said in a statement in the guide. “It is always a great opportunity for women of color, especially, to network and grow their business.”