Dr. Benjamin Chavis with BRAG president Gary Lampley (Photo by Margot Jordan)

*The highly anticipated Black Retail Action Group Inc. (BRAG) annual scholarship and awards dinner gala moved from downtown Cipriani Wall Street to midtown’s opulent Edison Ballroom for its 2011 annual affair on Friday, October 14, 2011.  The annual gala attracted over 400 industry insiders, fashion VIPs, celebrities and retail corporations.

This year’s theme, BRAG: Reinventing the Future, highlighted how with creative solutions retail and retail related industries could ensure that all people of color are embraced, mentored and given opportunities to achieve equal levels of success.

“The BRAG of today is in the business of community building,” remarked BRAG’s president Gary L. Lampley.  “We’ve witnessed the apparent loss of a presence by people of color in this industry even as demographics are rapidly shifting in this country and we recognize this to be a key cause of social disintegration and the emergence of yes many harmful behaviors.  As community builders our goal is to increase social justice, individual well-being and reduce negative impacts of otherwise disconnected individuals”.

Honoree Simone Smith, Mary J. Blige and Tamar Braxton (Photo by Ray Tamarra)

This year’s bragging rights belonged to Daymond John, chief executive officer, Shark Branding and star of the ABC hit series Shark Tank, who received the group’s special recognition award.  Felita Harris Meals, senior vice president Global Sales, Donna Karan; Jerome Smalls, vice president, director of community relations, The TJX Companies, Inc; and Michael Todman, president, Whirlpool International each received the BRAG business achievement award.

The coveted JJ Thomas business innovators award was bestowed on Simone Smith, creator & CEO, Simone I. Smith, Ltd.  Smith, wife of rapper turned actor LL Cool J who received the top award for her successful line of fine jewelry.  Singer Mary J. Blige and reality star Tamar Braxton were on hand to cheer Smith on.

Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Donna Karan, Phillips Van Heusen, Stop & Shop and The TJX Companies, this year’s top sponsors, are just some of the companies who celebrated with BRAG by providing 32 financial scholarships to deserving high school and college students interested in pursuing careers in fashion, retail or related industries.  To date, BRAG has awarded nearly 400 scholarships totaling more than $350,000 to students who have achieved academic success and who exhibit financial need.  Kudos to Darlene Gillard who produced the stellar event.

In addition to the scholarship program, BRAG’s annual fundraiser supports such efforts as the industry acclaimed BRAG summer internship program, which has served over 1000 students from across the country, as well as the initiation of new BRAG student clubs at colleges and universities nationwide.  Most recently BRAG opened college chapters at Ohio State University, Howard University, University of Florida, Pennsylvania University and The Terry Lundgren School of Retail at the University of Arizona.

About BRAG

BRAG, a 501 (c) (3) not for profit organization, is dedicated to the inclusion of African Americans and all people of color in retail and related industries.  BRAG is the leading provider of resources and development support that empowers African Americans and all people of color to reach their highest professional potential in retail and related industries.  BRAG fulfills these objectives by: promoting awareness to the corporate community of challenges facing people of color in the workplace and assisting in the selection, development and advancement of people of color; promoting the professional development and leadership skills of high school and college members, professional members and associates and; providing a forum for the exchange of information and offering an environment for networking.

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.