Minority Mentorship Symposium “Divine Divas” and “Distinguished Gents” honorees (seated) Ann Thompson, Coach Bev, Malinda Williams, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Cheryl “Salt” Wray, Audrey J. Bernard (standing) Major Jerime Reid, Eric Draper, Ledisi, Bun B, Johnnie Johnson, Foswhitt “Fozzy” Whittaker, Kenny Lattimore, Michelle Williams (Photo Credit: Kawai Matthews/Air

AUSTIN, TEXAS – I’ve been to Texas twice in this lifetime.  The first invitation was from Coach Beverly “Bev” Kearney, one of the most successful and decorated coaches across all collegiate athletics, to cover her 5th annual Minority Mentorship Symposium “Intimate Conversations with Greatness” weekend that took place in April 2011 inside the grand ballroom at the AT&T Executive Education Center on the University of Texas (UT) campus in Austin, Texas, at the behest of PR expert Karen Taylor Bass.

Coach Bev and I instantaneously hit it off as we recognized like qualities – we both live to inspire, motivate and energize people – in each other.  Needless to say, she left an indelible impression on me along with hundreds of other attendees at the event; and at the end of her inspirational weekend, we left each other with best wishes and business cards.  I meet so many wonderful people who hand me their business cards and say, “let’s stay in touch.”  Oftentimes that never happens.  I refer to them as the drive-by acquaintances.

The second invitation was to attend this year’s Minority Mentorship Symposium not as a journalist but as an honoree.  Well shut my mouth!  This wonderful woman wasn’t just talking smack.  When she said “I’ll be in touch,” she meant it!  Lo and behold, she had even submitted my name to the selection committee to return to Texas but this time as a recipient of a legacy award from her organization.  Unlike Sarah Palin, I was totally vetted and was approved with flying colors.  Now, you can call me Shorty.

It’s so nice to be honored for something you love doing.  Don’t get me wrong.  An award doesn’t validate me or my goals and/or objectives in life.  But receiving one is like getting a rose while you’re alive instead of posthumously after you’ve transitioned over.  It’s an amazing feeling and accomplishment when folks recognize your commitment to your goals and directives.  I don’t write for accolades.  I write because I love what I do – bringing the dynamic black factor to life.  I want the whirl to know about great Black people – not just celebrities who get honored all the time — and the positive things they are doing.

So, armed with my sister Marilyn Bernard-Mosley from Brooklyn, New York and best wishes from my family, friends and scores of readers, we headed to Texas.  You know, Texas is the second largest and second most populous state in the United States of America.  It would take a state as colossal as Texas to hold the BIG heart of Coach Bev who’s known for having helped so many achieve their goals on and off the field.  If you look up “goal model” in the dictionary – you’ll see her photo.

Now in her 20th year as the Texas Women’s track and field head coach at UT, Kearney was the first African American head coach for the university. She has led the team to six national titles and is a member of the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2002, an auto accident, which proved fatal for two of her friends, caused a spinal cord injury and left her paralyzed.

Coach Kearney dismissed doctors’ claims that she’d never walk again and conquered paralysis.  Today, she has the highest number of national championship wins among African American coaches in an all-collegiate Division I sport.

The symposium is the centerpiece of the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays drawing professional athletes, high-profile minority executives and stars from the sports, music, political and corporate industries; and included a star-studded lineup of speakers from corporate, entertainment, media, sports and government industries.  The ESPN Network will air highlights from the symposium sometime this month.  She conceptualized the symposium as a platform to inform and inspire college-aged students as they prepare to transition to the professional world.

Coach Kearney’s theme is the pursuit of excellence, because as she says “the pursuit of excellence that drove us as a country to become successful and innovative pioneers shouldn’t be compromised but restored.”  To inspire that pursuit, she uses this occasion to show what success looks like, as well as demonstrate how to get there.

The event kicked off on Friday afternoon with the second annual Pursuit of Excellence Youth Rally for more than 2,500 Austin Independent School District students staged at Gregory Gym.  All of these students earned the visit to the campus through after-school, community service initiatives with UT’s Neighborhood Longhorns Program.  In addition to experiencing the action at the track, the children were also exposed to the university setting.


Minority Mentorship Symposium celebrated honorees and VIP guests (seated) Keshia Knight Pulliam, Michelle Williams, Cheryl “Salt” Wray, Malinda Williams, MC Lyte (standing) Dr. Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee, India.Arie, Sonja Norwood, Coach Bev, LaToya Luckett, Ann Thompson (Photo Credit: Kawai Matthews/Air

New for 2012 was the Jody Conradt Leadership Conference at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in which 10th and 11th grade girls attended two afternoon panels.

Coach Kearney presided over the awards program that took place on Friday evening beginning with the “Gents of Distinction” and “Divine Divas” dinners, before introducing the program’s main event – Intimate Conversations with Greatness — hosted by public relations specialist Karen Taylor Bass that united the “divas” and the “gents” in an environment positioned to motivate and illustrate models of success.

The two separate programs included award dinners for the presentation of “Divine Divas” and “Distinguished Gents” with a collapsible wall coming between them.  On the one side ‘Divine Divas” gold awards were presented to Ledisi (singer); Malinda Williams (actress, television’s Soul Food and Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls); Michelle Williams (singer, member of Grammy Award-winning group Destiny’s Child); LeToya Luckett (actress/singer, former member of Grammy Award-winning group Destiny’s Child); Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee, M.D., MPH, FAAFP (board certified family medicine physician, experienced health care leader and educator); and India.Arie (musician, poet, songwriter and Grammy-award winning singer).

The coveted “Divine Divas” gold legacy award was presented to honorees Sonja Norwood (entrepreneur and manager/mom to recording artists Brandy and Ray J); Ann Thompson (certified registered nurse anesthetist and mother of Saturday Night Live and Fat Albert star Kenan Thompson); and yours truly, Audrey J. Bernard (lifestyles & society editor, fashion & beauty editor, and women’s editor/New York Beacon,

In accepting my award, I thanked Coach Kearney and the Symposium for acknowledging me while I’m still alive to accept and appreciate it to the amusement of the crowd.  My fellow legacy honorees Norwood and Thompson seconded that thought.  On a more serious note, I told the audience filled with young male and female mentees to stay focus and to never lose sight of their dreams.  “Don’t believe in the hype!  Believe in yourselves.”  I heard a loud Amen from the Amen corner led by my new BFFs Norwood and Thompson

During the celebrated award program Coach Kearney awarded the 2012 distinguished Jody Conradt “Divine Diva” legacy award to Barbara Conrad (mezzo-soprano and first African American admitted to University of Texas undergraduate program); and Madam Secretary Hope Andrade (Texas’ 107th Secretary of State).  Jody Conradt assisted Coach Kearney in the awards presentation.

On the other side of that wall, “Gents of Distinction” platinum legacy award was presented to Bun B (rapper); Eric Draper (White House photography director for President George W. Bush);  Anthony Hemingway (film & TV director); Johnnie Johnson (NFL player); and Kenny Lattimore (singer).  The DeLoss Dodds “Gents of Distinction” leadership award was presented to Foswhitt “Fozzy” Whittaker (UT athlete); and Major Jerime Reid (376th Force Support Squadron).

At the closing of the “Divas” program the wall came down and both groups merged for the remaining program presided over by Coach Kearney who shared her vision with the mixed crowd.  “My passion is to celebrate and motivate our students, athletes and soon-to-be future leaders.  The University of Texas affords me the resources to produce a competitive annual mentorship program, which encourage real-life reality as it relates to our speakers sharing how they transitioned through failure to success,” stated Coach Bev.  “Our students need the truth of struggle to success – not just the glitz and glamour.”

Since every great achievement begins as a mere dream as a 501(c) (3) non-profit the Pursuit of Dreams (POD) is committed to reconnecting and assisting individuals with their life’s purpose, passions, and dreams.  POD has created various programs and symposiums that are essential in the fulfilment of its mission and vision to equip and educate individuals with the practical knowledge and insight they will need to align their pursuits with their passions.

POD programs are designed to harness the technology, intelligence, experiences, wisdom, power, and resources of businesses and individuals through the creation and use of forums, mentorship, lectures, and volunteer outreach.  POD provides assistance and guidance to all individuals regardless of race, gender, religion or socioeconomic status to fulfil their mental, physical and spiritual goals.  The method utilized is a holistic, sports-based approach through the use of the “team” concept.  It is POD’s vision to utilize the team concept to promote unity, connectivity, collectiveness, synergy and healing as the foundation to inspire.

The program closed with the presentation of the “Pursuit of Dreams” community service award to Keshia Knight Pulliam (actress/”The Cosby Show”) for her work with the Kizzy Foundation; and Dr. Sterling Lands, II, (Bishop Lands/Abundant Life & Greater Calvary Academy), International Presiding Bishop of Family Life International Fellowship, Inc., a fellowship of Churches.

The event was sponsored by: University of Texas Athletics, NIKE, Wal-mart, Seton Healthcare, Investment Management Enterprise Incorporated.  Visit: to learn more about Coach Beverly Kearney and her organization.

All of the celebrities toasted Coach Kearney.  Here are just a few comments from notable some of the celebrated guests:

Texas Women’s Athletics Director Chris Plonsky
“Not enough credit goes to Bev. In this day to coach at the NCAA Division I level, to say it is a full time job does not describe it. You have to care for other people’s children plus take the pressure of the media, and then you have to win. Bev has won. But Bev wants to do more than win — she wants to impact others. So her giving back to this university and community with the symposium weekend is the best gift and trophy that she would ever provide.”

Michelle Williams
“I am just inspired to be here today. I have learned so much. Not only did I come to share my knowledge and experience, but I also came to be deposited into. I strive to be the greatest that I can be – the greatness that everyone says you have but sometimes you do not always see it in yourself. I came here to soak it all in so that I could go back home and tell everyone back home what I have learned.”

Fozzy Whittaker
“It is an honor and a privilege to be honored here by Coach Bev. I wish I had the opportunity to be coached by Coach Bev. I feel as though being coached by her would have not only made me a better athlete but a better person. To have the opportunity to be here with you is an honor and a blessing. I thank her for what she has done for me thus far, and what she will do in the future.”

Kenny Lattimore
“I have heard so many great things from my other friends about Coach Bev. They have said if you are not a part of this, you are out of the loop, so I said “Ok, I want to definitely go on down to Austin and see what is happening.”

MC Lyte
“Last year when I got here, I walked into the press conference and saw this woman speaking into the podium. She had such life, such vigor; I just wanted to know who she was, so I leaned to my manager and asked ‘When is Coach Bev going to be here?’ He said that is her. I then thought that woman embodies all that energy, all that light, all that spirit.”

“It is my pleasure to be here. They have asked me on several occasions to come, but I always felt as though I did not have time. I have been through a lot in the last two years, which has caused my priorities to change. I am happy to be here. It is a very good feeling. It is great to be here with peers and be close to Bev at the same time. I love to watch her interact with people. It is so inspirational.”

Bun B
“We just want to try to give the best we can, at any opportunity we have to give. This world is a community.”

Malinda Williams
“We were at the school for girls earlier today, and it was just an amazing experience. I was telling the principal and assistant principal that they have to have us back. I demand that they have us back. It just did not feel that there was enough time. I was very impressed with the young women over there, but I also understand that young women need leaders.”

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

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