(The Root) — More than 200 black women in New York City packed Openhouse Gallery in lower Manhattan Wednesday evening for "Young, Fabulous and Female," a panel discussion and networking gathering that is part of a series of events The Root has held in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.
NBC News correspondent and host of MSNBC's NewsNation Tamron Hall moderated the conversation, which focused on various ways that black women can find inspiration and act confidently in their professional lives. She was joined by a diverse group of panelists that included sustainable-living advocate and radio-show host Majora Carter; architect and global head of design and construction at MetLife Pamela Abalu; Black Girls Rock! founder and DJ Beverly Bond; and A Belle in Brooklyn author and advice columnist Demetria L. Lucas, who is also a contributing editor for The Root.
"In the five years I've been in New York, [these are the] most beautiful black women I've seen in one place," said Hall.
But the event was less about cheerleading black beauty than about providing firsthand testimonials about the often bumpy road to success. Hall described her own experiences, including times when she had difficulty dealing with antagonistic bosses, being the only African-American woman on staff and handling an under-qualified co-worker who also happened to be a black woman.
She continued to lead a lively discussion on a range of topics, including whether black women support one another in the workplace, how to find a mentor and what is the definition of success.
Bond talked about how she was able to turn her passion — her love of music and hip-hop culture — into her life's work, which is focused on promoting positive images and opportunities for young women of color. She said that she always wanted to help people and to be a sort of Robin Hood for her community. "I didn't set forth on this path," she said, "but I see now how passions led me to do that."
Lucas, who explained how she started a blog in 2006 that snowballed into her current career as an author, speaker and advice columnist, also talked about mining your passion. She took the advice of a friend who said, "Writers write," and decided to pursue exactly that. "What is it that you love to do?" she offered. "Figure out what it is, and figure out how to make money off of it."
Bronx, N.Y., native Carter had to rethink the myth that she would have to leave her local neighborhood to carve out a career. Instead she found her niche doing green-advocacy work and improving the quality of life in her community. The most satisfying feeling, she said, is "helping people see themselves as beautiful, just by helping to change their surroundings."
"Success is knowing one's own power and using it for good," she added.
As for navigating the corporate world, Abalu told a story about how a supervisor once admonished her because she didn't "let people [tell] her what to do" and suggested that she ask, "What do you think?" at the end of all her emails. After that experience, she promised herself "never to ask for permission" to express who she is.
Carter also explained how she turned a setback on its head. A few years back, she wanted to run for a City Council seat in the Bronx but soon learned how "dirty" politics can be. "There are much bigger things I could work," said Carter, who worked creatively to effect change in other ways. Now she points to her many awards, including a Peabody for her public radio show, as vindication.
"I love that kind of failure," she said.