Friday, June 3, 2005

It’s a Woman Thing ... and Men Too

Sisterhood Showcase celebrates 10 years.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2005 at 4:00 AM

“I call this year’s showcase ‘10 years of yes I can,’” says Sisterhood Showcase founder and Grace magazine editor Tina Birchett. ?This shows that anyone who has a dream, is in the process of taking a leap of faith, or thinking about taking a leap of faith can make it.?

This week, the four-day showcase — full title: the Sisterhood Outreach Summit & Showcase — celebrates its anniversary with celebrities, physicians, and motivational speakers under the theme “A Reunion of Sisters.” In addition, this year’s showcase has an emphasis on men.

The showcase has continued to grow since its inception in 1996, Birchett says. At that time, the event was a small affair with the specific goal of reaching African-American women about health issues. The enthusiasm of participants led Birchett to hold the showcase a second year and to begin the quarterly magazine Grace.

“Everyone thinks that the showcase grew out of Grace, but it’s the other way around,” she says. “So many people were enlightened by that first show that they wanted me to coordinate the event each month, but there was no way to pull that off. So, I did the next best thing, a magazine, and made the showcase its signature annual event.”

But keeping this type of show unique was a challenge. In fact, similar events in other cities were unsuccessful or became little more than flea markets and weekend socials. To keep her event from losing its significance, Birchett refuses to use labels such as “expo” and “festival.” “I keep the word ‘showcase’ at the front of my brain at all times," she says. “And I measure all of the planned events by that standard. Is this a showcase event or an expo event?”

Birchett’s event is distinguished by its balance of entertainment and education. In addition to the annual men’s fashion show and concerts, this year’s showcase also brings a new partnership with Black Entertainment Television and the BET Foundation’s traveling health initiative. Panelists, including actress Vivica Fox and celebrity fitness trainer Jeanette Jenkins, candidly discuss everything from heart disease to HIV/AIDS during a two-hour seminar.

“We look at activities that have had measured success in local markets that focus on the concerns of the Africa-American community,” says BET Foundation executive director Lynda Dorman. “Women should come prepared to ask questions, then go the next step and enter the booths for health screenings.”

This year, the event has expanded to four days to include a publisher’s luncheon, a golf tournament, and a comedy show. Also on the list of new events is a Saturday-morning gospel service, a children’s area, and presentation of the Grace Award to four Mid-South women.

The 10th-anniversary year is also about men. Each year the event attracts about 20,000 visitors, with 15 percent of those being men. With returning host and actor Shemar Moore, a partnership with the 100 Black Men, and concerts by R&B performers Tweet and Temmora, Birchett expects male attendance to possibly reach 35 percent. Highlighting the men’s participation will be a march from Peabody Place to the convention center led by the 100 Black Men organization, followed by a forum on improving self-confidence, self-love, and self-image. If the men get tired, Birchett has created a lounge area for them.

For Birchett, there appears to be no slowing down. “For years, people have tried to get me to move the show from here to a larger city, but I believe in Memphis, “ says Birchett. “My continual dream and prayer was, If we could just make it to the 10th show. We have made it, and I do plan on an 11th and beyond.” n

The Sisterhood Outreach Summit & Showcase takes place June 2nd-5th at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. For a complete listing of events, visit SisterhoodShowcase.com. For more information, call 579-9333.

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