CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For Maya Angelou, the key to success is courage – “without courage, you cannot practice any other virtues consistently,” she said.
Angelou shared her secrets of success with about 600 women as she hosted the 10th annual Women Who Lead luncheon on Saturday at the Westin in uptown Charlotte.
“I’m honored to be in the presence of such honorable women,” Angelou told the Observer before speaking.
The luncheon recognized women across the state who proved to be role models and leaders in their communities. Among the honorees was Gov. Bev Perdue, to whom Angelou presented the lifetime achievement award.
Nominees for the Maya Angelou/Elizabeth Ross Dargan Lifetime Achievement Award must show leadership and a dedication to others, said Marilyn Baldwin Richards, N.C. director of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).
On stage, Perdue said, “I’ve never been to a luncheon and seen so much fun.”
Perdue, who did not run for a second term, said it’s a privilege to be North Carolina’s first female governor. “I grew up a poor little girl in southwest Virginia and neither of my parents had a high school diploma. My dad was a coal miner,” she said.
“This is just a great award to receive,” Perdue told the Observer later. “Anytime you can help young girls go to college, it’s a good thing.”
Proceeds generated from the luncheon benefit UNCF, the nation’s largest minority education organization, which aims to serve youth and support educational development. The fund supports more than 60,000 students at 900 U.S. colleges and universities.
Awards were presented to honorees who were nominated because of their dedication to their careers and to public service. Honorees included Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy; Winston-Salem Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke; Greensboro Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Jeffries Johnson; and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.
During the luncheon, three Charlotte women were also named for the Excellence Award, which recognizes women in the field of human resources, diversity and inclusion. Honorees included Marilyn Gilliam with Novant Health; Dawn Harris with NASCAR; and Debra Plousha Moore with Carolinas Healthcare System.
“I’m so proud that this organization each year honors women. We need it so,” Angelou told the crowd.
The UNCF also presented a $5,000 scholarship to Danielle Nylia Brown of Matthews, who plans to attend Bennett College in Greensboro in the fall.
“I’m just warm-hearted knowing that there are people out there extending their hands to help me,” Brown said.
Brown plans to study to become a social worker and focus on helping children who are in difficult situations. She said she understands the struggle to be successful.
Growing up in New Jersey, Brown said she lived with her disabled mother and four siblings in a small apartment before moving to the Charlotte area at age 12.
“We were grateful to have a roof over our heads,” Brown said to the crowd. “My mother always said,
‘Have standards, set goals and have morals.’ ”
Since the luncheon began, it has helped raise more than $1 million for students attending UNCF member institutions, including five in North Carolina, Richards said.
“It’s about the boy or girl who wants to go to college and make their mamas and daddies proud,” Richards said.
As part of the event’s festivities, guests also donned brightly colored and embellished hats for the luncheon’s popular “HAT-ti-tude!”contest. Guests competed to win prizes for the sassiest and most unusual hats, among others.
The annual fundraiser also featured a silent auction that included a private luncheon for six with Angelou at her home.
Angelou’s parting advice to the crowd: “We need to tell our girls ... you are our everything, you are the best we have. Women, be your own advocates.”