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WOMEN MAKING HISTORY: Tina Knowles-Lawson
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WOMEN MAKING HISTORY: Tina Knowles-Lawson

If Tina Knowles-Lawson were to begin a letter of gratitude to her late mother, Agnes Beyoncé, she would begin by saying, ‘Thank you for your prayers.’

“I really feel like my children and I and my grandchildren are living off my momma’s prayers,” a forever grateful, Miss Tina begins.  “That was the best example she ever gave me.”

A devoted mother, grandmother, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Tina Knowles-Lawson was raised in Galveston, Texas and is the youngest of seven children. Extremely active and outgoing as an adolescent, Miss Tina enjoyed dancing and singing, which prompted her to form the singing group, the VeltonesIt was during that time that the skills of the future fashion designer started to take shape as she and her mother designed all of the costumes. Although underprivileged, Miss Tina’s mother exposed her and her six siblings to many experiences, that were all free.

“When I was about 14, my brother’s girlfriend, who was older than me, came into my life and it just about changed my world because she started taking me places. It opened a new world for me. It made me want my world to be bigger,” says Lawson. An aspiring fashion designer, the cultural exposure fueled Miss Tina’s dream of relocating to Los Angeles, New York, or somewhere she deemed more glamorous than her beach town.

Observing the generosity of her mother engendered inspiration and imitation. “My mother just got so much joy out of doing nice things for other people and that’s contagious because I saw the joy that it brought to other people,” says Lawson. A successful hairstylist and salon owner in Houston, not only did Miss Tina provide beauty transformations, but she created an environment built on the foundation of community, support and sharing knowledge.  It was more than a salon; it was a healing place.

 After witnessing the devastating affects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, Miss Tina, along with Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Solange Knowles and Kelly Rowland, formed the Survivor Foundation, a charitable entity set up for the purpose of providing transitional housing for Hurricane Katrina victims and storm evacuees who settled in the Houston, Texas area. Miss Tina’s initial plan of action was to purchase a motel and provide lodging for victims while they actively searched for employment and/or schooling. However, after partnering with her minister, Pastor Rudy Rasmus, who rallied the community starting with members of St. John’s Church, they raised enough money to build the Knowles-Temenos Place, in March 2006. The mission is to provide affordable housing opportunities, supportive services and employment resources to low-income persons on their journey to self-sufficiency.  Recently the City of Houston funded the development of a second tenement, an 85 unit building to help even more families in transition.  Miss Tina hopes that this is a movement to inspire others to do the same.

In the summer of 2016, Louisiana again experienced another catastrophic disaster, this time a flood that affected Baton Rouge businesses, homes and infrastructure that caused displacement, but not wide press exposure.

 “I saw it on TV and I thought, ‘my God! This is horrible!’ I went out of the country and I came back and it just disappeared off the radar and I didn’t hear anything else about,” says Lawson.

The scarce media attention prompted Miss Tina, Essence Magazine’s president Michelle Ebanks and a representative from Time magazine to fly to Baton Rouge to observe the calamity caused by the floods for themselves. To boost the morale of the capital, Miss Tina, along with Essence Magazine, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge, Beyoncé’s BeyGOOD, Nike and Gucci partnered with the City of Baton Rouge in hosting a pre-Thanksgiving and awards dinner for over 800 Baton Rouge residents. 

“It was good to lift the morale and for the people to know that they’re cared about. It was the best Thanksgiving blessing to me,” says Lawson.

And her giving has extended to her adopted home of Los Angeles, California.  With her husband, actor and acting coach, Richard Lawson, Miss Tina’s latest philanthropic initiative is the launch of the non-profit WACO Theater Center in Los Angeles. The WACO Theater Center is dedicated to the empowerment of artists within a diversified pool of LA communities. Its founders’ mission is to create a space Where Art Can Occur. The launch will kick off with the first annual Wearable Art Gala. The charitable event is set to take place at the California African American Museum (CAAM) on Saturday, April 29, 2017 in Los Angeles.

The Gala will introduce WACO Theater Center’s community mentorship programs, which includes Tina’s Angels, a platform that focuses on the education and empowerment of girls. It is a year long program that emphasizes the importance of proper etiquette, dental and personal hygiene and exposure to arts and culture.

“Sometimes in people’s lives they just don’t have anyone they feel really cares about them. You don’t have to do anything big. You don’t have to have a lot of money. It’s the thought that counts. It’s not about how much money you spend or how much you give,” says Miss Tina.   “My prayer for Tina’s Angels is that other people will start mentoring programs because it’s just so important to have mentors.  The whole program is based on providing those experiences that will make the girls have a bigger and better life, and ultimately want more for themselves.” 

For more information on WACO, including the Gala and Tina’s Angel mentoring program, visit www.wacotheatercenter.com/events/gala and

http://wacotheatercenter.com/programs/

For more on Miss Tina, please follow her on instagram.

WORDS BY SHEAN ENGLAND

WOMEN MAKING HISTORY: SUSAN CHOKACHI
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WOMEN MAKING HISTORY: SUSAN CHOKACHI

Susan Chokachi wears many hats and she does so effortlessly, yet realistically.  The President and CEO of Gucci America traverses the worlds of fashion and philanthropy while balancing her roles of wife and mother.  But her success in her career and life is held together by her belief that “complete balance is a myth.”  

“I don’t think anyone ever achieves perfect balance,” says the University of California Berkeley graduate. “It’s a lovely idea, that things can be in balance or in harmony, but unfortunately that’s not life, I don’t think. Once you surrender to that fact, I think it makes it much easier to manage lots of demands and different priorities.”

Susan, who was an art history major in college, never saw a career in fashion for herself.  But after a stint at Giorgio Armani, Susan began her career at Gucci America in 1998, and was the Senior Vice President of marketing and communications until March 2016. Her current role at Gucci America calls for her to split her time between Los Angeles and New York, as well as working in the field, visiting stores.  In line with Gucci’s commitment to campaign for gender equality, Susan also dedicates significant time and energy working on issues that matter to girls and women around the world.

In 2013 Susan was part of the senior team at Gucci and its parent company, Kering, when Gucci announced the founding of CHIME FOR CHANGE, with Beyoncé and Salma Hayek Pinault among its co-founders.  CHIME FOR CHANGE, a global campaign to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for girls and women around the world, upheld Gucci’s long history of working for social change.

“We wanted to make people more aware and concerned about the issues affecting girls and women around the world,” says Susan.  “Gucci has always been concerned about things well beyond its core business and has always been a leading company with respect to being engaged in both sustainability and social responsibility.”

CHIME FOR CHANGE focuses on using an innovative approach to raise awareness for projects promoting Education, Health and Justice for girls and women.  In the summer of 2013, Gucci and CHIME FOR CHANGE hosted THE SOUND OF CHANGE LIVE concert at Twickenham Stadium in London.  The message of gender equality was brought to 50,000 people in the stadium and broadcast into the homes of a billion people around the world.

In 2015, CHIME FOR CHANGE joined Global Citizen, the grassroots activist organization, in a long-term partnership to help end extreme poverty by the year 2030, and to build a stronger global campaign to create lasting change for girls and women around the world.  The number one goal of the partnership remains to make girls’ and women’s issues a priority.

“Never did we suspect that in 2017, things that we have always taken for granted would be at risk, even in this country,” says Susan.  On the positive side, this has rallied support in unprecedented ways.  Movements like CHIME FOR CHANGE and Global Citizen are mobilizing support and fueling progress. Since 2012, Global Citizens around the world have taken over 10 million actions toward solving the world’s biggest challenges.  To date, these actions along with high level advocacy efforts have resulted in 250 commitments and policy announcements from world leaders, including financial aid valued at over $30 billion that is set to affect the lives of 1 billion people.

The bond that ties CHIME FOR CHANGE and Global Citizen together is the issue of gender equality, and a mutual belief that to tackle global poverty, it is necessary to understand how vital girls and women are to nearly every global issue.  There are several opportunities and ways in which you can take action.

For CHIME storytelling and community sharing please visit https://community.globalcitizen.org/campaign/chime-for-change.

To take action for gender equality please visit https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/campaign/levelthelaw/.

“Every voice matters. Every voice. And I think we are at a moment when people are owning that, and are participating because they realize they can and should play a part, and that’s pretty amazing,” says Susan.

WORDS BY YVETTE NOEL-SCHURE