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Celebrating Black Excellence, Part Two Recap

Updated March 29, 2021
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This past Thursday, It’s Time partnered with REACH Riverside for the second installment of live virtual conversations entitled, “Celebrating Black Excellence.” The conversation is available to stream on Facebook and YouTube. Kenyetta McCurdy-Byrd, COO of The WRK Group led the discussion with a panel of four other black female leaders who discussed their personal experiences of growing up, living, and working in Wilmington, Delaware.

 

The Panel

After careful consideration, Logan Herring and Kenyetta McCurdy-Byrd hand-selected four female leaders from different generations with ties to Wilmington to make up the round table panel. The innovators explored their experiences growing up in the city, along with current and future work to support opportunities for black community members.

    1. Kenyetta McCurdy-Byrd- COO The WRK Group
    2. Jessica Wescott- founder Planting to Feed, Inc.
    3. Zorah Rothwell– co-founder The Warehouse
    4. Rep. Sherry Dorsey-Walker- State of Delaware House of Representatives
    5. Bebe Coker– Community Advocate

 

Some Memorable Moments:

A few moments that resonated with our team and audience included:

On the 'definition' of Black Excellence:

Zorah Rothwell- Co-founder of The Warehouse
Zorah Wilmington Delaware
“I think Black Excellence is a motto, a mindset, a way of living because when you feel that in your spirit when you know that’s who you are and what you do, you reciprocate that energy and you pass it along to others. I think that it’s not just excellence it’s ‘Black Excellence’ because most times African American women have to work 10 times harder to get as good of positions as our counterparts.”
Jessica Wescott, Founder of Planting to Feed, Inc.
Jess Wilmington Delaware
“I actually had conversations with friends about it asking, ‘Why does it have to be BLACK Excellence?’ But now hearing Zorah I’m just like, ‘No, black excellence is a vibe.’ I’m here for it now, it kind of changed my perspective completely.”

 

Sherry Dorsey-Walker, State of Delaware House of Representatives
Sherry Wilmington Delaware
“Black Excellence is what you see before you. You see a student leader in Zorah, you see a community leader in Jessica, you see the mother of the community in Bebe. And what we have been taught is to go boldly to the throne. And so we’re very much like Queen Esther (biblical reference to the story of Queen Esther and King Xerxes) because we’re going to go to the king, and if we perish we perish but we are going straight. That’s what excellence is.”

 

Kenyetta McCurdy-Byrd, COO of The WRK Group
Kenyetta Wilmington Delaware
“We want to get everyone to the point Black Excellence is just recognizing that you are more than enough. And so, it’s recognizing and assessing for yourself what success looks like for you. So if you can find a way through mentoring and uplift people that way. You’ve got it.”

 

Bebe Coker, Community Advocate
Bebe Wilmington Delaware
“I think that Black Excellence is inherent in the growth and development of this country. And I just would encourage all of us to encourage young people to find a way to learn about your history, know your history, define yourself FOR yourself in that way. This way you will know who you are, and if anyone comes in with some jive definition, it would be like water on a duck’s back rolling off.”

 

On breaking free from labels:

Sherry Dorsey-Walker, State of Delaware House of Representatives
Sherry Wilmington Delaware
“We need to define ourselves and we don’t need other people doing that. The way we do this is by adding black history to the state’s curriculum, and that will be House Bill 198. On March 31st, we shall have a hearing in the House Education Committee to add black history to the state’s curriculum, and we need everyone who’s present to come and testify about the importance of our children knowing their worth. So we’ve gotten so far away from our foundation as a people, that now we’re allowing other people to define us.”
Kenyetta McCurdy-Byrd, COO of The WRK Group
Kenyetta Wilmington Delaware
“We cannot and we should not succumb to the pressure of the credentialing world, because it forces and it puts one course or trajectory or narrative over others, so if you’re too rigid in your interpretation and your definition of Black Excellence, then we will leave behind many members of our community.”
Bebe Coker, Community Advocate
Bebe Wilmington Delaware
“Excellence is excellence. All of a sudden it’s decided there’s Black Excellence in music, Black Excellence in building, Black Excellence in research. We’ve been doing this stuff the whole time! But nobody wanted it. So culturally, it’s almost like you’re trying to make this a new thing in terms of excellence as a new thing we are doing. But if this country will look at the way it was founded, the way it was built, the way it has grown, they’d see our sense of belonging, our sense of doing, has ALWAYS been there. So I just get angry when people start deciding that ‘Oh someone is operatic…THAT’S Black Excellence’ when it’s just a person singing Opera because that’s what they WANT to do. When you really look at the characteristics of anything that is excellent, excellence is inherent in the thing that is achieved. Inherent in excellence is the action itself. If it’s excellent, it’s done.”

On the importance of community and education:

Jessica Wescott, Founder of Planting to Feed, Inc.
Jess Wilmington Delaware
“I had really great educators and a really phenomenal mother, who told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, as long as I put my mind to it. It’s all about the community that’s around you. Nothing that I’ve ever done has ever been unachievable or unattainable in my mind because I have a community that’s ready to support me and that’s what, excellence is to me. It’s the characteristics of achieving your goals, whether that be in a warehouse, whether that be in education, whether that be an SVP; whatever your goals are, that’s excellence. As long as you are bringing the community around you WITH you while you are rising as well.”

 

Bebe Coker, Community Advocate
Bebe Wilmington Delaware
“This conversation has reminded me how important family is. Black men step up to be black men in our children’s lives. As far as equality of black women are concerned with very little encouragement, or with a lot of encouragement, we know who we are, I do concern myself with families and men and women stepping up to their children. Acting like parents, and acting like they’re involved.”
Zorah Rothwell- Co-founder of The Warehouse
Zorah Wilmington Delaware
“Reach out to children, grow with them, reach out to teens and just be a mentor or a support because you never know how far that can go for you. For instance I’ve had a mentor since I was in eighth grade, and I love her. She’s definitely shown me the way. And having different forms of support, somebody that you can just talk to when you need that motivation, someone you can talk to when you need some extra love that day, it really goes a long way.”

 

On moving forward & representation:

Jessica Wescott, Founder of Planting to Feed, Inc.
Jess Wilmington Delaware
“Provide opportunities. It starts with one person making space. And someone seeing the benefits from it. And I just think as long as you’re providing opportunities, that’s, that’s the best way forward. Representation matters period. When we start seeing people doing the things that we want to do in a positive manner then we start seeing people lifting up their community. I have this saying that as soon as I saw somebody doing what I wanted to do my grind hit completely different, I was like, ‘Oh it’s go time. I can do that I can achieve that,’ so representation definitely matters.”
Zorah Rothwell- Co-founder of The Warehouse
Zorah Wilmington Delaware
“Teach inclusion in the classroom. Not just about black people but letting children know that it’s okay to love on each other’s differences and it is okay to be friends with others. And I would also teach them empathy and learning how to understand other people’s backgrounds and just basically guiding them to a judge free zone so anything that’s going on in the world does not affect what goes on in the classroom and that we all are one and do stand together.”

 

Kenyetta McCurdy-Byrd, COO of The WRK Group
Kenyetta Wilmington Delaware
“I would also say in the workplace, when you learn you teach, and when you get you give. So to our black men, when you’re in a position of power and authority, lift up your sisters, bring us in. That is one way that you can help strengthen our community and strengthen us.”

 

Bebe Coker, Community Advocate
Bebe Wilmington Delaware
“The interesting part about the difference that huge gap between our age is of course, when I grew up as all we ever heard was, “Make yourself a credit to your race.’  To me, being a credit to your race is moving outside of yourself in service to other people. It is about bringing your best, so that you can serve somebody else. So we need to stop thinking that there are areas that are for people that are ‘less than’ When these are essential. Our population doesn’t know about these things because our race of people has been so confined to certain areas of professions that they think make them ‘excellent.’”
Sherry Dorsey-Walker, State of Delaware House of Representatives
Sherry Wilmington Delaware
“The world needs to see people right in their own community who look like them are setting the bar high, and saying ‘Zorah you’ve been accepted to nine schools you have a million dollars worth of scholarships, we’re super proud of you.’ and follow her journey! Zorah if you want to own a business, we need to be pouring into you and teaching you how you can own your own business. Jess, we have urban agriculture going on, ‘What do you need from the legislators to ensure that you are hugely successful in this venture?’ These are the things, these are the conversations that need to happen so that our youth’s heroes look like them. They don’t have to be people who they can’t touch, smell, feel, they’re RIGHT THERE in the community.”

Join Us for Part Three!

Join us via Facebook or Youtube Live next month (date TBD) for Part THREE of the series highlighting the black teen experience in Wilmington, Delaware.

We hope these candid conversations shed a light on the true experience of black Wilmingtonians and inspire others to see that, together, we can support one another to succeed.

What questions do you have for our teen panelists next month? Do you have any questions for our female or male panel from the last few months? Comment below!

Continue the It’s Time journey of exploring and celebrating the vibrant city of Wilmington, Delaware by following us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for more content. Click here to see our other blogs.

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