Via: My Sweet Charity

By: Jeanne Prejean

When one hears the word “forum,” they usually think of something akin to a combination of a church service and a required class. But leave it to the Texas Women’s Foundation to use the recipe of music, dancing, awards and conversations with leaders to inspire and broaden the scope of multi-generations. That’s exactly what happened at the Texas Women’s Foundation Leadership Forum And Awards Celebration on Tuesday, April 30, at the Omni Dallas Hotel. Here’s a report from the field:

On Tuesday, April 30, more than 200 middle and high school young women descended the Omni Dallas Hotel for #BESTSELF 2024, a leadership program of Texas Women’s Foundation. Schools and nonprofits that attended included Cristo Rey, Young Women’s Preparatory Network’s Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School and Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA Fort Worth), Lamar High School of Arlington ISD, Rae’s Hope, Stand4Sisterhood and DFW Kids on the Move. The group mingled and met each other as they exchanged bingo cards for a chance to win gift cards. The first winner was Journey from YWLA who received a gift card.

Throughout the morning, L.A. DJ Girlbot spun tunes and played songs to get many moving, line-dancing and having fun. Capital One’s Andrella Thomas welcomed the girls and told them to “build strong connections.” K.J. Grassi with Girls Empowered by the Mavs, gave a welcome, told them to focus on their mental health and led everyone in a “Let’s Go Mavs” cheer.


This year’s theme was Empowered, so the breakout sessions featured Girls Inc. talking about the “Power of Your Health.” The three stresses include emotional, physical and mental, and Yashti Moffel asked, “How does stress affect your success?” Girls broke up into four groups to discuss movement, nutrition, happiness and rest to combat stresses.

Dallas College’s Marlonda Taylor spoke about the “Power of Your Future.” Attending community college is a great path to education. She remarked, “Everyone’s journey looks different. Do not let your peers tell you that you can’t do it.”

The final session included Hey Chica! Founder/CEO Veronica Torres Hazley (also event co-chair) speaking about the “Power of Your Voice.” She encouraged the attendees to use their voices to speak positive words to themselves and others.

A special thanks to the #BESTSELF sponsors: PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) and Capital One.

After the young women left, the TXWF staff and volunteers turned to the Leadership Forum And Awards Celebration. The afternoon featured each honoree having a moderated conversation about their journey that continued the Empowered theme.


  • EmPOWERing Representation with honoree Adeeba Raheem and moderator Nina Vaca — Raheem’s advice for becoming a leader: 1. Be authentic. You cannot fake it. 2. Reach out for help. 3. Leadership is all about the people.
  • EmPOWERing Wellness with honoree Hilda McClure and moderator Kim Cummings — McClure said, “Wellness should not be a privilege. It should be a basic need.”
  • EmPOWERing Mentorship with honoree Jamila Thomas and moderator Meranda Cohen — Thomas: “Your path illuminates the path for those behind you.”
  • EmPOWERing Resilience with honoree Heather Bellino and moderator Vanessa Beckstrom — Bellino’s advice for becoming a leader: “Go get it. Don’t be afraid of failing. You’ve got this. It’s within you and your community. You deserve it.”
  • EmPOWERing Authenticity honoree Marsha Clark and moderator Michelle George — Clark’s work on empowering women in small groups expanded to books and podcasts, so that her coaching could be more accessible to many.
  • EmPOWERing a Spirit of Service honoree Cimajie Best and Aimee Cunningham — Best’s advice: 1. Find your why. 2. Don’t be afraid. Just do it.

After the forums, close to 650 sipped cocktails and noshed on hors d’oeuvres while they visited. The European Ensemble stringed quartet provided lively upbeat music as more women arrived to find their friends.

The doors opened, and Co-Chairs Sakina Rasheed Foster, Haynes and Boone, LLP partner and office managing partner, and Veronica Torres Hazley welcomed everyone. Foster said, “We’re delighted to be in the company of extraordinary community and corporate leaders, visionaries, advocates, educators, philanthropists and students. Each of us contributes unique talents that play a vital role in shaping a resilient community, one that is actively constructing our collective future.” She added that Hazley was the first Young Leader Award recipient.


Hazley said she was inspired by the morning session she presented to the 200 #BESTSELF girls. “It was an honor to teach them the lessons I’ve learned throughout my journey. They gained insight about the power of their future, health and wellbeing and the strength of their inner and outer voice.”

They thanked the key sponsors:

  • Moderator: Catherine Coughlin Endowment for Women’s Leadership at Texas Women’s Foundation
  • Award: Haynes Boone
  • Leadership Forums: Texas Capital, Vistra
  • Impact: The Dallas Mavericks
  • Media Sponsors: D CEO, Dallas Business Journal

For additional sponsors, visit

TXWF Board Chair Carrie Freeman Parsons and TXWF Executive In Residence Hattie Hill held a fireside chat. Parsons said, “Through the research, advocacy, programs and grantmaking that you support, we are able to advance economic and leadership opportunities for women and girls, allowing them to build stronger, more equitable communities for all of us.”

Hill added, “It has been our keen focus and goal to find a leader who is equipped to build on the strength of our mission and vision to propel our organization to new heights.”

They then welcomed Karen Hughes White, new TXWF president and CEO, to the stage for attendees to get to know her. White remarked, “Texas Women’s Foundation’s values of integrity, intentionality and inclusivity are core to my being. Drawing on our shared values and my passion for educating and empowering women and girls, I’m honored to work alongside our donors, partners, volunteers and staff to build strong women and a better world.” Her priorities are to focus the key pillars of women’s economic security—childcare, health insurance and housing. Another priority is to reimagine the leadership programming to be sure it’s relevant for girls to those in the C-suite.”

Next, TXWF 2015 Young Leader recipient, Christa Brown-Sanford, spoke about connection. Brittany Barnett, who wanted to become an attorney like Clair Huxtable, saw that Sanford looked like her and Clair and emailed her. Sanford responded without hesitation, and that began a friendship and mentorship that continues today. Barnett, who was in Ghana, could not attend. Sanford said that’s the ripple effect and told of the impact. “Like a pebble dropped into a still pond, your single action is continuing to create ripples of change that extend far beyond its initial point of impact. We appreciate your dedication to women and girls.” She asked attendees to give by texting MAURA to 41444.

After dinner, The Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall led the crowd in “Let’s go Mavs.” Then she mentioned she was wearing all white in honor of her 41st wedding anniversary. She introduced award-winning ABC News correspondent/news magazine “20/20” co-anchor Deborah Roberts.


The two had a compelling conversation about telling stories that matter. One was about Bangladesh and how they were achieving success with maternal mortality. Asked about her book, “Lessons Learned and Cherished,” Roberts beautifully illustrated the profound influence that teachers hold in shaping lives including Mrs. Hardy who believed in her. Mr. Griffin was another teacher she describes as “tough as nails and erasable.” But he challenged her to do hard things, and she succeeded. At Georgia, she visited the journalism department. “I found my calling. I was willing to try something outside my comfort zone.”

Roberts’ advice to becoming a leader: “Just own it. Somebody opened the door for me. I need to open it for others—interns, young producers. They’re waiting for someone to say you can do it.”

Marshall said, “I love that. It is called HASU: Hook A Sister Up!”

The awards presentation was the final part of the evening. Haynes Boone partner Rosebud Nau spoke next. Brenda Jackson, selection committee co-chair, joined her to present the following awards:






  • “For empowering resilience through programs, advocacy, and services for victims of domestic and dating violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking, we proudly present Heather Bellino with the Maura Women Helping Women award.
  • “For empowering authenticity by dedicating her talents to crafting and delivering executive coaching and leadership programs tailored for women, we award Marsha Clark with the Maura Women Helping Women Award.
  • “For empowering representation by securing funding in support of women and economically disadvantaged students to gain knowledge and experience in construction engineering and safety, we recognize Adeeba Raheem, recipient of the Maura Women Helping Women Award.
  • “For empowering mentorship by spearheading initiatives and collaborations that bolster the education and advancement of women of color, we proudly honor Jamila Thomas with the Maura Women Helping Women Award.
  • “For empowering a spirit of service through a lifelong commitment to forging partnerships and initiatives that foster inclusive communities for everyone, we recognize Cimajie Best with the Young Leader Award.
  • “For empowering wellness by normalizing the significance of well-being among Latina youth and single mothers, and navigating the acculturation process alongside mental health professionals, we recognize Hilda McClure with the Young Leader Award.”

Hattie Hill closed out the program and thanked everyone for coming. She told of the upcoming luncheon at the Omni Hotel on Friday, November 1 and the 2025 Leadership Forum and Awards Celebration on Thursday, May 8. The empowering evening concluded on this high note with many staying afterwards to continue visiting.

About Texas Women’s Foundation: As Texas Women’s Foundation (TXWF) nears its 40th year, it is clear that now more than ever is the time to elevate Texas women. By working with women, families and communities, they are building a stronger, more equitable Texas. TXWF raises funding from a broad base of donors, including individuals, foundations and corporations. These resources support more than $7.1 million in investments that advance economic security and leadership for Texas women and girls through timely research, advocacy, grants and strategic initiatives. Since inception in 1985, TXWF has invested $78.9 million in women and girls. Their statewide research on issues affecting women and girls provides decision-makers and lawmakers with critical data to inform policies, practices and programs in the state. Its advocacy, grantmaking and leadership initiatives support solutions that help Texas women and girls thrive. In addition, Texas Women’s Foundation is an acknowledged leader and advocate in the gender lens investing movement and has deployed 100 percent of its invested assets – endowments, operating investments and donor-advised funds – in a gendered impact portfolio that yields strong financial returns and social benefits to women and girls. For more information, visit www.txwf.orgFacebookTwitterLinkedIn or Instagram or donate now.