Fresh from headlines over belittling comments made about her hair last week by Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly, which drew widespread condemnation, veteran civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., will kick off this year’s Black Women’s Expo.
Waters, one of the most powerful black women in American politics, a ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services and past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, will keynote the Expo’s Phenomenal Woman Awards Gala on Thursday night at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, which honors 10 Chicago women leaders.
Now the longest-running expo of its kind, the 23rd annual family-focused event is expected to draw more than 30,000 attendees from 14 states to McCormick Place Friday through Sunday for three days of workshops, seminars and forums drawing businesses and vendors targeting black consumers.
Featuring a host of national speakers and experts on topics from entrepreneurship and finance to career advancement and health and wellness, the experiential expo features highlights such as “Stand Your Ground,” a two-hour town hall on Saturday in which a diverse panel will tackle the burning issue of criminal justice reform; a Teen Summit; conversations with celebrities such as actress Vivica Fox; and entertainment including gospel great CeCe Winans, R&B artist K. Michelle and local hip-hop artist Dreezy.
With 27 years in the U.S. House, Waters, who also sits on the House Steering & Policy Committee and Congressional Progressive Caucus, has been a fiery and outspoken advocate on issues confronting people of color, women and inner cities, and as such, she has been a frequent critic of President Donald Trump.
She ended up in the crosshairs of the controversial Fox TV talk show host after a speech on March 28. O’Reilly said on the “Fox and Friends” morning show: “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.” The comment drew laughter, and when chided by another host, O’Reilly doubled down, saying, “It’s the same hair James Brown, the ‘Godfather of Soul’ had.”
The comments, called sexist and racist by many, were quickly denounced across sectors. Speaking at the Professional Women’s Conference in Los Angeles the same day, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called it “a racist joke,” adding, “too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride.”
O’Reilly — who currently faces the loss of 40 advertisers after a New York Times report disclosed he and Fox News have settled $13 million in lawsuits with five women accusing him of sexual harassment or verbal abuse — quickly apologized.
Waters thus far has declined to respond to the comments, but she is expected to do so before an audience primarily made up of black women. She told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on March 28: “I’m not going to be put down. I’m not going to go anywhere. I’m going to stay on the issues.”
Being honored with Phenomenal Woman Awards this year are Chicago Police Board President Lori E. Lightfoot; Lisa Rollins of the United Negro College Fund; Barbara Bates of the Barbara Bates Foundation; Diane Latiker of Kids Off The Block; Rona Fourte of Walgreens Corp.; Debra Vines of The Answer, Inc.; Jolinda Wade of New Creation Binding & Loosing Ministries; Cosette Yisrael of LUV Institute; Toi Salter of Salter Financial Management; and Jerline Lambert of Lambert’s Realty.
More information can be found at www.theblackwomensexpo.com.