Angelou, local women honored for leadership

Renowned poet Maya Angelou urged a Charlotte audience Saturday to “be ashamed if we die before we can do some great favor for humanity.”

Angelou, who recently turned 80, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the sixth annual Maya Angelou Women Who Lead luncheon at the Westin Charlotte hotel.

The event, which drew 700 men and women, raises money for the United Negro College Fund. It also honored four local women for their achievements.

As part of the group's annual “HAT-ti-tude” contest, most women wore festive hats featuring feathers, ribbons and flowers in bright colors of green, pink, red, purple and yellow. Winners, in categories such as unique, sassy, original and whimsical, included a black hat with white polka dots and a “Lion King”-like African mask.

Angelou sang “This Little Light of Mine,” recited poetry and spoke of her pride about being a black woman.

“If I wasn't a black woman,” she told the audience of mostly African American women, “I would ask the Lord, ‘What did I do wrong?'”

At a news conference before her speech, Angelou said she worries about “leaving the world” in such a poor state, filled with “blood lust and racial intolerance. … I wish we had done better.”

She had supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in her bid to be the Democratic nominee for president, but “when she stepped down, I stepped down and across” to support Sen. Barack Obama. “I think we'll have a better world.”

Angelou said her latest project, a book called “Letter to My Daughter,” will be published this fall. “I delivered only one child, a son, but I have daughters by the thousands, and I love you all.”

The book will include advice, such as: “That may be the trend, but your hair isn't doing anything for you;” “Lose some of that weight;” and “Say ‘no' sometimes.”

The four women honored at Saturday's luncheon were:

Carol Lilly, founder and president of Lil Associates II, a construction consulting firm that helps construction projects meet goals for hiring businesses owned by minorities and women.

Barbara McKay, longtime Charlotte TV and radio personality who co-hosted WBTV's “Top O' the Day” for 23 years and now publishes two magazines and hosts a cable television show.

Vanessa Mitchell, founder of Ladies Leaving a Legacy Luncheon, an extension of the foundations she and her husband started to help students attend historically black colleges and universities.

Beatrice Thompson, a Charlotte broadcaster for three decades, starting at WBTV as the first African American female news anchor. She is now news and public affairs director at WBAV-FM radio.

Three “young leaders” were also honored: Charlotte City Council member Anthony Foxx and his wife, Samara Foxx; and Charlotte broadcaster Steve Crump.

Crystal Crump of Raleigh also received a $5,000 scholarship to attend Johnson C. Smith University.