The fourth annual West Michigan Woman Brilliance Awards took place September 9, 2020, at Egypt Valley Country Club. The free live-streamed event celebrated trailblazers, innovators, mentors and more.
Today, we highlight the top honorees, including the 2020 Woman of the Year—Tasha Blackmon, Chief Executive Officer, Cherry Health.
Brilliant Woman of the Year | Tasha Blackmon
Brilliant Tenacity Top Honoree | Yuka Oba-Muschiana
Brilliant Team Player Top Honoree | Lisa Gustafson
Brilliant Social Change Agent Top Honoree | Keli Christopher, Ph.D.
Brilliant Mentor Top Honoree | Latasha Robertson-Crump
Brilliant Entrepreneur Top Honoree | Mary Reagan Shapton
Brilliant Emerging Leader Top Honoree | Jennifer Fillenworth
Brilliant Connector Top Honoree | Mimi Fritz
Brilliant Champion of Service Top Honoree | Ellie Wilcox
Brilliant Best Supporting Man Top Honoree | Chris Andrus
Brilliant People's Choice Top Honoree | Farah Merhi
Tasha Blackmon, Chief Executive Officer, Cherry Health
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Tasha Blackmon has championed health justice through aggressively disrupting healthcare disparities. In her 15 years at Michigan's largest Federally Qualified Health Center, Blackmon has demonstrated her dynamic and collaborative leadership coupled with her ability to mentor and coach others. Blackmon is a woman who excels because of the amazing team she has beside her. She is committed to serving the community she was born and raised in and is a leader with a servant's heart.
"It's imperative in times like these that we remain resilient and we choose to shine bright and spread hope," Blackmon said, as she thanked her many supporters and accepted the 2020 Woman of the Year Award. "Hope begins with a vision. It's a vision for a better future for our children."
From there, Blackmon stresses that hope must manifest itself into a willingness to change.
"Change so that innocent lives lost—like our native daughter, Breonna Taylor—won't be in vain," Blackmon said. "I feel this community is embracing change and shifting. I have an abiding hope that my beloved hometown is becoming a place where every life is valued."
What Blackmon knows and has seen during the emergence of COVID-19 is that when we work together as a unified committee and community, we harness the power to light up the dark places.
In closing, Blackmon asked those listening in to ponder one question:
"Ask yourself: How am I using my unique skills and gifts to make my community a better place to live?"
To view Blackmon's acceptance speech in its entirety, click here.
Brilliant Woman of the Year Finalists
Georgia Everse | Co-Founder and CEO, BravoEcho Inc.
Maranda | Director of Children and Family Services, WOOD TV8/WOTV
Yuka Oba-Muschiana | Company Member, Grand Rapids Ballet
Currently in her ninth year with Grand Rapids Ballet, Yuka has overcome injuries, personal losses, language barriers, culture shock and professional disappointments to become a principal dancer with Michigan's only professional ballet company. Despite the challenges she initially faced, she persisted, using dance as a way to connect across these barriers. Today, you would never guess the English language was once a source of insecurity. In recent years, Yuka dealt with the death of two close family members, making the long trip home to Japan to pay her respects. Never one to rest on her laurels, she finds ways to push herself by expanding her steps, finding new coaching for her roles, taking on new responsibilities like choreographing and teaching, and always searching for the route to further improvement.
"I take obstacles as a great opportunity to glow. As long as I don't give up, and keep learning, I believe that I can overcome most things in life."
Brilliant Tenacity Finalists
Bobbi Hines | Shareholder, Kreis Enderle Hudgins & Borsos, PC
Theresa Mosley | Owner, Mosley School of Cosmetology
Lisa Gustafson | Executive Director, Customer Experience, Consumers Energy
Throughout Lisa's 40-year journey with Consumers Energy, she's remained a champion for people, leading with a heart of service that ensures the team crosses the finish line together. Lisa offers thoughtful, creative, candid feedback that is always spot on—and always ensures her co-workers feel cared for.
"I love being 'behind the scenes,' planting seeds of ideas and watching people flourish as they run with things."
Brilliant Team Player Finalists
Kathy Bart | Director of Sales and Event Services, ASM Global (DeVos Place)
Shawn Newhouse | Senior Vice President of Traditional Undergraduate Academics, Cornerstone University
Keli Christopher, Ph.D. | Founder/Executive Director, STEM Greenhouse
Keli is the Founder and Executive Director of STEM Greenhouse, a nonprofit organization that fervently believes if you plant the seed in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—aka STEM—and nurture the resulting curiosity, children will flourish! Keli adds her own fifth ingredient, which may be the most important: student mentoring. STEM Greenhouse, under her direction, runs afterschool programs at several Grand Rapids Public Schools and for Camp Blodgett.
"My students are my constant motivator. I want them to have the same opportunities as the children with more resources, role models and experiences."
Brilliant Social Change Agent Finalists
Charmeka (Whitehead) Newton | Psychologist, Pine Rest Mental Health Services
Keyuana Rosemond | FitKids360 Director, Health Net of West Michigan
Latasha Robertson-Crump | CEO and Founder, Girls Growing 2 Women Inc.
Latasha is CEO and Founder of Girls Growing 2 Women, a nonprofit organization for young ladies who are faced with pressures and those who have succumbed to risky behavior outcomes. Her drive and passion are to help them live productive lives in society and in their surrounding communities. Her mission is to assist youth in identifying who they are and provide a safe space, resources, and support that will lead to their fullest potential.
"I know that everyone needs someone, as I was blessed with a major support system. I approach every situation with the thought that I have the chance to be that support system for the young ladies that I mentor and the students that I counsel."
Brilliant Mentor Finalists
Rebecca Dutcher | President & Founder, Red66 Marketing
Michelle McKormick | Morning Show Host, Cumulus Media
Mary Reagan Shapton | President and Founder, Reagan Marketing + Design, LLC
Nearly 30 years ago, Mary set out to take charge of her professional life, launching Reagan Marketing + Design, LLC (RM+D) as a one-woman business. Today, she continues to lead a successful agency that has grown to a team of 28 talented individuals. Over the years, she's been most proud of her ability to bring stakeholders together and help clients develop strategies for what's next in their business—whether it's manufacturing, health care, small business, nonprofit, innovation, digital media or otherwise. What Mary is most proud of, perhaps, is her team's commitment to local organizations that serve our community.
"Starting a new business is a patience game, it's about resiliency and embracing discomfort. It's not being afraid to learn new skills and new industries and managing through financial challenges. At the end of the day, you don't know what you don't know. Most importantly, it's staying true to who you are."
Brilliant Entrepreneur Finalists
Farah Merhi | President/CEO, Inspire Me! Home Decor
Zoraida Sanchez | Owner, Sanchez Income Tax & Translation Services
Jennifer Fillenworth | Personal Chef & Registered Dietitian | Jenny with the Good Eats | Adjunct Instructor, Grand Rapids Community College
Jenn always had a passion for food—from how it's grown to cooking techniques, nutritional content, and how it relates to chronic diseases. She spent several years working as a clinical dietitian before returning to a more hands-on approach to food and nutrition. Over the past few years, she has worked as a freelance culinary dietitian doing recipe development, food photography, and culinary instruction; judging local culinary competitions; writing health and wellness content for nationally known publications; participating in media; and more. Jenn teaches Nutrition and Menu Planning at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education and is a personal chef for Root Functional Medicine. She hopes to show young women interested in culinary arts that they can thrive and trailblaze in this industry.
"Strong leaders excel when the people around them succeed. They never take credit for others' work but rather celebrate the individuals working hard."
Brilliant Emerging Leader Finalists
Faten Baydoun | Founder & CEO, Hibachi Creamery
Tanya Rowerdink, DNP, RN, NP-C, CCD | Director of Specialty Services, Cancer and Hematology Centers of Western Michigan, PC
Mimi Fritz | CEO/President, Grand Rapids Downtown Market
Mimi has facilitated creation of jobs and startup businesses, encouraged small business owners to take a leap of faith and pursue their dreams, and helped many dreams become reality by connecting people with essential resources, including other people and financial resources. The community partnerships she has facilitated have created a powerful support network for the market's diverse community of food entrepreneurs, supporting and guiding the mission to serve small, independent, locally owned food businesses.
"All of invention and innovation are a result of people working together, building on what's been built and making connections. The more people give, the more everyone benefits."
Brilliant Connector Finalists
Michelle Gordon | REALTOR®/Associate Broker/Owner, Great Properties By – The Gordon Group
Becky Puckett-Wood | Vice President, Corporate & Member Engagement, Inforum Michigan
Ellie Wilcox | Senior Director of Leadership Giving, Make-A-Wish Michigan
Ellie carries the torch for many fundraising initiatives that have grown to be record-breaking under her leadership. These funds are vital to the Make-A-Wish mission and without the steadfast efforts under Ellie's leadership, transformational wishes wouldn't be possible for Michigan kids. Through a tough three-year battle with leukemia as a teenager, Ellie realized philanthropy was her passion and purpose for her life. She has worked for Hospice of Michigan, serves the P.O.R.T program at Spectrum Health, and volunteers her time as an AFP mentor to young women entering the nonprofit world in fundraising as well as several other nonprofit organizations.
"I am proud to be a catalyst for children and families to find strength and power in hoping. Through a wish with Make-A-Wish and through my story, I am proud to help provide this hope."
Brilliant Champion of Service Finalists
Rose Spickler | Adjunct Professor, Culinary Institute of Michigan | Marketing Director, West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum | Founder and Executive Director, Muskegon Food Alliance/Muskegon Food Hub
Marissa VanderWeele | Director of Operations, Full Circle Care
Chris Andrus | Owner, The Mitten Brewing Company
Chris is an advocate for everyone he meets. From a small startup, he now runs a $4 million company with 100-plus employees. Chris is a believer in giving back to the community, with more than $250,000 in charitable gifts since 2012. He also helped form the Small Biz 4 Equality, to rally small businesses to work toward expanding the Equality Act to explicitly support LGBTQ+ individuals. He currently supports Hillary Scholten as she runs for congress and heads up her committee.
"We have to make it a priority to honestly evaluate the microaggressions that exist in the workplace. Even the most equity-minded men—myself included—make plenty of mistakes in this regard. It's not just about hiring statistics and equal pay: It's about creating an environment where everyone can be their whole self."
Brilliant Best Supporting Man Top Finalists
Joel Kozlowicz | Facilities Manager, Rockford Construction
Relando Thompkins-Jones | Director of Social Justice Education, Grand Valley State University
Farah Merhi | President/CEO, Inspire Me! Home Decor
Farah started Inspire Me! Home Decor in 2012 and has subsequently grown the brand to include 5.7 million followers, appearances on QVC, features on Forbes and House Beautiful, and be the most-followed home décor page on Instagram. She has designed a home décor collection exclusively designed for QVC and designed and launched her own furniture and rug line on Wayfair.com. Her brand has expanded to the successful inspiremehomedecor.com online business. In 2019, she wrote a book that was a No. 1 best seller on Amazon. In the wake of her success online, Farah will open a retail space in Grand Rapids this year.
"There are a lot of sacrifices, learning experiences and failures before the successes make their way through. Without hard work, passion and drive, it would be hard to get through those obstacles."
Courtesy of West Michigan Woman.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Montgomery, Arrae Photography.