The 2022 Brilliance Awards, an annual celebration of the dynamic talent, spirit and intellect of those who tackle issues facing professional women, took place May 12 at the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.
As the West Michigan Woman community gathered once more for an evening filled with awards, drinks, dining and music, we were reminded of the many inspiring stories of the women and men within the community who truly elevate others and blaze trails of inspiration.
The successes of local women and men were honored across 10 categories, with nominees including top executives, business owners, emerging leaders, team players, mentors, connectors and social change agents. Three finalists, and eventually a top honoree, for each category were carefully selected from nearly 400 nominations—making 2022 a record-breaking year.
"It's impossible to tire of hearing the incredible amount of diverse and inspiring stories from so many of our community trailblazers," said Kasie Smith, President and Publisher of West Michigan Woman. "We're proud to once again host an event that shines a light on the incredible work being done right here in our own backyard by local leaders who are steadfast in their commitment to better the world around them. We hope that by hearing their experiences, wisdom and optimism for what's possible, you also feel inspired to create change or start something new."
The energy of the room was palpable, leaving everyone in attendance inspired and ready to change the world, much like our brilliant 2022 finalists and top honorees. Keep reading to meet them all.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Shannon Cohen, Inc.
When you meet Shannon Cohen, the 2022 Brilliance Awards Woman of the Year, it doesn't take long to be struck by her incredibly intuitive ability to weave words and experiences to connect with and uplift others—to make them feel truly seen.
A self-professed "hope dealer," Cohen is the Founder and CEO of Shannon Cohen, Inc., which curates products, spaces and experiences that nourish human souls. Her products have been featured nationwide at Target, Meijer and West Elm.
"All my life, I've built transformative movements from nothing," said Cohen, who started her business in her basement, created a blog during maternity leave that morphed into a best-selling book, and launched a podcast with subscribers spanning 12 countries. "My life's work not only centers the career advancement and wellness of women in leadership, but also creating safe spaces for women to gather and discuss openly what they navigate behind their titles, smiles and roles."
Cohen is passionate about advancing the emotional health and wellness of women and difference makers in the community.
"My heart beats for the ways in which the strength of women who are high functioning and high achieving renders them invisible," Cohen said. "We assume that if the work of her hands is great, she must be fine. And I don't know about y'all, but there have been times where I slay and struggle at the same time. And so a lot of our work speaks to that."
Cohen, who is a proud mother and wife, is also founder of the global Rockstar Woman™ Brunch Experience, serving 600 women throughout the U.S. and Canada annually.
"I started the brunch because I grew weary, quite honestly, of going to spaces that were built as 'women empowerment spaces,' and being the first and quite often the only in the room," Cohen said, noting 88% of the event's vendors are women of color. "I decided, what would it look like to build a space for women, by women, from supply chain all the way to ideation and implementation? What would it look like to build a space that looked like the community that I lived in, that was multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-generational?"
Through her multiple triumphs and learning experiences, Cohen believes the best gift a woman can give another is the benefit of her wisdom, without the pain.
"That's the type of leader I seek to be," she said. "I don't just talk about my mountain tops. I'm really honest about the tumbles and the falls and the moments that were cliffs that didn't feel like launchpads. I recognize that everyone has aspirations, ambition and wellness goals ... and there's not one path. I'm very mindful that while aspirations are universal, pathways are custom. I'm always looking for ways to help walk alongside other people in figuring out their path and hopefully being able to use my own as a catalyst."
One way Cohen does this is through offering paid internships and employment to young women. She works to be a mentor just like many have been for her in return.
"I'm really grateful for mentors and also for truth tellers, because sometimes I'm getting it wrong. And I need mentors who can hold up a mirror that will speak truth to me and help me course correct," she said.
In everything she does, Cohen seeks to offer hope and intentionally make a difference, personally and professionally.
"Being honored as Woman of the Year is further proof that I'm living out my life mantra that strength is for
service, not status," Cohen said. "Above all, I view being awarded this honor as a charge to continue to
pioneer pathways and to invest in the capacity of other women within the West Michigan community to soar!"
An inspiration to others, Cohen undoubtedly possesses a unique vibrancy that's truly all her own.
Woman of the Year Finalists:
Krista Flynn, PNC | Julie Towner, Rockford Construction
BEST SUPPORTING MAN
Health Net of West Michigan
Ryan Podvin, Mary Free Bed | Gary Raterink, CPA, Wedgwood Christian Services
Veverly Austin, MBA, MA
Veverly Austin Enterprises | Confident Wear
Mariah DeYoung, LMSW, CAADC, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services | Laurel Romanella, Laurel & Co.
Ashley René Lee
Grand Rapids Community Foundation
Lynnette Collins, Steelcase | Kate Landis, The Landis Agency
BRILLIANT EMERGING LEADER
Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce
Allyson Huttenga, Harbor Humane Society | Emily Quellet, DeHaan Homes
BRILLIANT SOCIAL CHANGE AGENT
Nisha McKenzie PA-C, CSC, NCMP, IF
Women's+ Health Collective
Colleen Lane, MD, Spectrum Health | Monique Salinas, Ph.D., The Empowerment Institute
BRILLIANT CHAMPION OF SERVICE
Dr. Kimberly Y. Kennedy-Barrington
100 Shades of Diverse Abilities L3C
Ingrid Aguayo-Fuentealba, Michigan State University, Puertas Abiertas | Abigayle Sladick, Priority Health
Diana Bitner, MD, NCMP, FACOG, True. Women's Health | Paola Carlson, Pochis Sweet Designs
Revive & Thrive Project
Nikeidra Battle-DeBarge, Wedgwood Christian Services | Elizabeth Eardley, Crossroads Eldercare Options
BRILLIANT TEAM PLAYER
Margie Witbeck, CAP
Gerald R. Ford International Airport
Michelle Ball, CBSP, West Michigan Works! | Jennifer Kimball James, Kent County
PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD
Colleen Lane, MD
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul '22 issue of West Michigan Woman.