Black Women’s Expo offers a roadmap for financial health, mental wellness, and business success

When Merry Green decided for the first time 28 years ago to hold a black ladies-only show, she would have never guessed the huge success it would be.

She worked as promotions manager for the radio station V103, often organizing events aimed at connecting businesses with black clients. Through this work, she saw an opportunity to create an event for black women only and founded the first black women’s fair in 1993.

The 27th annual Black Women’s Expo takes place this weekend, featuring more than 400 booths in McCormick Place offering everything from business advice to hair care advice and selling products ranging from clothing to insurance. Among the show’s sponsors are JPMorgan Chase, Walgreens, and Verizon.

“When the show took off, we knew we had achieved something. Women fill the lobby of the first gallery, and they keep coming back year after year,” Green said. “This event really empowers women and gives them a chance to meet people and learn how to do things like grow their business and create a community. ”

From Friday to Sunday, participants explored the many fairs and attended sessions that covered topics including health equity, financial aid for business development and mental wellness.

“This show not only gives women information, it also gives them confidence,” Green said. “Women come to me and thank me for doing this and tell me it has changed their lives.”

Green said she aims to make the exhibition more accessible to anyone. Discount tickets are available at Walgreens, Green said, and several exhibitors had booths at the show for the first time.

One session on Sunday discussed the health care of black women, particularly with regard to gynecology and breast and colon cancer.

Much of the discussion focused on empowering black women to become their own advocates within the health care system, especially when clinicians don’t take their concerns seriously.

“In an age of accountability and empowerment for black women… we need to make sure we are also empowered over our health,” said Ramona Porres, a healthcare executive focused on equity, who moderated the session. “We always fall into that patronizing role, but that means we end up putting ourselves last.”

One of the panelists was Donna Christian Harris, a practicing nurse who specializes in breast cancer at the University of Chicago Medical Center and works on “survival” with patients.

They help make sure that breast cancer patients who recover have access to all of their records, stay up to date on other routine care and regularly check for recurring cancers.

“I’ve had several patients who tell me they haven’t been listened to by doctors and have been burned in the past,” Sandra Laveau, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Chicago, said during the session.

“It is very important that you find a doctor who will actually listen to you and hear what you have to say when you tell them that something is off, that something is wrong. But I know it can be hard to find.”

Candice Henley, a colon cancer survivor, spoke about what she went through until being diagnosed and the hardships she dealt with in the aftermath.

Henley was misdiagnosed for six months before she found out she had colon cancer. After a third trip to the emergency room, an emergency colonoscopy discovered a grape-sized polyp in his colon.

But after she survived cancer, Henley said she couldn’t work because of the huge financial burden that followed. She can no longer do her job as a CTA bus driver. She had five daughters to support.

“It became invisible in the health care system,” Henley said.

Now, Henley works with the Blue Hat Foundation, a local group that helps colon cancer patients and their families.

“We need to talk about ourselves, we need to say we’re not feeling well today,” Henley said. “We have power we don’t realize we have.”

Sandra Davis, a realtor and financial advisor, was in the audience and said she was particularly inspired by Henley’s story.

“Having heard all about her financial hardships, I now want to develop a course on healthcare financing to help people who may also be dealing with these issues,” Davis said.

Davis attended the show to seek advice on growing her Wealth Equity, Wealth Justice business.

“It was amazing to explore the booths and also come to these sessions and hear real stories from real women,” Davis said.

“He has been a source of strength and inspiration. I learned some great information to help me and to help grow my business.”

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