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Women of Influence: Women of Color
Five Tips for Young Career Women
Practicing Kindness
Finding Opportunities and Redemption

in this issue



Five Tips for Young Career Women

Music exec says, “Grab the opportunities and make the most of them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was a double whammy for young women eager to launch their careers.

In general, young people have had their job searches stymied by the recession. Meanwhile, women of all ages have seen their careers impacted negatively more than men by the events of 2020.

Still, there is hope for ambitious young women just starting out who want to make a mark, even in male-centric industries, says Deborah Fairchild, president of Nashville-based VEVA Sound. Fairchild started her career there as an archival engineer in 2004 and rose to lead the company in all facets of the business. She has succeeded in an industry in which women are still underrepresented.

For example, a 2019 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative looked at 700 popular songs and found that women accounted for only 21.7% of artists, 12.5% of songwriters and 2.7% of producers.

It’s not going to be easy, Fairchild says. “But if you can avoid becoming discouraged and can face the world with firm determination, the opportunities will be there.”

Understanding the challenges today’s young women face, Fairchild offers a few tips for those who are just now launching their careers and hope to move up in their organizations.

1. Pay Your Dues

When I started as an intern at a studio, I did everything they asked — even clean toilets,” Fairchild says. “To pursue a professional career in the music industry, you have to be prepared to pay your dues, starting at the bottom and working your way up.”

This likely applies to all industries.

2. Learn from Everyone

Formal education is great, and it’s wonderful to have a college degree, but once you’re on the job, you will discover how much more there is to learn from watching and listening to other people, Fairchild says. Just about anyone in an organization — from the lowest-paid employee to the CEO — has skills or knowledge they can share with you that will prove useful in your career journey.

“Whenever you meet someone,” she says, “always assume they have something to teach you, until they prove they don’t.”


3. Networking is Key, but Not the Key

“A strong network will give you opportunities,” Fairchild says, “but your knowledge and capabilities will be what give you a long-lasting career.”

Who you know is important; so is what you know.

4. Know When to Pivot

At every stage of your career, stay sensitive to when it’s time to pivot, Fairchild says.

“The interesting thing about the music industry is that some things take generations to change, while others change on a dime,” she says. “The ability to discern when to move on or when to double down will set you apart.”

5. Stay Positive and Persevere

“The pandemic has made things tough for those just trying to launch a career, which means it’s more important than ever to stay positive and persevere,” Fairchild says. “Grab the opportunities that are there, and then make the most of them.”


Deborah Fairchild, president of Nashville-based VEVA Sound (, started her career there as an archival engineer in 2004. In the past 16 years, she has risen to lead the company, servicing major labels in North America and Europe and establishing offices in New York, Los Angeles and London.

Intentional Living

Living intentionally is often elusive. It involves navigation, choice, compromise and a drive to move forward in the face of setbacks as well as successes.

In honor of Black History Month, we salute women of color who have become household names. In addition to these iconic females, we salute seven local women of color who are building their legacies on the foundation of Southwest Florida’s greater good.

We also explore things young women just starting out might consider: thought-provoking tips that just might make the upward climb a bit more comfortable.

As for women who have endured that vertical trek, we provide conversations with two of the extraordinary female presenters of the upcoming Imagine Solutions conference, brilliantly reconfigured as a virtual experience this year.

A key factor to practicing kindness and compassion is first being grateful. We share a bit about how students at FGCU are learning to make kindness a way of life.

And for those who are a little itchy about surviving in the great indoors, our Entertainment Spotlight shines its light on The Naples Players’ production of “Footloose: The Musical,” to be presented outdoors at Naples Baker Park.

With this chapter of èBella èXtra, we hope to inspire intentional living for us all.  

Practicing Kindness

Being schooled in compassion leads to grace

By Kathy Grey

Countless memes on social media urge us to choose kindness and gratitude. Although kindness is a choice, it involves more than deciding to be grateful. Gratitude, like a muscle, must be exercised regularly.

So compelling is the scientific evidence that gratitude and kindness produce benefits to physical, psychological and societal wellness, Florida Gulf Coast University offers more than a dozen courses around these topics. And as they pursue lifelong success, university students learn that compassion is as important as attaining the highest academic degree.

Journaling Gratitude

A common denominator in FGCU’s courses in contemplative studies is keeping a gratitude journal. Students are asked each day to record five things they are grateful for — hopefully before they go to sleep.

Maria Roca, chair of FGCU’s Department of Integrated Studies, uses this journaling discipline with her students, as do most instructors who report to her.

“Gratitude, at the end of the day, shifts the whole perspective,” she says. It’s also widely known to improve sleep.

“(Students) start the week out wondering how they’re going to find five things to write about, and they end up with pages!”

Ultimately, Roca says, students realize they have more control over how they see the world than they give themselves credit for.

Francesca Donlan teaches FGCU’s Kindness Effect, a course that has attracted a lot of publicity since its fall 2019 inception. She starts students off with this statement:

“There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of gratitude. Studies have found that giving thanks and counting blessings can help people sleep better, lower stress and improve interpersonal relationships. It can also give us hope.”


Donlan is inspired by the work of Robert Emmons, considered the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. Emmons advocates gratitude journaling in his courses at the University of California, Davis.


Emmons’ studies reveal that people who regularly practice gratitude report lower levels of blood pressure and aches and pains. They sleep longer and feel more refreshed, outgoing and less isolated. They experience joy, hope, generosity, kindness and forgiveness. 

Societal Impact

FGCU instructor Julianna Griffin teaches Contemplative Writing and is a key contributor to FGCU’s Roots of Compassion and Kindness (ROCK) project.

Griffin’s students work with San Carlos Elementary School first-graders, who, developmentally, begin to shift away from being fully kind and giving.

It’s the aim of FGCU freshmen to plant seeds of compassion that grow into roots of kindness in the young children that extend to the world around them. Here, too, FGCU students realize the power of kindness and grace as they share it with the community’s next generation.

Why should a university offer “soft touch” courses on kindness, inclusion and respect? Because bathing in compassion — so desperately needed in the world — is key to the success of future generations.


Women of Influence: Women of Color

Saluting the impact of powerful Black women among us

by Kathy Grey


Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm, Maya Angelou, Sojourner Truth, Michelle Obama, Diahann Carroll, Rosa Parks, Stacey Abrams, Oprah Winfrey, Kamala Harris, Gabby Douglas, Sydney Barber and Amanda Gorman.

They are poets and performers, members of the military and of the media, awarded athletes, freedom fighters and political pioneers who broke barriers of omnipresent oppression to set their signatures in indelible ink. These Black women are American household names.

Among us here in Southwest Florida, stand women of color who, perhaps against the odds, are making great impressions on society in their own right. Here, we present a few words about just a few of these extraordinary women.

Tasheekia Perry-Harris

Having overcome great hardship earlier in life, Tasheekia Perry-Harris harnessed her resilience to inspire positive growth in the lives of young people, primarily, but in adults as well.

Perry-Harris is the founder of Crowning Daughters for Success Enrichment Program ( She spends her days customizing development workshops for groups that seek her motivational message.

The cornerstone of her presentations involve healthy self-esteem, self-image and proper social etiquette. She works with youth organizations throughout Southwest Florida, public schools and organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County and Our Mother’s Home … empowering one life at a time.

Diana Riley Swinging with Purpose

Combining her love of community and golf, Diana Riley launched Swinging With Purpose ( in 2012 to generate funds and support for Southwest Florida grassroots charities focused on the needs of women, girls and children.

Charitable beneficiaries are vetted through a formal grant process every year. These grass-roots organizations have been the recipients of the more than $1 million in monetary and in-kind contributions raised by Swinging With Purpose since its inception. Every dollar benefits women, girls and children in the community.

Riley hesitates to take credit for the organization’s success.

“I have this amazing village that shares the commitment,” Riley emphasizes. Her small, all-female board of directors — plus volunteers and members of the community — “fall in love with” the organization and its mission, Riley says. ​

“None of this happens without them.”

Dr. Chanetta Campbell-Brunson

The tragedy runs through her mind, and her children’s minds, all the time. In 2007, Dr. Chanetta Campbell-Brunson’s husband, James “Boosie” Brunson, died in a car accident on I-75 on his way to work.

A year after his death, and to honor the man he was (“a coach to some and stranger to none”), Campbell-Brunson founded The Brunson Foundation Corporation ( The nonprofit provides scholarships of $500 to $5,000 “to those most in need, and those who want to continue their education” in Lee County, she says.

“We are committed to empowering young people with these scholarships.” 

Depending on special events and outreach efforts, the foundation’s annual giving varies.

“In our 10th year, we gave out $10,000 to scholarships,” she says.

Campbell-Brunson owns a private company, launched after she cared for her mother through terminal illness the year after “Boosie” died. She transports the elderly to the grocery store, medical appointments and errands.

But, as she says, “I’m getting older.”

Ultimately, she would like to create a transition plan for The Brunson Foundation Corporation.

“My kids are younger, with new ideas, ambition and energy. I want the younger generation to take the lead,” Campbell-Brunson says, adding that she’ll always be involved in the organization, but in a more behind-the-scenes capacity.

Her proudest moments with the foundation have been announcing scholarships.

“I get tears in my eyes when they say they never thought they’d go to college,” she says. My husband left a legacy here, and we’re continuing this.” 

Barbara Melvin

“We have the bond of a community. If we can help someone, we are going to try, and we are going to do it with love and laughter.”


Those are the words of Barbara Melvin, a bank executive who has a knack of connecting people with the resources they need. Having served on 12 nonprofit boards, she and her husband, Daniel, an entertainer, started The Party with a Purpose Foundation ( seven years ago to connect people with charitable organizations in the community.

Party with a Purpose is the result of the couple postponing their September anniversary and birthdays to October each year, so they can have a party that raises money for local charities and people in need.  

As Melvin puts it, “We are like the auntie and uncle who help everybody.”

Cotrenia Hood

A business and economic development careerist, Cotrenia Hood served as vice president of business development at the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce for six years and the nonprofit, Youth Haven, for three, knowing that she eventually wanted to own her own business.

She founded Steel Bleu (, a consulting firm that focuses on the entrepreneurial journey. (“Steel” because of its indestructibility, and “Bleu,” the French spelling of “blue,” her favorite color, and a nod to her Louisiana roots.)

It was in Louisiana, supporting recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina, that her journey began.

“It changed the trajectory of my life,” Hood says. “I decided to live ‘on purpose … waking up loving what I do (and doing it) for the rest of my life.”

She learned the ins and outs of raising capital for non- and for-profit businesses — many of them minority-owned — sharing methods for launching other people’s dreams in unique ways.

Her purpose-driven life is all about providing opportunities to diversify businesses in Southwest Florida, drawing from the area’s existing infrastructure to bring about equity.

Marie Capita

As the executive director of a student-run food company in Immokalee, Marie Capita is dedicated to bringing innovation to the table.

Six years ago, Taste of Immokalee ( was born out of a job-readiness program for students in the community. Today, it’s a student-operated food business that produces sauces and salsas from the town’s bounty. Sold in 240 stores from Tampa to the Florida Keys, the goods generate revenue for teen workforce training and Immokalee nonprofits.

First and foremost, however, Capita sees that the organization she built with the help of a village is about instilling confidence, grit and independence in young people.

Tamika Seaton

What makes Tamika Seaton powerful, she says, is her ability to at once blend in and stand out, making connections with people from all walks of life.

Naples locals might remember her as the 2012-2014 spokesperson for former mayor John Sorey.

“Some people asked how I got my job,” Seaton says. “People were so surprised that an African American woman would speak for the mayor.”

Around that time, she launched a side business, Naples Image Consultants (, to help people prepare their look for important meetings and occasions.


But image is more than appearance, and several years later, she reignited the business as a public relations and marketing organization.

Recently, Seaton created virtual events for Dress for Success SW Florida (“Recycled Night in Black & White”) and the MLK Prayer Breakfast. Both organizations were stunned that the virtual events raised more funds than they would have in person.

Now living in Estero, the mother of two, ages 20 and 16, also works in support of kids in the juvenile justice system.

“I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. There were times I was uncertain about the future and how I was going to navigate my way out.”

She found her way out, another reason why she at once blends in and stands apart from the crowd.

‘Everybody cut, everybody cut!’

‘Everybody cut, everybody cut!’

“Footloose: The Musical” comes to Naples’ Baker Park

by Kathy Grey

The Naples Players’ alternative, outdoor season of events comes to a close with the production of “Footloose: The Musical,” live and outdoors at Naples’ Baker Park Feb. 25 through March 7.

With new songs augmenting the memorable hits from its bestselling Oscar-nominated score, “Footloose” celebrates the exhilaration of youth, the wisdom of listening to one another, and the power of forgiveness.

Directed and choreographed by the well-known husband-and-wife duo, Dawn Lebrecht Fornara and Charles Fornara, the cast is led by local artists, Adam Fasano and Lindsey Walsh, both of whom were cast in The Naples Player’s 2019 summer musical “Mamma Mia!” The supporting cast includes TNP veteran performers, Bret Poulter and Tina Moroni. 

“Continuing to provide opportunities for our community to safely experience the arts has been a challenge, to say the least, but we’ve been able to safely produce magnificent shows and “Footloose” in Baker Park will be a great bookend on this outdoor season,” says TNP Executive Artistic Director and CEO Bryce Alexander.

To alleviate the concern and spread of COVID-19, patrons are asked to bring their own outdoor seating and are required to maintain social distance from other parties. Volunteers and staff will be onsite to help mark specific seating circles in the grass for each party. VIP tickets will have socially distanced seating arranged for them. Digital playbills will be provided via email or download at the event to read on smartphones or tablets.

If You Go…

Who: The Naples Players
What: “Footloose: The Musical” 
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25-27 and March 3-6
2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28 and Sunday March 7
Where: Baker Park, Naples
Tickets: $45 general admission; $60 VIP
Info:; 239-263-7990


“Relentlessly consume new ideas, alternative points of view, and opposing opinions”


This lesson is a key to success for Jim McDermott, founder of McDermott explains how this philosophy helps spur some of the best business ideas.


Continue learning from world-renowned entrepreneurs and CEOs with the NextGen Speaker Series. Register now for the Feb. 26 interactive virtual event with Joel Anderson, CEO of Five Below at

Screenshot 2021-02-16 103518.jpg

If You Go…

What: Imagine Solutions Conference 2021

When: 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 22 to Wednesday, Feb. 24 and Monday,
March 1 to Wednesday, March 3
Where: Online

Finding Opportunities and Redemption

The women of Imagine Solutions lend their talents to create a better world

by Julia Browning

Each year, the Imagine Solutions Conference brings together incredible speakers who share ideas about creating a better world. This year is no exception, despite the fact that COVID-19 is sending the conference online.

Here, we highlight two women who will be speaking at the conference. They each tell their personal stories to inspire solutions.

Cecilia Conrad.jpg

Celia Conrad

Solving World Crises: Celia Conrad

Ending homelessness. Cleaning up the oceans. Eradicating diseases.

These aren’t merely the optimistic whims of altruistic dreamers, but concrete plans being put forth through Lever of Change, a branch of the MacArthur Foundation that helps fund projects that creatively tackle society’s biggest issues.

Lever of Change CEO Cecilia Conrad feels she has the most fun job in the organization. First identifying creative thinkers and problem-solving organizations with big ideas, she helps create convincing proposals to seek funding from the nation’s greatest philanthropists to support them.

“My job is to make it really hard for the person who makes the (funding) decision,” Conrad says with a warm laugh. “I want to get such compelling ideas in front of them that maybe, every once in a while, they’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll fund them all.’” 

Because of Conrad’s background, both personally and academically, she’s well aware of the impact financial support can have on opportunity. As a celebrated economics professor and administrator at Pomona College in Claremont, California, Conrad studied the effects of race and gender on economic status.

“One of the things that attracted me to economics was a concern about the inequality that was quite visible growing up in the segregated South,” Conrad says. “It was visible on two levels: what I had access to as an African American child versus what I could see other people had access to, and inequality within the community I was a part of, because my family was relatively well off.”

As Conrad approached a very comfortable space in her academic career, she began thinking about what to do with the next half of her life and sought a space where she could help activate change within the issues she studied.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in the wealth of the wealthiest people in the U.S.” Conrad says. “But those people are expressing an interest in giving that money back to communities, and they need help, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Always a Next Chapter: Molly Bloom

By the end of the 2017 movie, “Molly’s Game,” based on the memoir of Molly Bloom, viewers witness Bloom suffer an incredible injury and lose her shot at the Olympics, infiltrate L.A.’s innermost circle of celebrities, start her own poker games with buy-ins as high as $250,000, then be beaten and threatened at gunpoint by a mobster, arrested by the FBI and becoming a tabloid sensation, risking jail time … and ultimately find redemption.

Now, post “Molly’s Game,” Bloom speaks to people across the world to teach them that redemption is available to them if they’re willing to work for it.

“It has been an incredible experience and opportunity to share this story,” she says. “I hope people walk away from this knowing that, as human beings, we can start over anytime we want. There's always that second chance: that transformation, that reinvention.”

In “Molly’s Game,” Bloom comes off as ambitious, resilient, of good morals and, overall, fearless. She tends to disagree with the last part.

“The truth is that I am not fearless at all,” she says. “As a young girl and throughout my entire life, I’ve struggled from time to time with some pretty crippling anxiety.”

For Bloom’s next project, she’s writing a second book that continues the story of her life and details her process for using meditation as a tool for overcoming fear, depression and anxiety.

She also has an app in the works that will include a game-like feature to help people stay motivated to continue their healthy habits, such as meditation.

“I just hope that my story provides proof for people who are struggling, that they’re just not there yet,” Bloom says. “You can change and have a second chance. Be kind to yourself and believe in yourself.”

Molly Bloom.jpg

Molly Bloom


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