Monthly Archives: April 2013

Charles Sumner Bicentennial

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Charles Sumner is pictured here with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a famous poet, Harvard professor and Sumner’s best friend. (Photos courtesy of Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site)

 

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Charles Sumner, a Harvard-educated abolitionist and statesman, has been honored in a number of bicentennial celebrations this year.

Few people may realize that the statue seated on the traffic island on Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square is a replica of Charles Sumner. Even fewer may know who Sumner was or appreciate his contributions to the abolition of slavery.

Two hundred years after his birth, the Charles Sumner Bicentennial Committee is attempting to revive Sumner’s historical celebrity by promoting his work and educating the public about his civil rights activism.

Since Jan. 6, Sumner’s actual birthday, the committee has held various events to celebrate the life and historical significance of the Harvard-educated abolitionist and Massachusetts statesman. The most recent gathering was the forum held last month at the First Parish Universalist Unitarian Church in Harvard Square.

Spearheaded by the National Park Service, the Bicentennial Committee is comprised of the Boston African American National Historic Site, Cambridge Forum, Friends of the Longfellow House, Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery, Harvard University, Longfellow National Historic Site, Massachusetts Historical Society and the Museum of African American History.

A week before the forum, dozens of supporters gathered in front of the church in the rain for the preliminary dedication to Sumner. Several students from the Haggerty School recited the poem “Charles Sumner,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous poet, Harvard professor and Sumner’s best friend.

Nancy Jones, a park ranger from the Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, in Cambridge, led a ceremony rededicating the Sumner statue, and placed a bouquet of flowers next to the seated figure.

The statue in Harvard Square was designed by Anne Whitney in 1875, but was not installed until the 20th century.

The Boston Art Committee held a national competition for the design of the Charles Sumner memorial statue. All entries were made anonymously and the committee did not realize that a woman sculpted the figure.

When the committee discovered Whitney’s identity, it denied her the award, claiming that “a woman could not properly model a man’s legs.” The prize then went to Thomas Ball, whose statue of Sumner is located in Boston’s Public Garden.

Whitney resumed her project 25 years later and produced a full-size bronze cast statue, which was eventually installed in its current Harvard Square location in 1902.

After the dedication, the crowd poured into the church to hear the panel’s presentation. Three speakers shared biographical information, anecdotes and opinions about Sumner and the political issues dominating the political and social climate of his time.

During the second half of the forum, audience members asked questions about Sumner and his contemporaries.

John Stauffer, Harvard professor of African American studies and Chair of the History of American Civilization, moderated the discussion. The other two panelists included Daniel Coquilette, a Harvard Law School visiting professor, and Beverly Morgan-Welch, executive director of the Museum of African American History in Boston and Nantucket.

The three shared detailed information about Sumner, who was born in Boston and grew up in a multiracial neighborhood in Beacon Hill. Sumner’s father, Charles Pinckney Sumner, was the sheriff of Suffolk County and an ardent anti-slavery activist.

“This is one of the greatest men in U.S. history,” said Coquillette. “Why is he not regarded as such like Lincoln?”

Answering his own question, Coquillette claims that race relations over the years have continued to keep Sumner a divided figure. “Even after nearly two centuries, Sumner is still constantly under attack and his causes are, as well,” he said.

“The Civil War was not about states’ rights,” Coquillette continued. “It was about slavery. And if anyone wants to take me on about this, I am ready.”

The half-joking statement invoked chuckles from the pews. However, no one challenged his claim.

Coquillette went on to describe the notoriously violent altercation between Sumner and South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks. Sumner had made outspoken and insulting remarks about Brooks’ cousin, Sen. Andrew Butler, and his proverbial “mistress,” slavery. In 1856, Brooks severely beat Sumner with his cane on the floor of the United States Senate.

Sumner took three years to recover from his injuries and returned to the senate in 1859. Despite the setback, he resumed his efforts in the anti-slavery movement, garnering the reputation as a rude, outspoken, shrill extremist with radical views on civil liberties.

“The division of North and South was evident that day in the senate,” said Coquillette. “Preston Brooks never went to jail for his violence … he was a coward through and through.”

When asked about the influence of Sumner’s upbringing on the rest of his life, Morgan-Welch underscored the connection between the two.

“Growing up in that integrated community really formed him,” she said. “Blacks in Beacon Hill knew whites of great prominence and helped put them in those very positions of power.”

Coquillette added, “[Sumner] was true to his upbringing and neighborhood. He had exposure to high society, traveled around Europe and spoke many languages, but he never forgot his roots.”

An audience member reiterated the issue of Sumner’s obscure reputation, asking why the public isn’t as familiar with him as with other historical figures.

Coquillette replied, “Charles Sumner is not a household name because what the argument was then continues today. We haven’t confronted it yet. His greatness is tied up in the problems we face today as a divided nation.”

Morgan-Welch agreed, likening the North and South during The Civil War to modern day “blue” and “red” states. “There are still many people who argue how brash and rude the abolitionists were, as though slavery were a good idea. There is still a lot of debate about it.”

Stauffer summed up the discussion by adding, “The respect afforded [Sumner] in Congress contradicts the image of a shrill, unbending, difficult person. He was demonized by many historians, particularly in the South, and is still a controversial figure.”

 

(This article originally appeared in the June 2, 2011 issue of The Bay State Banner.)

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Simmons Leadership Conference 2013

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(Conference schedule. Astrid Lium photos.)

The Simmons Leadership Conference attracted more than 3000 professional women to the Seaport World Trade Center on April 2. Known as the “world’s premier professional conference for women,” the 34th annual gathering marked its 2013 anniversary with a Women of Influence theme.

This year’s panel included an array of speakers from various backgrounds, including:

Greeting the crowd at 8am was master of ceremonies Joyce Kulhawik, long-time broadcaster in Boston and Simmons College alumna.

Following her warm welcome, opening keynote speaker Sallie Krawcheck provided “Leadership Lessons for Women in Business.” The Wall Street executive offered an inside view of the obstacles and opportunities influential women in finance and business face.

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(Leadership Conference luncheon held at the Seaport World Trade Center on April 2.)

The morning and afternoon presentations included a mix of topics and backgrounds. The speakers––including marketing expert Kelly McDonald, Simmons professor and business consultant Stacy Blake-Beard, PhD, and co-authors Lois Frankel, PhD and Carol Frohlinger, JD––displayed their influence in the business world with inspiration, insight, and humor, touching on a number of issues:

  • personal finance
  • communication
  • crisis management
  • multicultural marketing
  • mentoring
  • negotiating

Attendees had the opportunity to meet the presenters during a book signing break, followed by the morning keynote speaker Charlene Li. Author of the bestsellers “Groundswell” and “Open Leadership,” Li is a social media expert and a board member of the Harvard Alumni Association.

Li discussed the importance of social technologies in the rapidly changing world of modern business. She underscored the point throughout her talk that “social media is about relationships, not technology.”

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Li broke divided her talk into three parts:

  • Strategy
  • Organization
  • Preparation

In regard to strategy, she claims that most businesses fail when they lack clear business goals. “Strategy is what you decide to do and not to do,” she said.

In turn, Li set forth six phases of social business maturity.

  1. Planning: develop relationships with your audience, clients, followers. Monitor what people are doing and listen to their feedback. (Example: The American Red Cross monitors social channels during disasters and relief efforts.)
  2. Presence: Stake a claim, take a leap, and engage with others. (Example: Shell tracks its reputation impact on a daily basis.)
  3. Engagement: Dialogue deepens relationships, so it’s best for companies to develop rules for engagement. (Example: Intel’s social media guidelines.)
  4. Formalize: Organize for scale.
  5. Strategy: Become a social business and connect the dots. (Example: Sephora integrates social and digital elements into their community as well as in their stores.)
  6. Transformation: Business is social, and women are particularly social beings.

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(Keynote speaker Charlene Li discusses social media in business.)

 

In regard to organization, Li referred to seven success factors, of which she offered two: planning details and having an initiative road map. She underscored the importance of filtering information. “We have to be parsimonious about what we focus on,” she said. “Choose carefully and let others pass.”

For her third part, Li outlined five ways in which companies can prepare:

  1. Align executives with clear business goals. Translate your social media to their world; don’t force them to understand your social media.
  2. Ask the right questions about value, not return on investment (ROI). (“How many of you calculated the ROI of your time spend at this conference today?” Li asked in jest.)
  3. Create a culture of sharing and build relationships that way.
  4. Master the art of failure. Google’s mantra is “fail fast, fail smart.”
  5. Determine your personal social strategy. Leverage connections and use your networks.

During the Q&A session, the first question came via Twitter. An audience member asked, “How do you deal with online rage?”

Li’s response: “Never feed the trolls. When trolls have no audience, they move on.”

Her final point was social media ubiquity. “I want social media right here all the time,” she said. “It’s so easy to better know people through social media.”

 

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Pipeline Fellowship Promotes Women Investors


(A. Lauren Abele, COO of Pipeline Fellowship, and on the right is Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline.)

Although women constitute a slight majority of the population, they are vastly underrepresented in the business world. The Pipeline Fellowship intends to change all of that.

With Natalia Oberti Noguera at the helm, the Pipeline Fellowship is expanding the business model and changing its dynamic. The hands-on organization focuses on for-profit business ventures with social impact led by women who pitch their startup ideas to a panel of female investors trained by mentors and business experts.

As clearly stated on its homepage, the organization’s mission is to train “women philanthropists to become angel investors through education, mentoring and practice. Fellows commit to invest in a woman-led, for-profit social venture in exchange for equity and a board seat at the end of the training. The Pipeline Fellowship aims to diversify the investor pool and connect women social entrepreneurs with investors who get them.”

Based in New York City, the Pipeline Fellowship has recently expanded into Boston, announcing its 10 fellows in November 2011. The group consists of professional women with varying backgrounds, ranging from education and journalism to law and real estate development. Likely to donate to nonprofit organizations, the fellows have the opportunity through the organization to maintain a focus on social change while investing in for-profit companies, primarily led by women.

“Women-led doesn’t mean women only,” Natalia, founder and CEO of the Pipeline Fellowship, says with a smile. “But I am a big fan of women only.” The 10 fellows each invest $5,000, which is combined and invested in one woman-based for-profit business with a social conscience. The winner is chosen among several applicants and is awarded $50,000 to use for developing her startup. During the six-month process, the fellows are guided by mentors — comprised of successful entrepreneurs and angel investors, both men and women — and taught the basics of choosing and investing in women-based businesses with potential.

At the Boston Pipeline Fellowship Pitch Summit on February 24, nine female entrepreneurs shared their business plans — ranging from home health care to beauty products — with the 10 fellows.

Siiri Morley, founding partner of Prosperity Candle, which creates at-home candle-making business opportunities for women in war torn and post-disaster countries, says that her company is “creating tchotchkes with a cause.” Morley opened her pitch with a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Investing in women isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.”

But providing a platform for women entrepreneurs fulfills only one part of the Pipeline Fellowship’s objective. Natalia primarily focuses on the investing side of business with her organization. Noting that there is no dearth of hybrid entrepreneurs, she underscores the need for more hybrid investors. Claiming that only 12 percent of venture capitalists are women, and a mere 5 percent are racial minorities, Natalia says, “we need to increase diversity in the angel investor sector,” which is what the Pipeline Fellowship is attempting to achieve with its program.

Her intent is to combine the business models — merging of the public and private sectors — and make women-based hybrids a more common alternative. Having heard how difficult the for-profit model is, she notes the binary nature of the traditional business world. “The options are either nonprofit or for-profit,” Natalia says. “But it can be both!”

Without seeking donations or grants, the Pipeline Fellowship aims to create and expand upon a self-sustaining system with a social mission. “We’re combining the business savvy of the corporate world with the heart of the nonprofit world,” says Natalia. “The world really needs more hybrids.”

Deeming herself a hybrid, as well, Natalia explains that she “is very comfortable with ambiguities.” Half-Italian and half-Colombian, the Yale graduate grew up speaking English, Spanish and Italian and later studied French and Russian in school. Her father worked for the United Nations, and the family moved around frequently, which helped Natalia develop her adaptability. With an international, multi-lingual upbringing, she transcends categorization with ease.

Natalia’s parting word of advice: learn a second language, if you haven’t done so already. “It really expands one’s mindset,” she says. “Knowing that there is more than one word for ‘glass’ is very powerful.”

(This article originally appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Exhale magazine.)

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