Big Names and Small Business Honored for Innovations

Center for Business Inclusion and Diversity. | 5/17/2012, 4:56 p.m.

100 Join Mid-AtlanticTop MBEs

Eileen Rivera Ley knows what it means to go ahead and start a business for which an urgent need exists. When she and her husband, Thomas Ley, both of whom are legally blind, recognized the necessity to help businesses to better serve customers who have disabilities, they decided to create a business that does that: Ley & Associates, LLC. On Friday, they were chosen by judges as one of the Top 100 Minority Business Enterprises for 2012 in the Mid-Atlantic.

"We asked ourselves, 'What can we do that other businesses can't do?'" Ley said. "I feel as if Tom and I have been specifically charged and prepared to try to make a difference in this way."

Recognizing entrepreneurs for having the audacity to create something new was, indeed, the purpose behind the 6th annual Top 100 MBE Awards Ceremony & Reunion, which took place Friday, May4 at the Marriott Inn and Conference Center in Adelphi, Maryland. The yearly event, sponsored by The Center for Business Inclusion and Diversity, rewards and recognizes trailblazers who represent the growing contributions of women- and minority-owned businesses to the area's economies and communities.

Honorees for 2012 ranged from celebrities and established achievers to upstart successes, including a former member of the Original Harlem Globetrotters who now runs programs to teach life skills to at-risk children; the Comptroller of Maryland; the Mayor of Baltimore; the president of a national organization of female CEOs; the founder of a chain of food stores serving Korean-American and other recent immigrant communities. The entrepreneurs judged as the 100 most successfully innovative small business owners operate in the entire Mid-Atlantic area, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia. (Next year, the awards will be expanded to also include Ohio.)

The annual event was hosted by Sharon Pinder, CEO of Center for Business Inclusion and Diversity, along with guest MCs Sheila Brooks, CEO of SRB Communications, and a 2009 Top 100 MBE winner; and Troy Johnson of WHUR-FM. They highlighted the power of women- and minority-owned enterprises in jump-starting economic growth. The program also brought some entertaining surprises to the hundreds who filled the Conference Center theatre.

Basketball celebrity Charles "Choo" Smith, who retired from the Original Harlem Globetrotters to build Choo Smith Enterprises and an affiliated nonprofit serving young people, shed his suit jacket to grab a basketball and dazzle the crowd with a spectacular show of fancy dribbling and trick passing. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in accepting her award with a personal tribute to her own role models, also surprised everyone by announcing that MBE Awards Founder Sharon Pinder, who has long championed minority business in Maryland, will join the Mayor's administration as Director of a new Women- and Minority Owned Business Office designed to strengthen growth and equality in the city's economy. And Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a forceful advocate for opportunities for women and minority businesses, found himself suddenly called onstage to raffle off free airline tickets to some lucky attendees.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Comptroller Franchot were winners of the MBE 2012 Legacy in Leadership Award for their vision, innovation, and guidance in making the business case for diversity. Dr. Marsha Firestone, founder and CEO of the Women Presidents' Organization, and Sung Kil Lee, CEO of Lotte Plazas, a national chain of food stores headquartered in Maryland, both received this year's Business Legend Award. Arnold Jolivet, Managing Director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, and Roger Campos, CEO of the Minority Business Roundtable, won the 2012 Parren J. Mitchell Vanguard for Justice Award, named for the late civil rights and legal fairness pioneer. Kenneth Clark, CEO of the Maryland/DC Minority Supplier Development Council, received the 2012 Advocacy Award. Charles "Choo" Smith, the former Harlem Globetrotter and now CEO of Choo Smith Enterprises, was this year's winner of the Prestige Award for his inspiration on and off the basketball court.