The Black Women’s Expo offers a road map to financial health, mental health and business success

When Mary Green first decided 28 years ago to organize an exhibition just for black women, she never imagined the huge success it would have.

Working as promotions director for radio station V103, she often organizes events aimed at connecting businesses with black customers. Through this work, she saw an opportunity to create an event just for black women and founded the first Black Women’s Expo in 1993.

The 27th annual Black Women’s Expo took place this weekend, featuring over 400 booths at McCormick Place offering everything from business advice to hair care tips and selling products ranging from clothing to insurance. Sponsors of the show included JP Morgan Chase, Walgreens and Verizon.

“When the show started, we knew we were going to hit something. Women filled the lobby at the first expo and keep coming back year after year,” said Green. “This event really empowers women and gives them a chance to meet people and learn how to do things like grow their businesses and create a community.”

From Friday through Sunday, attendees explored the numerous exhibits and attended sessions that covered topics including health equity, financial assistance for business growth, and mental health.

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

Green said he aims to make the exhibit accessible to everyone. Discount tickets are available at Walgreens, and many of the exhibitors had booths at the show for the first time, Green said.

One of Sunday’s sessions discussed black women’s health, particularly related to gynecology and breast and colon cancer.

Much of the discussion has focused on empowering black women to be their own advocates in the health care system, especially when doctors do not take their concerns seriously.

“In this age of accountability and empowerment for black women … we need to make sure we’re empowered for our health as well,” said Ramona Burress, an equity-focused health executive who moderated the panel. “We always fall into this role of nurturer, but that means we end up putting ourselves last.”

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

It helps ensure that breast cancer patients in recovery have access to all their records, keep up with other routine care and check-ins regularly to catch any cancer recurrences.

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

“It’s so important to find that doctor who will really listen to you and hear what you’re saying when you tell them something’s wrong, something’s wrong. But I know it can be hard to find.

Colon cancer survivor Candace Henley has opened up about what she went through to be diagnosed and the struggles she’s faced since.

Henley was diagnosed six months before she found out she had colon cancer. After a third trip to the emergency room, an emergency colonoscopy revealed a tumor the size of a grape on her colon.

But after surviving cancer, Henley said she was unable to function because of the enormous financial burden that followed. She could no longer do her job as a bus driver for the CTA. She had five daughters to support.

“I became invisible to the health care system,” Henley said.

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

“We have to speak up for ourselves, we have to say we’re not good today,” Henley said. “We have a power we don’t realize we have.”

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

“After hearing all about the financial struggles she went through, I now want to develop a healthcare financing course to help people who may also be dealing with these issues,” Davis said.

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

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

“It was empowering and inspiring. And I learned great information to help me grow my business.”

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