Janie Sykes-Kennedy is a 40-year veteran of international media and culture. President of Sykes-Kennedy & Associates, Inc. since 1984, she has produced marketing materials, written articles, and books, and served as consultant to various corporations, organizations and individuals. As an actress, journalist and business executive, she has worked and performed in cities throughout the U.S., Africa, Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. In the 1950’s, she and her husband, Dr. James Scott Kennedy, owned and operated one of the first multicultural theatre companies in New York City. In the early ‘60’s, she operated ID: Inner Dignity in Brooklyn, New York – a learning center focused on promoting self-esteem in girls. In the late 1960’s they lived in Africa, working at the University of Ghana and producing for the 1966 First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal, and the First Pan African Cultural Festival in Algiers, Algeria in 1969. In the ‘70’s, they were invited as Fulbright scholars by the Prime Minister of Australia to live in Adelaide and introduce African-American and African culture, via theater and other art forms, to that continent. They also worked as producers for the Papua, New Guinea Independence Arts Festival in 1974. Later in the 1970s, Ms. Sykes-Kennedy was the Title I Coordinator of a pilot program for the State University of New York for “Learning Through The Arts” and taught acting at The College at Old Westbury in New York. In the late 1980’s, she was invited by the U.S. Housing & Urban Development and the Department of Commerce as one of 14 delegates to go to the People's Republic of China on the first trade mission of American women. After that trip, she secured a contract from the China Building Technology Center and started a new company, China Today, Inc., which for five years, distributed Building in China. She received her BA in Economics and Accounting from Howard University, MA in African Culture and Theatre at the University of Ghana, and MS from the Graduate School of Journalism – Columbia University.
Jesse Hill, Jr. is the retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Atlanta Life Insurance Company – the largest stockholder life insurance company owned and controlled by African-Americans. Mr. Hill joined Atlanta Life in 1949. Before becoming Chief Executive, he served as Assistant Actuary and Vice President Chief Actuary. During his tenure as Chief Executive (1973-1994), Atlanta Life attained its highest level of growth in shareholder value, profits, revenues and assets. The company became nationally recognized for its financial and staff volunteer support of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. Mrs. Rosa Parks, civil rights legend, was once employed as the secretary of the Atlanta Life sales office in Montgomery, Alabama. In addition, Atlanta Life is credited with playing a key role in breaking the bottleneck in home mortgage financing at fair interest rates for blacks in the City of Atlanta, the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas. Mr. Hill has been a prominent national and local business, civic, civil rights, political and educational leader since the 1950s, and has compiled a long list of “door opening firsts” for African-Americans. He has broken racial barriers in the insurance industry, in corporate boardrooms, in the chambers of commerce, and is respected nationwide as an innovative leader in the corporate, political and philanthropic communities. He has served on the board of directors of eight corporations including Delta Airlines, Knight Ridder Inc, SunTrust (Trust Company of Georgia) and NSI. He served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the King Center for 15 years. In 1977, he was elected President of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the first black to hold such a position in a major American City. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he attended the public schools of St. Louis and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in Missouri in 1974, earning a B.S. in mathematics and physics. In 1949, he received a Master's of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan. Married to the former Azira Gonzalez, the Hills have two daughters, Nancy Cooke and Azira Kendall, and six grandchildren. Mr. Hill has been Terri Kennedy's mentor since she was a teenager.
David Hinson is the National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), appointed by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. MBDA, through its network of 48 minority business centers throughout the country, provides one-on-one workshops and business consulting services for minority businesses to help educate them about federal opportunities, including those related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It is the only federal agency created specifically to foster the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses in the United States. Before joining MBDA in 2009, he founded Wealth Management Network, LLC, a New York-based financial advisory company that helps people create and preserve wealth. He has over 20 years of experience in the investment industry. Prior to Wealth Management Network, he was Director of Advisory Services for EnvestnetPMC, a turnkey institutional asset management corporation with over $6.5 billion in assets under management. Prior to joining EnvestnetPMC, Mr. Hinson was Chief Financial Officer for the Village Foundation an Arlington, Virginia based multimillion-dollar community foundation launched by the Kellogg Foundation. He has held other senior level positions in wealth management including Vice President and Senior Investment Advisor in the Private Bank of Bank of America, and Investment Advisor at Morgan Stanley & Company. Mr. Hinson received an MBA in Finance from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, a certificate in International Business from the Stockholm School of Economics Stockholm, Sweden, a BBA in Insurance/Finance from Howard University, and a certificate in French Studies from the University of Abidjan, Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He has successfully completed the Series 7, 3, 63, and 65. As a financial expert, Mr. Hinson has been featured on CNN Live Saturday, Fox News, The Neal Cavuto Show, and the CBS Morning Show. In addition, he writes a monthly personal finance column for The Network Journal, and has been featured in Essence Magazine and Black Enterprise Magazine. He is also a regular guest on XM Satellite/WOL/WOLB radio.
Gary Shinner, CEO of Mighty Leaf Tea Company, first became interested in tea at an unlikely place.While at a jewelry store in Chicago, buying the engagement ring for fiancée Jill Portman, they were invited to participate in a Chinese tea ceremony. The tea ritual and multi-sensory elements of tea stayed with Shinner and Portman. At the time of his tea epiphany, he worked as an investment banker at Sakura Bank. His background in finance and banking served him well as he exited the corporate banking world in pursuit of starting a teahouse in San Francisco with Portman. They traveled to Asia and Europe becoming master tea blenders. When they returned back to the U.S. they moved from their home in Chicago and resettled in San Francisco in 1995. Their teahouse, Tea and Company, located in the hip neighborhood of Pacific Heights carved its niche in the tea world and drew people from across the city as well as from around the country. Shinner and Portman understood the impact of tea’s osmosis into the culture and could foresee that it would continue to grow beyond teahouses and plain black tea. They perceived that it was time to reach a larger audience than what could be garnered from a teahouse. Upon shutting down the teahouse, Mighty Leaf Tea Company was born. From the beginning of their teahouse days, Shinner and Portman’s passion for whole leaf tea and crafting innovative blends made them stand out from the pack. They pioneered the silken mesh bags filled with precision-portions of whole leaf teas, making it easy to enjoy the quality of whole leaf tea in a more mobile, less messy format. From this early incarnation of the mesh bag, they moved on to craft the silken mesh Tea Pouch™, hand-stitched with Mighty Leaf’s proprietary process, allowing for even fuller leaves and chunks of fruit, as well as more room for the leaves to unfurl, important for tea’s flavor notes to be best drawn out. What started as a teahouse has grown into a multi-million dollar company.Mighty Leaf Tea can now be enjoyed at upscale hotels, resorts, restaurants cafes, coffee bars across the U.S., as well as purchased in fine grocery stores nationally.
RL Willard is an award-winning producer with over 25 years in the world of image and style, as well as content and technology. RL is President of Rule7Media LLC, which blends cultural communications and technology applications to develop new avenues of brand development and cultural tourism. The company is providing Harlem’s world famous Apollo Theater with LED display technology for its new multi-million dollar marquee. The company is also working with the Apollo to develop images for the screen that inform theatergoers about coming attractions, as well as other carefully-crafted content tied to the community. Rule7Media has also developed TV commercials and branded content solutions for a number of organizations internationally, including the National Urban League, the French Ready-to-Wear Association (Pret-a-Porter), M6 Television (France) and Jimmy Jazz, the country’s leading urbanwear clothing stores. As a haute couture model on the runways of Europe in the 1980's, RL worked for some of fashion’s most powerful names, including Andre Courreges, Claude Montana, and Thierry Mugler. In the mid-to-late 1980's he moved to the agency side working with fashion giants such as Givenchy and Danskin, as well as private consulting with important designers such as Patrick Kelley.In the 1990's, RL co-founded one of Manhattan’s earliest HDTV companies where he successfully developed various lines of business with Pixar, Sony of America, the US Postal Service, Met Life, and others. His non-profit clients have included the Foreign Policy Association and the Republic of South Africa.
RL is leading the producing team for the upcoming Ta YogaTM DVD featuring Terri Kennedy.
Reggie Brown is a seasoned executive. His distinguished business career has encompassed senior management roles in some of the world’s most dynamic business organizations. During his eight years at Microsoft Corporation, Reggie handled finance, operations and marketing roles in several of the Company’s key business segments. He also worked for General Electric Capital in corporate finance and business development during its rise to be the world’s largest non-bank financial services organization. And, during a 10-year stint in the media industry, he served as VP-Finance for A.H. Belo, a NYSE-listed media firm, after roles of CFO and radio station general manager for two emerging media companies. Reggie started his career as a CPA for a major firm in San Francisco. Currently, Reggie serves on a number of boards and occasionally acts as a leadership development consultant for Microsoft. He has a BS in accounting from the University of San Francisco and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he also serves on their Management Board.