Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Celebrity Philanthropy: Vanessa and Angela Simmons

Angela (left) and Vanessa Simmons at an in-store apppearance promoting their Pastry footwear line in Atlanta earlier this year.

In March 2007, Vanessa and Angela Simmons, stars of the hit MTV reality show 'Run's House' became young entrepreneurs by creating Pastry Footwear, athletic shoes featuring fun, colorful designs for fashionable young ladies. The collection was launched with the 'Cake' and 'Fab Cookie' lines, inspired by their love of sweets. And their success has been sweet, earning them millions of dollars to date. The brand has since evolved to include apparel and accessories. I remember watching an episode of Run's House where their uncle, hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, tells his nieces that giving back should be a priority as they embark on their entrepreneurial venture.
This week, Pastry Footwear has announced the launch of the Pastry Thin Mint Collection, in which a portion of the proceeds will go to the Girl Scouts of the USA. The collection, comprised of footwear and a backpack, will hit retail in mid-July 2008.
Over the past year, Vanessa and Angela have served as spokespersons for the Girl Scouts organization, inspiring girls across the country to participate in their Entrepreneurship and Financial Literacy programs. From speaking to the Girl Scouts about their business endeavors to supporting the girls in their leadership initiatives, Vanessa and Angela have been doing whatever it takes to let these girls know they can be successful in whatever they do.
"Our relationship with the Girl Scouts is deeply meaningful to us,"explains Vanessa Simmons. "To have the opportunity to further support their efforts of empowering young women with the creation of the Thin Mint Collection is very special." Adds Angela Simmons, "We have had so much fun working with the girls; I feel they do more for us than we could ever do for them! We are hoping our relationship with the Girl Scouts organization continues to grow and develop."

Pastry Thin Mint Brown Pastry Thin Mint White

The Thin Mint Shoe is created from the body of the Pastry "Fab Cookie"sneaker with a range of materials including suede action leather with polyurethane trim. Special attention was taken when designing this style down to the smallest detail with the inclusion of basic tenets of the Girl Scout philosophy scripted on the outsole of the shoe. The collection can be found at specialty retailers in the U.S., including Finish Line,Underground Station and Lady Foot Locker.
Visit Vanessa and Angela's Girl Scout website here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bernard Williams, a child of the community and a product of the harsh realities of urban street life in Toledo, was involved in drugs and crime. As a result of his criminal behavior, he was incarcerated. While serving a total of 11 years in prison, Bernard found opportunities to improve his life. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, participated in drug and alcohol recovery programs, and learned to change his behavior through counseling and group work. Bernard Williams exited the prison system clean, sober and with marketable skills.

After being released, and highly motivated to start his new life, Bernard was able to secure employment on his very first day home. One month later, he was working in the profession of his newly acquired degree. He was a Junior Computer Programmer for Scot-Lad Foods, now known as Roundy’s Inc. His work performance earned him a promotion to their Corporate Offices in Wisconsin. Bernard worked at Roundy’s Inc. for one year. He later resigned to return back to Chrysler where he had been laid off prior to serving prison time. He started back to work on the assembly line and applied for computer programming through Chrysler’s Internal Job Placement Process. Bernard was promoted to Chrysler’s Corporate Offices as a Systems Analyst. Applying the skills learned within the United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees), a program that helps to build productive citizens, Bernard out performed his colleagues and was promoted to Senior Systems Analyst. Managing many projects on a Corporate Service Team, Bernard became the only American representative among the 25 International Systems Analysts.

After receiving consistently high evaluations from superiors, Bernard was appointed by the Vice President of Government Affairs at Chrysler to be the Communications Chairman for the Chrysler African American Network (CAAN). The CAAN Organization strived globally to represent Chrysler’s African American population in Upper Management. After the company ran some additional background checks as a requirement for the promotion, Bernard found that the upward mobility he was promised ceased. Word traveled throughout the company and Bernard began to experience hostility. In a subtle and unspoken manner, colleagues became distant. Work, which was one a place to thrive and grow, became a place to survive each day. Favorable evaluations became questionable. Workers grew distrustful. Bernard was no longer thought of as “creative” and “competent”, but was now viewed with disappointment and suspicion. He realized he had reached a glass ceiling that he could not permeate. He decided to resign.

After Bernard left Chrysler he found it difficult, if not impossible, to get employment in his profession that matched his experience and abilities. And upon many interviews and “almost” getting the job, once background checks were performed he was rejected. Bernard, after being clean and sober for thirteen years, relapsed back into active addiction. After many attempts to abstain from “using” drugs/alcohol, Bernard was only able to stop as a result of being arrested with a new felony, and re-incarcerated back into prison, where he served an additional year. During this time in prison Bernard conceived of the UrbaneKnight concept. Born out of his personal struggles and the struggle of other young men in our community to succeed, the UrbaneKnight program was developed.

Having faced and been inspired by the prejudices and rejection often faced by ex-offenders, Mr. Bernard Williams has founded The UrbaneKnights. The UrbaneKnights is a direct response to the lack of services for those reentering Lucas County from prison. Ohio has the 7th largest prison population in the United States and Lucas County is among the few counties that receive the vast majority of Ohio’s offenders as they leave prison. Forty percent of prisoners released in Ohio do so without any supervision or support.
The hope of The UrbaneKnights is to meet the needs and equip with skills those attempting to reenter our community. Successful transitions from prison to home only result from creating an environment in which individuals can set goals and get the support and resources they need to reach those goals. The potential benefits of even the most modest successes by this new program will resonate throughout our community.

Memoirs of An UrbaneKnight

“Leadership is Situational”

I write this article in an attempt to state “my side” of a sequence of events that lead to a devastating period in my life, that was due in large part, to the premature decisions of people, institution(s), and the UrbaneKnights (UK) Board of Directors, (events occurring from May 2007 to September 2007) that prejudged me and practically destroyed the UrbaneKnights; an ex-offender Re-Entry organization, conceived of God, however, implemented by an ex-offender, Bernard Williams.

While serving time in prison God gave this writer a Vision (“UrbaneKnights, Inc is an organization committed to offering job placement services, job creation (entrepreneurship), a work atmosphere conducive to social and economic growth opportunities, on the job training, peer coaching/mentoring and transitional housing to those that are difficult to employ due to past criminal records”), to implement, in which I did with all my might, with all my strength, and with everything that was inside and outside of me, within the guidelines of the law. January 14, 2004, the UrbaneKnights was launched with the assistance of First Church of God ,Pastor Dr. Robert Culp, whose vision is “to reach non-Christians of all ages through creative ministries that address urban needs, and to radically change the life-style of people to the glory of God”. The latter vision has always been my vision as well! The UrbaneKnights, an ex-offender reentry ministry, was founded on the premises of Integrity, Truth, Freedom of Thought, Conviction, Commitment, and unwavering Confidence in the Power and Appointment of God, thus endeavors that the name UrbaneKnights represent. It has been my experience as an African American that discrimination is just apart of life, something I must accept, live with, and endeavor to overcome with love. The events that follow were not that of Love ,but that spirit that was designed to destroy.

The launching of any type of business requires multiple talents, monetary/human resources, and a host of other variables that are specific to general business. Now take out sufficient start up capital, factor in a new product and/or service(s), coupled with being an African American to boot; given the values of the variables mentioned, you have an equation that equals failure! However, by the Grace of God, The UrbaneKnights were succeeding, and had passed that threshold whereby a business succeeds or fails. UK is a non-profit organization that had no funding for transitional housing for the first two and a half years, and this financial condition was reported to the Board. of UrbaneKnights (UK) monthly, however no one endeavored to help with a solution. Therefore, I (this writer) worked diligently to keep the doors open while writing grants to fund other programming for UK. After succeeding in many areas, and struggling to provide services, the programming of UK was succeeding. Now take into consideration that I am an ex-offender with a history of being incarcerated, which our society has an opinion that lacks forgiveness of crimes committed by an ex-offender. However, this writer, after getting out of prison with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science, has worked at the Corporate Offices of major companies (DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Detriot Diesel, and Roundy's Inc.) Long story short. This writer as the Executive Director, and by virtue of my position was the officer in charge when one of UK’s primary grant funders suspended our contract, pending investigation. I supplied all information and admitted to being delinquent in back taxes, and two lease obligations. UK had been awarded two subsequent grants from the city (Toledo, Ohio) Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG), and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which were withdrawn due to the suspension of the aforementioned grant funder. At any rate, while some remaining Board members had not been active , UK had new Board members, which had only been apart of UK for circa four months; in which their only involvement was attending monthly board meetings with little and/or no input. This Board of five people, which there is a total of eight board members, (three were not present) made a decision overnight, off site at another location, to put this writer, founder of the UK, on Administrative Leave of Absence with no pay! Without an opportunity to defend myself, or clear up any of their concerns. This writer was not informed of this decision until I was arrested for Criminal Trespassing on UK property the next day, at my work site, and charged with menacing for inquiring why a person, who is not an employee of UK, was hosting a meeting with UK transitional residents! The same day of the arrest, I was locked out of my office at 1114 Washington street, Toledo, Ohio, and was never told why the Board of UK acted with prejudice! My name has been slandered and my credibility tainted due to allegations that I did not get a chance to properly respond. When asked to meet w/ the Bd. Of Directors, I was told I could not meet with them. As a result of the premature actions of the Bd. of UK, all grant funding has been lost due to lack of administration over the grant funding.

I would like to mention here also about a comment that former Mayor of Toledo, Ohio, Jack Ford, first elected African American Mayor of Toledo, (which the UK registered more ex-offenders than in the history of Toledo during the same period he successfully ran for office), made concerning the UK in an article in the SoJouner Truth. In which the SoJouner Truth is owned and operated by an “active” Board member of the UK, Fletcher Word, (whom himself is also an ex-offender) dated June 13, 2007; whereby Jack Ford stated, “While it appears that someone (comment mine (BW), “mmmmmmm..?!”) made off with $147,000 cash and that the last few payrolls have been missed”, “Next time, do not let returning ex-offenders have check-writing capacity without proper oversight.” I don’t know where he is getting his information from, however no one has ran off with anything, and this writer was the signer on all checks for addressing debt, mainly because the Bd. of UK refused to help me and did not put their name on the banking accounts, even when asked to do so at almost each monthly board meeting! While I am on the subject of board members, there is one board member that helped me out by lending me money to pay UK bills, however, the interest charged would challenge the Fair Lending Laws of the United States, and fall into the category of Predatory lending!

In closing, it was I who invited and welcomed the new Board members to UrbaneKnights. If I am guilty of anything why couldn't it be “money management” not money theft! You can find out more about the mission/vision of the UK at Also, I have no doubt that there will be many responses to this article by those who are going to wish me harm and discredit me for whatever reason(s), and/or from those like me who are tired of being truly excluded opportunity, and experience hope deferred. I remain, an UrbaneKnight.

Bernard Williams
cell#: 419-932-0027

Contact ph# 419-932-0027