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

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

While working as director of promotion at radio station V103, she often organized 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 Show in 1993.

The 27th annual Black Women’s Expo took place this weekend, with more than 400 booths at McCormick Place offering everything from business advice to hair care tips and selling everything from clothing to insurance. The exhibition was sponsored by JP Morgan Chase, Walgreens and Verizon.

“When the exhibition started, we knew we had achieved something. Women filled the lobby at the first show and continue to return 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 business and build a community.”

From Friday to Sunday, participants explored numerous exhibits and attended sessions that covered topics such as health equity, business finance and mental health.

“This exhibition not only gives women information, but also gives them confidence,” said Green. “Women come up to me and say thank you for it and say it’s changed their lives.”

Green said she wants 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 the sessions on Sunday discussed black women’s health issues, including 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 don’t take their issues seriously.

“In this era of retribution and empowerment for black women … we need to make sure we are also empowered in our health,” said Ramona Burress, chief executive of the Equity-Focused Health System, which moderated the discussion. “We are always in the role of educators, but that means we put 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 patient “survivorship.”

She helps make sure that breast cancer patients in recovery have access to all their records, stay on top of other routine care, and are checked regularly to detect any recurrence of the cancer.

“I’ve had a lot of patients tell me they weren’t listened to by their doctors and they’ve been burned in the past,” Sandra Laveau, an OB/GYN at the University of Chicago, said during the panel.

“It’s so important to find that doctor who really listens to you and hears 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 get the diagnosis and the struggles she faced afterwards.

Henley was misdiagnosed for six months before she learned she had colon cancer. After her third trip to the emergency room, an emergency colonoscopy revealed a tumor the size of a grape in her colon.

But after she survived cancer, Henley said she was unable to work 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.

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

Henley currently 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 okay today,” Henley said. “We have a power we don’t even know 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 want to now develop a course on health care financing to help people who may also be dealing with these challenges,” Davis said.

Davis attended the show to get advice on growing her business, Wealth Equity, Wealth Justice.

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

“It gives strength and inspires. And I learned some great information that will help me and help me grow my business.”

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