First Fridays honors women in May


(l-r) Joane McAfee, Natalie Johnson-Lee, Leigh Lovett, and Andre McNeal. (Photo by Travis Lee))
(l-r) Joane McAfee, Natalie Johnson-Lee, Leigh Lovett, and Andre McNeal.  (Photo by Travis Lee)

May is the month for celebrating mothers on Mother’s Day. This month on May 6, in recognition of potential motherhood, at least, three women were honored at this month’s “Celebrate the Sisters First Fridays” event hosted by local promoter and community supporter Andre “Debonaire” McNeal, along with DJ Fundraiser and DJ Chuck Chizzle.

McNeal has been hosting First Fridays events around Minneapolis at different venues over the last 20 years. He recently returned this event to the community, with a bonus — he now honors outstanding community members at each monthly event. He honors one male and one female per month. Past honorees have included Floyd Balentine, an African American airline pilot, and Chanda Smith-Baker, president and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities.

May was an exception. Because it is the month of the mothers, he decided to honor three women. Only one happens to be a mother, but all of them are women “making moves” for the benefit of the community.

Leigh Lovett and Joané McAfee were honored as “Face of the Month.”

“The Face of the Month is designed to create those icebreaking opportunities for us to get to know each other through the Twin Cities,” explains McNeal. “There is no science behind the selection of the honorees. It is random. “It is people who have supported [my ventures] in the past. It is people who are making moves in and around the Twin Cities. It’s your average, everyday, working class Jane or John Doe.”

Lovett is a marketing planner at General Mills focusing on new cereal products. She is an associate board member of Chicago Family Directions, an organization that provides literacy tutoring. She also mentors Minneapolis youth through Brand Lab, an organization that helps train students in the marketing field.

“[I am] passionate about educating youth and opening their minds to various career opportunities,” said Lovett. She has her own blog and consulting brand called Social PR World that focuses on marketing and social media. In her spare time she creates social events for Twin Cities’ young minority professionals called The Colored Coalition. She also serves as the social committee chair for the Black Champions Network at General Mills.

Honoree Joané McAfee is a 26-year-old graduate of the University of Minnesota with a bachelors in public relations. She is a policy advisor to Governor Dayton on issues related to criminal justice, public safety, and human rights. She advises the governor on the most important issues to Minnesotans and communicates the governor’s initiatives and values.

McAfee is passionate about communities of color and is committed to bridging relationships between different communities, sectors and backgrounds. Because of this, she helped start Power Moves, a group bringing together women of color.

She recently graduated from the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute, a program preparing people of color to sit on boards and commissions to bring an equity lens to the table. McAfee is also a Minneapolis Global Shaper, a community network of hubs developed and led by young people.

Natalie Johnson-Lee was honored with the “Mother of the Village” award. She is currently the founder of Sisters In Power, LLC and a principal consultant and certified coach for the Power of People Leadership Institute. “I am mostly known for being a member of [the Minneapolis] city council.” Johnson-Lee said.

However, according to McNeal, “She is a fierce advocate for her community with a keen understanding of the complexities that currently exists in our society.” Her “down to earth” communication style and servant-leader attitude allows her to engage the professional community as she currently serves as the public relations chair of the North Minneapolis Rotary Club. Her career spans the corporate, nonprofit, faith-based and public sectors where she served as Minneapolis’ Fifth Ward city council member.

Johnson Lee is a life-long learner, wife of 21 years, mother of six and grandmother of six. She has been a resident in her North Minneapolis home for 20 years.

Asked to tell the MSR why she was honored, she stated with a hearty laugh, “I really don’t know why I was honored. I really find it hard to talk about myself and my accomplishments. I let other people do that.

“Some people like to describe me as a resourceful person,” said Johnson Lee. “Whenever I can help someone, in any way, I do what I can to help anybody that comes along.”

Next month at First Friday’s three men of the community will be honored during the month of the father’s. The theme is “A Prince is Born,” which will honor Minnesota’s own musical legend, Prince. The local honorees will be James C. Burroughs, Raynardo Williams and Adair Mosley.


For more information on upcoming First Friday events and honorees, visit the Bachelor Boy Entertainment Group website.

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