Receiving recognition from your own


Twin Cities Steppers celebrate 10 Sistas who prevailed

Caption: (l-r) Front row: Gloria Freeman, Atum Azzahir (an event organizer), Mary K. Murray Boyd, Pamela James and Sylvia Loveless Amos. Back row: Chanda Smith Baker, Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra, Deborah L. Montgomery, Tawana A. Black, Judge Pamela Alexander and Sharon Smith-Akinsanya
(l-r) Front row: Gloria Freeman, Atum Azzahir (an event organizer), Mary K. Murray Boyd, Pamela James and Sylvia Loveless Amos. Back row: Chanda Smith Baker, Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra, Deborah L. Montgomery, Tawana A. Black, Judge Pamela Alexander and Sharon Smith-Akinsanya (James L. Stroud, Jr./MSR News)

The 9th annual Celebrating The Sistas (CTS) event gave community leadership recognition awards to 10 African American women for their contributions while living and working in Minnesota. The Twin Cities Steppers Association (TCSA) began producing CTS in 2008. Kevin Johnson is president/CEO of TCSA and the brainchild behind the CTS awards.

The event was held at the Midpointe Event Center in St. Paul on Sunday, October 23. MSR asked Johnson about the inspiration for the CTS event.

“The inspiration came from watching different Black women in the Twin Cities running nonprofits, running their own businesses, and being under-appreciated,” said Johnson. “So through TCSA I began to organize.

“I grew up with Black women or “Sistas” all around me,” continued Johnson. “And I always said that there is nothing like a Sista having your back. If I can get more African American men to stand with me, it’s going to make a difference.”

Johnson, along with Atum Azzahir from the Cultural Wellness Center of Minneapolis, welcomed the audience and later introduced T. Mychael Rambo as the master of ceremonies for the evening. Actor and singer Rambo, closely associated with Penumbra Theater Company in St. Paul, kept the production moving steady while charming and humoring the audience of over 300 attendees.


The food was catered by Zamaya’s Delicious Catering, an African American business that received several thumbs up for dinner and dessert. The event included vendors offering clothing, jewelry, and framed art pieces.

State Representative Rena Moran was the first to speak. Moran was a CTS award recipient in 2015. She spoke about being the only African American in the Minnesota House of Representatives and her appreciation for the privilege to serve her district.

She also talked about transformations and how she first transitioned from another state to Minnesota looking for a better life for her family, She shared her story of transformation from being in need of help herself to now being able to help others in need every day. “As Black women, we transform families, we transform communities, and we can transform states,” Moran said.

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson (James L. Stroud, Jr./MSR News)


Following Moran was Reverend Gloria Roach-Thomas, senior pastor of Camphor United Methodist Church in St. Paul. As an analogy to the struggles of Black women, Thomas told a story of Kenyan runners who appear to be losing the race because they never start out leading the pack.

She referred to a previous Minnesota marathon in which two Kenyans who started slow came in first place in their divisions, one in the men’s and the other in the women’s. “How you begin does not dictate how you finish,” was the point of Reverend Thomas’ message.

Of the women being recognized for their accomplishments, she said that there was a time when some may have perceived them to be losing the race, and there were times that they may have thought to themselves that they might be losing the race. But just like the Kenyans, they kicked into high gear and changed the conclusion.

“So today at this celebration, you are loved honorees,” said Thomas. “And out of that old-school love, we encourage you to continue to do those things that your God has called you to do, because we still have speeches to write; we still have books to author, schools to attend, businesses to start, young people to inspire, agencies to run, steppers to step, food to cook, cures to create, protests to march, children to love, hurdles to jump, rivers to cross and mountains to climb.”

2016 Celebrating The Sista's awards
2016 Celebrating The Sista’s awards (James L. Stroud, Jr./MSR News)

Those recognized by CTS were:

  • Deborah L. Montgomery, a 28-year veteran as a St. Paul Police Officer
  • The Honorable Judge Pamela Alexander, the first African American woman judge in Minnesota
  • Sylvia Loveless Amos, serving 35 years as the chief administrative officer for the Minneapolis Urban League
  • Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra, a childbirth attendant of over 20 years
  • Pamela James, community organizer, advocate and activist
  • Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, entrepreneur and diversity consultant
  • Mary K. Murray Boyd, president/CEO of MKB & Associates
  • Gloria Freeman, founder & CEO of Olu’s Home, Inc.
  • Chanda Smith Baker, president/ CEO of Pillsbury United Communities
  • Tawana A. Black, executive director of Northside Funders Group

More than half of the honorees stated that receiving an award from their African American community is a high honor. The MSR asked a few of those honorees what it means to them.

Sylvia Loveless Amos: “It’s because sometimes we feel invisible to the majority community, but I work for my community, and when my people recognize what I do, it supersedes those people that don’t acknowledge the work.”

Mary K. Murray Boyd: “It feels like it’s from the heart, not that others haven’t been. It has given me inspiration, time to reflect. And it makes me feel loved.

“The work I do is not for recognition, but I do feel invisible and very lonely. People in leadership [travel] a lonely road, but I have my sisters that are here tonight and my God.”

Tawana A. Black: “I think it’s a little bit of both being invisible overall and to our people, but it means something real when our people recognize the fight it takes to do this work.”

Black agreed that receiving recognition from your own is equal to coming home from school as a child and Mom or Dad saying you did a good job.


For more information about Celebrating The Sista’s, contact Kevin Johnson of The Twin Cities Steppers Association at 612-702-9018 or on Facebook. 

James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes readers’ responses to See more photos from Stroud below: