Photo by Heather Middleton
By M.J. Subiria Arauz
Her jaw dropped as her hands covered her mouth, and tears of joy rolled down her cheeks.
The roaring applause echoed throughout the room, as Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon received the "2011 Business Woman of the Year Award," from 2010 recipient, Karen Sullivan, of Paragon Systems, Inc., as the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's Women in Business Council held its "Sixth Annual Luncheon," on Thursday.
"This award isn't just for me, but it's for my grandmother and mother, who were illiterate," said Wynn-Dixon. "This award is for the women, who were homeless like me."
On Thursday. Business women, as well as men, gathered to network, take advice, and see who would win the prestigious 2011 award. Award winner Wynn-Dixon said she felt overwhelmed by the honor, and was happy other people celebrated with her. "It ain't nothing but love," she said.
She said many people call her "the people's mayor," because her passion is helping others. The aid she provides to others, she said, is not for money or status, but it's because she loves lending a hand.
"I promised God that, if he delivered me from where I was, I would make my life a magnificent obsession and give back to people," said the mayor.
Eventhough she faced many daunting challengers for many years, Wynn-Dixon said her past wasn't all dark. She said she had a wonderful childhood and was close to her mother, a Cherokee Indian.
She said her "middle-aged" life was difficult. She was homeless for a few months, in 1975, because her husband abandoned her with four children. "I had no job, no formal education. I had nothing," she said. "I felt like the lone ranger.
"I tried to commit suicide, but I couldn't do it," she said.
She said her sister made room in her home, where she slept on a mattress until she was able to rent an apartment. She said the apartment had rats, but her father and grandfather exterminated them. "And I started out from there, working at a daycare [center]."
Wynn-Dixon said she has completed her education at Atlanta Metropolitan College, Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, and holds various degrees.
"If you believe, you can make it," she said with a smile.
Crystal Black, vice president of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, said Wynn-Dixon is an inspiration to others, because she is an example that a person is able to achieve success and excellence, if they truly desire it.
Keynote speaker, Karen Brewer-Edwards, shared, with audience members, information on how to achieve success. Brewer-Edwards, regional general manager for Walmart Stores, Inc., said she is responsible for managing more than $6 billion in revenue, approximately 26,000 associates, and 87 stores in North Georgia, including Atlanta.
She said she feels blessed to have reached this point in her career. Her background is in finance and accounting, she said, and her current position involves marketing. It is uncommon for the department store giant to take someone from one realm and place them in a different one, she added. "I knew all eyes were on me [when she got her current job]," she said.
Brewer-Edwards shared pointers with the audience that she learned from Oprah Winfrey, and how she was able to be successful. The lessons came from a show called "Oprah presents Master Class," on the Oprah Winfrey Network, she said.
The ingredients of success include:
* Stay true to yourself no matter what.
* Go for excellence.
* Keep in touch with connections that sustain you.
* Be a blessing to someone.
* Find your passion.
* Be open to the unexpected.
* Trust your instinct.
* Learn from your mistakes.
Chamber Vice President Black summed up the impetus for the event as the desire to create a venue that allows women to connect and learn from others. "We were looking for women of all walks of life ... to be able to connect at a higher level than just exchanging business cards," she said.