Over Mother’s Day Weekend, Mary J. Blige and PepsiCo returned to Atlanta for the second annual Strength Of A Woman Festival and Summit. SOAW officially kicked off on Thursday night (May 11) with the food company presenting $140,000 in donations to four local Atlanta organizations and $60,000 for the inaugural PepsiCo x Mary J. Blige Strength of a Woman scholarship.
“I think it starts with our commitment,” shared Kent Montgomery, PepsiCo’s senior vice president of industry relations and multicultural development.
“PepsiCo started our commitment with the industry. We said that over the next five years, we were going to contribute to communities of color over $400 million and really go after and look at communities in need. And as we started to look at that, we saw the work that Mary J. was beginning to do in just a wonderful city like Atlanta. And once we started to talk to her people, we found out her energy around education and empowerment were areas that we really wanted to partner on. And so Pepsi said, ‘Hey look, that’s perfect,’ because it aligns with some of the things that we wanted to do. And then the partnership was made. And now we’re in that second year and we hopefully can continue to make it bigger and bigger.”
Saturday’s summit gathered attendees downtown at AmericasMart for a full day of influential voices in entertainment, entrepreneurship, beauty, health & wellness, and financial literacy. Bright fuchsia decor highlighted a space “for us by us,” where Black women were given their literal flowers. Activations from other leading sponsors like Live Nation Urban, Mielle Organics, Gilead Sciences, CVS Health, and Amazon Music provided unique experiences and take-home memories.
On stage, Marsai Martin, former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Ciara, Gail Bean, Mielle Organics CEO Monique Rodriguez, Mara Brock Akil, Angela Yee, Brandee Evans, Raven Goodwin, and more dropped gems in their respective fields.
Conversations ranged from the importance of good, healthy sex for Black women to making it on top in beauty and fashion, to breaking barriers in male-dominated industries. As the keynote speaker, Iyanla Vanzant brought her inspirational expertise. She shared wisdom and engaged the eager audience in unison through speaking exercises and shared experiences.
Attendees were also able to enjoy culinary presentations from Black Woman-owned restaurants in the Atlanta area through Pepsi’s Dig In initiative. Eateries including Ms. Icey’s Kitchen, Gocha’s Breakfast Bar, Twisted Soul, and Local Green Atlanta were all featured and able to provide free food through the program. Guests enjoyed bowls of savory shrimp and grits and plates of flavorful strip club wings and skillet cornbread among other offerings.
In only its second year, the Strength Of A Woman Festival and Summit has room to grow, and that is the plan, according to Montgomery. The full SOAW weekend featured four days of supporting Black women through entertainment, education, and more. Robert Glasper, Lauryn Hill, Ciara, Method Man, Busta Rhymes, Jodeci, Lucky Daye, and of course, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul all took the stage.
“Should we do more and can we get bigger? My answer is yes,” the executive explained. “And that’s why I’m actually asking other companies to join, to build this. It could be partners that are already PepsiCo partners, but it also could be companies that just feel like this is the right thing to do and it’s great for their business as well.”
As for those ESSENCE Festival comparisons circulating on social media, he adds, “It’s a space for everyone in the community. And my hat’s off to Coke for doing great work with ESSENCE. We love to do great work with Mary J. Blige, and if it’s uplifting the community, I’m all for it.”