Women United Excellence Award Luncheon

The Women United Excellence Awards Luncheon was  held on Thursday, March 9, 2023, at the Westin Hotel, 407 South Congress Street, Jackson, MS. The event was sponsored by United Way of the Capital Area and one of its affinity group – Women United.

This elegant inaugural event celebrated and honored an exceptional group of women who have served and advocated to improve education, healthcare, economic mobility, community service, business, and innovation in our communities. Nikki McCelleis, President and CEO of United Way of the Capital Area noted,” We are excited about the opportunity to honor such awesome women who are making tremendous strides in their various career fields, and what more fitting time to do so but during March which is Women’s History Month.”

Women United is a global, growing force of 70,000+ women dedicated to creating a world of opportunity— for everyone. Women United is engaged in over 165 communities across six countries. The members are a diverse, vibrant community, bound together by a powerful sense of belonging – to each other, to United Way’s mission and to the communities they call home.

The luncheon theme was “Heroines of Excellence,” and the keynote speaker was Dr. Nashlie Sephus, Founder & CEO of The Bean Path. Topic of the keynote speech was “Women in Leadership.” United Way of the Capital Area presented the Women United Excellence Awards Luncheon as a forum to salute the 2023 Inaugural Class of the Heroines of Excellence Honorees".

Ms. Monica Barnes, | WUEA in Industry Achievement

Ms. Monica Theresa Barnes, a native of Jackson, Mississippi is the Executive Producer and Talent Booker for The Steve Harvey Morning Show. In 2008, she began working with The Steve Harvey Radio Network where she learned radio production and managed to build an extensive rolodex of Who’s Who in Entertainment to become a top talent booker.

Rev. Dr. Jennifer Biard, | WUEA in Education

Rev. Dr. Jennifer Biard is the Senior Pastor of Jackson Revival Center Church, a rapidly growing nondenominational, ethnically diverse congregation in Jackson, MS. She was ordained as a Minister of the Gospel in 1996, licensed in 1998, and has devoted the majority of her life to providing people with tools and resources that encourage and inspire them towards wholesome, transformational living.

Ms. Erin Pickens, | WUEA in Community Service

Ms. Erin Pickens, the WAPT Morning News Anchor, is an award-winning journalist with almost two decades of experience in television news. For almost 13 years, she was the morning and noon news anchor for WJTV in Jackson, MS.

Ms. Paula Sammons, | WUEA in Economic & Community Impact

Ms. Paula Sammons is Senior Program Officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, with expertise in family economic security. She has over 25 years of experience in philanthropy, with the majority of her career focused on family economic security.

Dr. Nashlie Sephus, | WUEA in Innovation & Business

Dr. Nashlie Sephus, is the Applied Science Manager for Amazon Artificial Intelligence (AI) focusing on fairness and identifying biases in these technologies. Sephus is also the Founder and CEO of The Bean Path non-profit organization based in Jackson, MS assisting individuals with technical expertise and guidance to fill the tech gap in communities.

Ms. Cassandra Welchlin, | WUEA in Economic Mobility

Ms. Cassandra Welchlin is the Executive Director and Co-convener of MS Black Women’s Roundtable (MS-BWR) an inter-generational statewide network dedicated to increasing civic engagement and voter participation among Black women while at the forefront of championing just and equitable public policy on behalf of Black women and girls.

Ms. Carol J. Burger, | The Carol J. Burger Legacy Award

Carol Johnson-Burger joined the staff of United Way of the Capital Area in 1984 and served as the President and CEO from July 1, 1995 to June 30, 2018. Prior to joining United Way, Carol was a teacher, human service administrator and a business owner.

Highlights of the luncheon included musical performances by Benjamin “Benji” Cone, lll, Calandria Davis, and Jessie Primer, III. Further, videos expressions of the honorees were aired during the special awards presentation. The event concluded with remarks from the UWCA President and CEO. McCelleis opined, “United Way of the Capital Area will continue to provide resources and services in the areas of Education, Health, and Economic Mobility to support the communities of Hinds, Madison, and Rankin counties. We will continue to improve and build strong communities by uniting individuals with the will, passion, expertise, and resources needed to solve challenges within our community. We are committed to Live United".