NEW BRITAIN - Performers sang songs of empowerment, banged on drums and danced across the stage at Trinity-on-Main Saturday in the 10th annual Exceptional Women Concert.
The concert, hosted by the Queen Ann Nzinga Center, celebrated Women’s History Month and honored Constance “Connie” Renee Wilson Collins, an influential New Britain woman.
The concert also honored six women who have made a difference in their communities. From a salon owner who started her own charity to an educator dedicated to giving people access to health care to a former Connecticut first lady who battled for criminal justice reform, the honorees earned the title “exceptional.”
Young members of QANC performed a skit called “The Exceptional Salon.” Some played the honorees while others played their fans or visitors to the salon. After describing the honoree’s accomplishments, each performer launched into a song or a poem.
Sabrina Jones sang “Superwoman” for Vannessa L. Dorantes, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
“Ms. Dorantes, you are such an inspiration. I want to help people just like you,” Sabrina said after.
“What you really get to see is the connection between the kids and the honorees and the community,” said Dayna Snell, executive director of QANC.
The other honorees included: Francine Austin, the owner of Francine’s Salon and Day Spa in Bloomfield and founder of A Giver’s Heart; Bithiah Carter, the CEO of New England Blacks in Philanthropy; Cheryl Gatling-Galloway, a member of the Executive Board of the EmpowHer Women’s Ministry at Mount Calvary Revival Center in New Haven; Janice T. Fleming Butler, a lobbyist for Strategic Outreach Solutions, whose work focuses on empowering women; Sheila Durant Robinson, an educator in Bridgeport and founder of the Curtis and Sheila Robinson Foundation; and Cathy Malloy, wife of former Gov. Dannel Malloy.
“Over the years we’ve had several women honored - pediatricians, construction workers, CEOs,” Snell added. “There’s a lot of women in philanthropy this year.”
“In this time, girls really need to see powerful women,” Snell said. “It [the concert] is so young people can see that anything is possible.”
Oktober Brown, a spoken-word artist, and Jiana Smith, a New Britain native who is part of the Nzinga Watoto Youth Program, were the hosts for the show. Jiana said she wants to be a social worker one day and found the honorees to be inspiring.
“Ten years - wow! Every year the organization brings together exceptional women,” Brown said.
Several other members of QANC sang. There were also performances by recording artist Kenny Hamber, singer Orice Jenkins, dance group East Culture Arts Inc. and more.
“Connie [Wilson Collins] was a woman who was very powerful in New Britain in terms of work and service,” said Snell. “She was a leader of the community.”
Collins, who was born in Harlem and graduated from Harvard, became the first African American elected to public office in New Britain. She was an alderwoman on the Common Council for three terms and was also on the City Planning Commission for many years.
She was also the first African American and first woman elected to be president of a union in New Britain. She was president of the United Electrical Workers Union for Landers, Frary and Clark, later known as General Electric.
“She really created opportunities for people to be self sufficient and to work,” Snell said. In addition to being a union president, Collins also helped found the Opportunities Industrialization Center in New Britain, which helps people get employed.
Collins coined the saying “you are your brother’s keeper,” and lived by those words by helping others.
“Collins is an exemplary role model for the children and teens who participate in the Queen Ann Nzinga Center programs,” Snell said. “And she continues to inspire youth to reach their full potential and use their talents for the good of the community.”
Michelle Jalbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.