"Women have a new seat at the table now. It’s for us to lose or to keep it."
By Melody Spann Cooper
On May 1, I get to be your speaker.
This isn’t just another gig on my calendar, another Uber taking me from 87th St. and sideswiping its way north along Lake Shore Drive.
As chairman of the only African-American-owned radio station in the nation's third-largest market and the first black woman in Chicago to hold this distinction, I recognize those more scripted engagements. I sit on civic boards and business boards. In fact, I’m often the only woman in the room. Let me tell you, there are lots of suits in media and in those boardrooms with the cushy leather chairs.
But history doesn’t stand still. Women have a new seat at the table now. It’s for us to lose or to keep.
That’s why May 1 is so different.
The name of my speech for NAWBO’S Achievement Luncheon is “A Girlfriend’s Guide to Closing the Deal.” Cute, right? Uh, uh. Not having it. Not when bells are ringing like there’s a two-alarm fire going on.
The truth is that you and I are the voices of women from around the world. They are counting on us, watching us. “Take your chance right now and do something great with that seat at the table,” they are saying as they tap their watches impatiently. How will we answer them?
We’re going to close the deal, that’s how. We’re going to get “a little bit louder now” as the Isley Brothers would croon.
Everyone can agree the world shifted when Hillary Clinton ran for office. Politics aside, let’s look at this event from a historical perspective. It meant something significant that a woman could actually become president of the United States. Consider this: What propelled women – 250,000 strong in Chicago – to gather en masse in Grant Park?
Too many of us have not closed the deal. If we had, all those people wouldn’t have bothered showing up.
Maybe we’ve been too quiet. Or maybe we’ve paid more attention to our own agendas. I have. It takes a lot of work running a company, raising a family, staying focused. It’s easy to get comfortable and say, “This is what I do. These are my priorities.”
There’s a routine to success and accomplishment. If our businesses are doing well, why rally for women as a community?
But then all that status quo imploded. Something groundbreaking changed the trajectory of how we move as women. A woman ran for president, didn’t make it, but could have. Hmmm. What was possible for Hillary Clinton suddenly translated into what was possible for all of us. It’s like a sleeping giant woke up, and his big, fat fingers tapped us on the shoulder. “It’s time,” he whispered.
Now there are new questions for us. What is the opportunity for me to get more bold? How can we display another level of leadership? What’s the next stretch goal for me, for us, for women on the other side of the world scratching out a wage to feed their families?
It’s less about us as individuals and more about us as leaders. This movement is like a rising tide lifting all the boats. You and I, we’re part of that momentum.
The more we succeed, the more sisters we take with us.
So let’s meet up May 1 and talk about how to do that. Here’s what you’ll walk away with.
You’re going to learn some of the guiding principles I have used to close the deal (not boasting here, but it’s rare when I don’t walk away from the table getting exactly what I want).
You are going to hear a story that underscores why women are poised to effect tremendous change. The story involves the Honorable Julia M. Nowicki, a well-known former judge from Chicago. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.
Lastly, we are going to talk about a new worldview and the incredible opportunity to embolden each other as business leaders, mentors, dealmakers and colleagues.
I hope to meet you at the Achievement Luncheon. It will not be a stiff morning, this I promise. It will be like hanging out with your girlfriends, having a robust conversation about Plan B – the one you thought was a long shot – becoming Plan A.
About Melody Spann Cooper
Melody Spann Cooper is Chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, the parent company of WVON and WRLL Radio Stations in Chicago. As Chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, she joined an elite list of America’s female broadcast owners after purchasing the company’s controlling interest in 1999.
Midway Broadcasting properties include WVON 1690AM, the oldest Black-oriented radio station in Chicago. With its urban talk format, the station is lauded as a leading source of information and community empowerment. In 2007, Spann Cooper spearheaded the corporation’s expansion with the development of WRLL 1450AM, Chicago’s Home for Hispanic Independent Broadcasters. WRLL is committed to preserving the authentic voice and culture of Chicago’s growing Latino target market.
Spann Cooper’s other professional affiliations include: Board Member of Chicago’s tourism board, Choose Chicago; Trustee of the Museum of Science & Industry; Member of the African-American Legacy of the Chicago Community Trust; The Executive Committee of the Business Leadership Council; Board Member of The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, and an advisory board member of the School of Communications at Loyola University of Chicago.
Her accomplishments in broadcast media have been recognized by numerous organizations that have highlighted her achievements in leadership and business including Crain’s Chicago Business; The Chicago Sun-Times; The Minority Supplier Development Council, The Women’s Business Development Corporation; and The Community Media Workshop.
In addition to extensive community service work, Spann-Cooper is a much sought-after panelist, political commentator and frequent guest on public radio and television talk shows such as CNN's Crossfire. She is a past vice president of broadcast affairs for the Chicago Association of Black Journalists.
In an excerpt from an article in Crain’s Chicago Business, “Spann-Cooper, 50, grew up a few miles from the station's home in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. She learned to type at 9 and, when other girls played with toy sewing machines, she sat at a real one and took sewing classes. ‘My parents thought those were skills a woman needed to get a job,’ she recalls.”
Spann Cooper holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from the Loyola University of Chicago. She is married, and is the daughter of legendary radio personality Pervis Spann “The Blues Man.”