Monday, February 24, 2014


Picture a little girl with a smile big enough to get lost in and eyes that shine bright like diamonds. A little girl whose heart is filled with hope that she will one day change the world. Smart and perhaps a little feisty, she has more potential than President Obama has one-liners. This little girl lives in your community. You've watched from your window as she learned to ride a bike with her father running along side to make sure she didn't fall. You've seen her slouching in the church pew in front of you with little braids peeking out from underneath her Sunday hat. You've seen her sporting sparkly gym shoes as she trudges to school behind her big brother or in the backseat of the family car, waving to people on the street. You smile and blow her a kiss because that pretty brown girl... IS YOU.   

No matter how old or how accomplished we become, a pretty brown girl will forever live in our hearts. We pay homage to the pretty brown girls who grew up to be fearless leaders. Women like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou HamerJewel Stradford-Lafontant and Madame C.J. Walker. We thank them for allowing us to stand tall and proud on their shoulders and we also give much respect to dynamic women of todaywomen like Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, Oprah WinfreySonya Sotomayor, bell hooks, Antonia Novello, and Padmasree Warrior. These women and many more, have changed the world and the trajectory for women of color. We have embraced their greatness and have tried to emulate their wisdom and courage. We have carried many of their lessons in our hearts and minds, waiting for the day we too would have the chance to shine. 

Co-founder, Corey Crawley and his original
Pretty Brown Girls
I was fortunate to be in the company of hundreds of pretty brown girls Saturday, February 22, at the Detroit School of Arts for International Pretty Brown Girl Day. International Pretty Brown Girl Day has become an annual day to celebrate all shades of brown as part of the global Pretty Brown Girl movement founded by husband and wife duo, Corey and Sheri Crawley.

As the parents of two daughters, Corey and Sheri were concerned with the harmful messages about skin tone and beauty in the media, and the effects on girls who rarely see images of their own likeness depicted in a positive manner. Simultaneously, Sheri began asking God how she could use her gifts and talents to empower others. Her husband began using Pretty Brown Girl as a term of endearment for their daughters and together they decided to share this simple yet, powerful affirmation to encourage girls to be happy in their beautiful brown skin. The couple began by creating a product line for young ladies that carried the message Pretty Brown Girl. Soon after, the Pretty Brown Girl movement was born.

I must admit, I sat in awe watching Corey, Sheri and their team host International Pretty Brown Girl Day in Detroit, one of many cities in the United States and around the world that celebrated this special day. I was fascinated because the Pretty Brown Girl team, along with the mistress of ceremonies, Dara Davis Munson, not only showed the girls and young women in attendance that they matter and are loved, but they explained why

This movement is all about uplifting, empowering and celebrating all shades of brown. Being in the company of these excited girls made my heart soar. They knew with no uncertainty that this was their day. They danced and laughed as they held the hands of their mothers and fathers who, by the way, were as enchanted as I with this experience. Some of the girls even had their faces painted like beautiful butterflies. They posed for pictures with new friends and celebrated what it means to be pretty brown girls. They listened to messages of support and encouragement, something that is sorely needed for our girls who are often undervalued in this society. The love in the auditorium was palpable and I was moved to tears to see young ballerinas dance en pointe (Yes, you read that right... they were dancing en pointe!), to Stevie Wonder's "Love's In Need Of Love Today." All of the talented young performers reinforced that with love, encouragement and guidance, the pretty brown girls of the world can accomplish anything. It is our job then, to lift them high, make them feel safe, set good examples and give them the confidence to know that greatness lies within. 

On behalf of pretty brown girls everywhere, I thank you, Corey and Sheri Crawley. The impact of your work and the compassion that lives in your hearts extend well beyond your immediate sphere of influence. You are setting the world on fire. I can see it in the eyes and in the smiles of every young girl positively impacted by your generosity of spirit and your courage to give voice to a generation of pretty brown girls that will benefit from this kind of support and encouragement for the rest of their lives. Thank you! 
For more information on The Pretty Brown Girl Movement visit

Pictured left to right: Mistress of Ceremonies, Dara Davis Munson;
Pretty Brown Girl Co-founder, Sheri Crawley; and Leslie Gordon
The Crawley Family

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Who's The Alma In Your Life?

The year was 1977. I was a terrified little girl rushed into surgery for an emergency appendectomy. The memories are still very clear, almost as though it happened just yesterday. I remember being treated like royalty while I recovered in the hospital, receiving cards, flowers and calls from friends and concerned relatives. Father Smith, my grade school principal, even came to visit giving me instant street cred among my classmates when I returned to school. As if that wasn't cool enough, I was allowed to indulge in an obscene amount of vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup.
A Get Well Card I Received from Alma Hopkins That I Still Have 37 Years Later. Can you see that she wrote my name over the picture of the 
brown girl, third row, middle column?

While recovering, a simple yet memorable card was delivered to my hospital room. I love this card and have kept it in a special place for 37, yes 37 years. It came from a woman who would, hands down, have the single greatest influence on my career and by default, my life. This woman was --- and still is --- one of my mother's close friends. Her name is Alma Hopkins. She was a beautiful, hotshot female advertising executive at J. Walter Thompson and remains an important figure in Chicago's advertising community to this very day. Alma speaks in a sweet, almost whispery voice and has such a gentleness about her. As a little girl I looked up to her. I loved visiting her stylish home. I admired her air of sophistication and her grace. I didn't know much about what she did at JWT but I knew she was a respected African American women in a competitive field. She was what my mother proudly called a rising star in the ad world. Through her upward trajectory, she carved out an illustrious career eventually becoming chief creative officer for Burrell Communications, an agency I would join many years later as vice president and group director.  Call it irony. Call it kismet. Call it what you will. I call it a blessing and credit Alma with introducing me to advertising.

One particularly humid, summer day when I was ten-years-old, Alma, my mother, a couple of their close friends and I were lounging leisurely around the swimming pool in Alma's posh high-rise apartment building. Though she was relaxing, she was also in work mode with her notebook on her lap and papers strewn about.

"Leslie, can you help me think of some ideas for a Coca-Cola campaign?" Alma asked.

"Who me?" I wanted to ask and look around to see if there could possibly be another Leslie sitting by the pool that day who knew something about ad campaigns.

"Sure," I said as I jumped up with feigned confidence, moving my chair closer to Alma's. The challenge intrigued me and I was giddy that she asked for my help. She went on to explain in layman's terms what the campaign was all about and I remember writing notes on a yellow notepad. I can't recall if I added value to her campaign (probably, no... definitely not), but I remember how I felt that day. Important. Worthy of being asked for my ideas. Happy that she saw something special in me. As a little brown girl, I was often told I was articulate, sometimes pretty and even athletic. That particular day, I felt just plain smart.

Two years later when Alma and her creative team were in search of models for a Coca-Cola print and out-of-home campaign featuring a mother and daughter, she booked my mom and me. I was thrilled to land my first modeling gig but I was perhaps more excited to have behind-the-scenes access to a photo shoot for Coke. Amazing, I remember thinking, even as I held a frozen smile while the Coke bottle threatened to slide from my hand under the photographer's hot studio lights. By this age I had developed a passion for writing. Yet Alma's encouragement and this experience ignited a fire in me. I knew I wanted to go into advertising. This sealed the deal.

Well, my career didn't go quite the way my fiercely determined adolescent self planned. I went to college to study this field that intrigued me and earned a bachelor's degree in advertising. Upon graduating from college, however, I decided to go into public relations instead and later earned a master's degree in humanities. Less sexy perhaps, public relations made sense for me as a writer with the gift of gab and dare I say, persuasion. Public relations has kept me close to the ad world and more often than not, I am at the table with my advertising counterparts setting strategies and bringing national campaigns to life. To this day my passion for advertising remains a constant in my life and shines through in much of my work.

Ask anyone who knows Alma Hopkins and they too will tell you she is a powerhouse in the advertising industry. She has pushed boundaries and stands tall in a field of giants. I have Alma to thank not just for telling, but for showing a little brown girl that she was special, smart and worthy. She set a high standard for me to follow. I think of Alma and her incredible influence a great deal. Because of her influence, I have made a commitment in my own life to pay it forward as a mentor, advocate and resource for a host of talented people.

So I ask you, who's the Alma in your life? Call them today and tell them what they mean to you. I'm picking up the phone to call MY Alma right now.

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