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2024 July Mag

July 2024 Mag

Encore Leadership: The Journey to “What’s NEXT?”

The Connector
Executive Coach Extraordinaire
Mom, Wife, Sister, Grandma, Soror and Friend

Jylla Moore Tearte, Ph.D. is a gifted leader who epitomizes the mantra to “lift others as you climb.”  Even for this article, her focus shifted our usual approach from introducing the bio of our cover model to exploring strategies and techniques using her Cerese D Jewelry story to connect people of partnership and collaboration.  This is conference season for many of our clients and Dr Jylla immediately came to mind for our feature story.  Be it attendance at the Zeta Boule or the Omega Conclave, she is ready to engage opportunities to connect with her Cerese D Jewelry as the conversation starter.

Angela Crane Jones

Jylla is wearing a Lapis Necklace from our One of A Kind Collection.

In the beginning

Dr. Jylla first met Deborah Dolman, VP of Business Development of Cerese D Jewelry, at an Odyssey Network Conference during the startup days of the business.  As she admired the luxurious, one-of-a-kind statement pieces, a conversation was orchestrated by mutual friend Cheryl Walker Robertson.  It was the moment that led to many crossroads on their future journeys.  The memory of the special feeling of connecting spirits that sisters immediately recognize was cemented by their mutual appreciation for quality and the beauty of a unique, statement piece. 

As a former Vice President at IBM responsible for assignments in sales, operations, reengineering and global business partners, Dr. Jylla’s mindset continues to immediately envision the opportunity to make mutually beneficial connections.  She finds that using a statement piece of jewelry as a conversation starter often breaks down the barrier of uncertainty of how to approach a new contact in a room where introverts struggle with the adrenaline necessary to socialize, while extroverts find themselves having a ball.  The mere touch of a Cerese D creation can signal, “Showtime!”   

The Journey Continues…

Upon becoming an entrepreneur, Dr. Jylla continued to stay in touch with the evolution of Cerese D Jewelry.  From having spent time visiting Deborah and Cerese, her daughter, at their initial business location in West Midtown Atlanta to a recent visit at their beautiful new location in Cobb County Atlanta, the years in-between strengthened their relationship.  Walking through their new headquarters’ office felt as though it was a museum of the history of Cerese D and the ongoing journey.  For Dr. Jylla, a Cerese D piece of jewelry elevates an individual’s sense of being and exudes confidence and elegance that often is called upon in challenging situations.  She states, “I am really looking forward to sharing the conference room space for a gathering of sisters.”

Opportunities to Reflect…

The Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC was the perfect backdrop for an evening of elegance to wear and showcase Cerese D Jewelry in 2016 on opening night at the Museum.  Dr. Jylla who had been appointed as the 2020 Centennial Commission Chair for Zeta, thought of the partnership and collaboration skills learned from her mentor, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, NCNW President and CEO, as she walked through the Museum.  A seed was planted for Zeta’s Centennial Founders’ Day to be inclusive of Cerese D Jewelry. 

Four years later, as Zeta celebrated their Founders’ Day at a special evening at the NMAAHC, an innovative and unique partnership with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.  and Cerese D Jewelry had been formed.  Zeta invited Cerese D Jewelry to partner with the sisterhood to create three (3) limited edition, numbered Centennial sets of jewelry.  Zeta Visionaries who were able to obtain the Zeta Centennial Collection pieces immediately bought out the “Centennial Collections” while experiencing the joy and personal confidence of owning Cerese D Jewelry statement pieces.  

From this vision of shared legacy that birthed the collaboration with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and Cerese D Jewelry, she was proud to personally gift her Zeta legacy daughter, Anjylla Foster, with these three exclusive collectibles. Pause.  The moment of reflection… this story of Deborah’s daughter, Cerese, and Dr. Jylla’s daughter, Anjylla, highlight their shared mutual passion for engaging legacy, nurturing cherished relationships and creating special memories. 

While the Centennial Collection is truly a treasured collectible, it was also a major contributor to Zeta’s fund-raising initiatives to celebrate the 2020 Centennial.  As International President for the Sorority from 1992-1996, she now completes duties as assigned by the current International President and CEO, Dr. Stacie NC Grant.  President Grant was the Undergraduate Vice President during Dr. Jylla’s “World-Class Service” administration.  Another full circle LEGACY moment of JOY that continues to elevate the bond of relationships, because she too cherishes Cerese D Jewelry statement pieces as Zeta collectibles and partnership opportunities. 

Intentional JOY…

The threads of this article are stories of Intentional JOY.  The examples shared serve to frame who Dr. Jylla is as an “Encore Leader”, the storyline of her dissertation.  With a passion to help people find “What’s Next?”, the story continues.  Recently landing at the Atlanta airport, she immediately observed a display case that invited passengers to visit the Cerese D Jewelry location at gate B29.  It was a moment of “intentional joy” to witness the continued innovation and creativity in building a brand while giving travelers around the world the opportunity to experience the brand.

As an executive coach and consultant, exploring, discovering and living what brings joy is paramount to navigating the journey of life.  Whether in a corporate role, an entrepreneur, an influencer, a creator or a fund raiser/philanthropist, creating space to connect puzzle pieces that put a smile on a face and a special tinge of love in the heart continues to be very special.  Dr. Tearte, 20th International President and Senior President of Zeta, is the CEO of Crystal Stairs, Inc., the Encore Leadership Community, and Co-Founder/COO of the Tearte Family Foundation.   Finding joy in being parents, grandparents and avid travelers, she and her husband, Curtis, have spent time on all seven (7) continents, from safaris in Africa to walking among penguins in Antarctica.  So, the question arises…

What’s Next?

Continuing her passion for “helping Encore Leaders transform their time, talent and treasure into a legacy that matters so that they can impact the world”, stays on the radar.  Working with people who have been successful and they now want to explore, discover and live “What’s Next?” energizes her daily walk.  Awakening childhood passions in order to pivot to becoming storytellers, authors, artists, builders, mentors, coaches, healers, servant leaders, philanthropists and humanitarians is the assignment for her life.  Visit to connect with Dr. Jylla and the Crystal Stairs, Inc. Encore Leadership Community.

In the meantime… on the drawing board is designing her Cerese D Jewelry Statement Piece for Boule 2024 and the Omega Conclave. “I THINK I’ll call it, ‘INTENTIONAL JOY!’

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2024 June Mag

June 2024 Mag

We are thrilled to announce that Cerese D Jewelry has moved to a new Atlanta location called Towers at Wildwood. Our previous west midtown loft had an industrial, artsy feel, reflecting Cerese’s style and personality. After a decade there, we had no idea how much we had accumulated, making the move an overwhelming yet exciting transition.

Building relationships has always been key to maintaining a great vibe in our office. This new meeting space now allows our staff to comfortably consult and collaborate throughout the day, enhancing productivity and team dynamics.

“I wanted a space that felt calm and beautiful, yet strong and structured.”   

Angela Crane Jones

Cerese is wearing Cerese D’s Kedron Crystal Necklace, and Havana Nights Champagne Necklace

Enhanced Facilities:

We’ve also introduced several of Cerese’s furniture and fixture selections, including communal bar tables and ample storage cabinets. The renovated space has increased productivity, enabled more effective collaboration, and greatly improved our in-office experience.

Customer Amenities

  • A Corporate Boardroom

    Comfortably seating 50 people, our boardroom provides an ideal space for meetings, video presentations, and consultations.

  • Sip and Shops

    Our beautiful new location, nestled in the woods with a skyline view of Atlanta, is perfect for relaxing and enjoying shopping events in a serene setting.

Gemstone Design Studio

Where creativity flourishes, bringing new designs to life.

Virtual Live Streaming

Connecting with customers and collaborators remotely across the globe.

Angela Crane Jones

Production Artisans

Where our talented team crafts exquisite jewelry.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new home on the 6th floor at Wildwood Towers. Please call for an appointment to shop or schedule meetings.

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2024 May Mag

May 2024 Mag

“She believed she could, so she did.”  

Very few companies can rebrand and build back better. It takes gut, will power, and know how. And then there is exceptionalism.  

Building sustainable businesses has been the singular focus of the NBIC since it opened its doors 38 years ago. NBIC has been the launching pad of several successful minority and women-owned businesses such as Slim & Husky’s and The Grilled Cheeserie. The program’s foundation is built on three tenants: business sustainability, capacity building, and job creation. Essential to NBIC’s success has been its leadership. At the helm is Angela Crane Jones, CEO, and a small business advocate.

Angela Crane Jones

Angela is wearing Cerese D’s Green Billow Necklace.

Angela, a former Dairy Queen franchisee, joined the organization in 2003 after selling her two stores. “At that time, I did not know I could run a business and have a family. Most of my friends were employees at Fortune500 companies and could not relate to my dilemma. It was a challenge for my husband and I to conceive.

So, I thought selling the businesses and focusing on my family was my only option,” she shares. Angela has since realized she could have done both and has made it her mission to ensure other women understand they, too, can do both, especially with the help of a supportive community.

After selling her business, Angela sought employment at a local business development center. But it was NBIC, and its then Executive Director Mildred Walters, who made the offer. In the fall of 2003, Angela stepped into purpose. For ten years, she worked as Assistant to the Executive Director, developing competency in the small business development space and building a Rolodex of supporters. Angela’s hard work and commitment did not go unnoticed. In 2012, she was named Interim CEO, then CEO, of the Nashville Business Incubation Center.

During that time, Angela’s vision for NBIC began to take shape, but it came with challenges. In 2016, NBIC’s longstanding relationship with a strategic partner ended. “Rebuilding NBIC as a separate entity was difficult but necessary. We were still seeing too many business owners fall through the cracks, be it losing the business due to a lack of succession planning or an inability to grow because of insufficient resources. The rebrand of NBIC shifted the focus to empowering small business owners, specifically minority and women owned business owners, who on average earn just $24,000 in revenue annually, compared to their white counterparts at $140,000+.”

Under Angela’s leadership, NBIC successfully reorganized and rebranded, going on to relocate to a new building featuring a modern design, executive offices, classrooms, and most importantly, a suite of programming targeted to the unique needs of emerging entrepreneurs and established but stuck companies. The pinnacle of that programming is NBIC’s Mighty Oak program that prepares business owners to build sustainable companies to achieve at least $1M in revenue ($500,000 for professional services businesses), create jobs, and scale. 

“It is our goal at NBIC to shift business owners’ mindsets from scarcity to abundance. They can only do that if they get out of the ‘worker bee’ mentality and put on their CEO hats, working on the business every day instead of working in it. That is hard to do, and we understand that. That is why we walk alongside them as they make the transition.”

Angela is proud of the track record NBIC has on meeting small business owners where they are, providing educational resources for them in somewhat of an academic style, supported by knowledgeable instructors, mentors, and coaches.

When NBIC pivoted in 2016, little did Angela know that less than five years later, she would need to tap into the same strength and agility she used to rebrand and relaunch NBIC to rebuild again.

In March 2020, a tornado devastated the North Nashville community NBIC called home, causing considerable damage to their new building. Displaced yet not discouraged, Angela and her team immediately contacted all clients to offer support. The ability to do that was predicated by a decision Angela made two years earlier.

“Early on, I realized that if NBIC did not embrace technology, we would be closed or on the blink of closure within a year.” Angela saw technology enablement as the future of sustainability and growth for NBIC and its clients. “We brought in an Entrepreneur-in-Residence exceptionally skilled in technology to help us build technology infrastructure. With everything cloud-based, we could work from anywhere. That framework was NBIC’s saving grace after the tornado as operations shifted from in-person to online.

Then the pandemic hit, and once again, a visionary leader’s thinking was relied on. NBIC’s early adoption of technology proved a benefit as classes went virtual. But for Angela, offering online instruction was only half the battle. She recognized that what small business owners in Davidson County needed most was access to technical assistance that helped them pivot. At the heart of that pivot was technology.

“It became clear to me that businesses needed a digital presence to survive the aftershocks of COVID-19.” Thanks to her efforts, NBIC was awarded a $600,000 grant from Metro Nashville under the CARES Act. “This grant enabled us to provide direct technical assistance for up to 200 small business owners struggling to keep their doors open.” That assistance included financial services, e-commerce/website capability, digital strategy development, and legal support.

With Angela’s ability to help so many small businesses go from surviving to thriving as they navigated the pandemic, banks and foundations took note of the work at NBIC. In 2022, Truist Foundation made a $1.25 million commitment to NBIC’s focus on cultivating the growth and development of local women-, racially and ethnically diverse-, and veteran-owned small businesses. Specifically, the grant provides tools, training, mentorships, and curriculum support to NBIC’s RISE UP Academy, which collaborates directly with women-owned businesses. Truist investment also supports NBIC’s expansion to Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama; Louisville, Kentucky; and other rural communities in Tennessee.

As the economy begins to stabilize, Angela is looking ahead to how NBIC can best serve MWBEs with events like Sips N’ Strategies that are sponsored by women led partnerships for women entrepreneurs. Angela realizes that business dynamics in Nashville and beyond are changing. Before the pandemic, businesses sought office space with all the bells and whistles. But after a few years of working from home, many are turning to virtual offices and remote teams. “Our goal is to be what firms need now, which looks different from years ago. In the past, our space was a draw, but NBIC’s secret sauce has always been its commitment to giving business owners not only the knowledge but also access to mentors, practitioners, and funders they need to scale.”

With technical assistance comes accountability. “We’re looking for business owners who are coachable and want that level of oversight.” NBIC serves the whole person, helping business owners consider all factors impacting their business trajectory. “We do not operate in silos. We help you define your goals – business and personal – then develop a road map to get you there.” It is that commitment to preparation and their history of success that enables NBIC to change the narrative of small business ownership.

“Build it they will come.” The community she longed for to encourage her in goals and aspirations as she embarked on the journey to begin a family, she built that for the women entrepreneurs that are part of NBIC. Having a strong team allows Angela to be the big sister, give a listening ear, chief cheerleader, a counselor, and prayer partner. No one can do this kind of sweat equity alone. “I am thankful for the team at NBIC that allows me to operate in purpose every day.”

Angela pours her wisdom and heart into others. Not one for the spotlight but many have given this Tennessee State University Alum her roses. Now! She was recognized by the Nashville Business Journal (NBJ) as a Power 100, an annual business list of movers and shakers that is considered THE list to be on in Nashville. She has served faithfully as a coach for NBJ annual Mentoring Monday events, and she was recognized by NBJ as a Women of Influence Honoree.

The one job that Angela longed to hold was “Mommy.” She and her husband Roger Jones, a former NFL athlete, are blessed to be parents to “King Donavan,” a NICU 2009 graduate. Because of him, Angela and Roger are strong supporters of the March of Dimes and often help families who are facing fertility challenges.  

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2024 Apr. Mag

April 2024 Mag

Beverly Evans Smith is the 26th National President (2017-2021) of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. While serving in this role she restructured the corporate Board and headquarters operation, initiated the documentation of all business operations, updated all program manuals, added new revenue streams, significantly increased membership, and international engagement. She also served as the organization’s elected National First Vice President, National Secretary and was previously employed as Delta Sigma Theta’s Executive Director leading their headquarters business function.

Smiling black woman standing in front of a night time cityscape wearing a black sleeveless dress and the Turquoise Swirl Necklace on a Cerese D magazine cover

Beverly is wearing Cerese D’s Turquoise Swirl Necklace.

Smith retired from the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) as the Assistant Commissioner and Georgia State Director for Adult Education and GED Testing in 2018. In this role she provided adult education training programs for an average of 69,000 Georgia citizens annually with a staff of over 1200 educators and support staff at 450 sites across the state. She was also responsible for the administration of all Georgia GED testing and supported local literacy action groups throughout Georgia. In addition, Smith served as 2015-17 Chair of the National Association of State Directors in Adult Education and has testified before the U.S. Senate HELP Committee representing the issues faced by adults with literacy challenges.

As an entrepreneur, Smith is also senior vice-president of The HR Group Inc., a management consulting firm she has co-owned with her husband, Stephen, for over 30 years. Her skill sets include demonstrated expertise in organizational effectiveness, business operations redesign and restructure, strategic planning, and crisis management. As a corporate manager, Smith spent 18 years in leadership positions with AT&T (Southern Bell) implementing innovative business processes during her tenure. During that time, she also served as a member of the 1994 AT&T Malcolm Baldrige Award winning team in the area of human resources. Prior to her corporate work, Smith spent several years as university administrator in varied capacities. She is a prolific motivational speaker in the areas of leadership and change management.

A long-term community volunteer, Smith is the founding Delta National President and serves on the board of D4 Women in Action, the first of its kind 501(c)4 social welfare and advocacy organization to be established under the umbrella of a Black Greek letter organization. She is a Life Member of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), where she serves as Co-Chair of the International Affairs Committee. Smith has served on the Bowling Green State University (BGSU-Ohio) Student Affairs Leadership Council and the Board of Directors of the Delta Research and Education Foundation (DREF). In addition, she chaired the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration for eight years and served on varied community boards including the Cobb County United Way and Girls, Incorporated. She has been a Co-Chair for Leadership Cobb and served on the Board of Directors for Chattahoochee Technical College as well as on the Alumni Board of Directors for BGSU where she chaired its Strategic Planning committee.

A recipient of numerous honors and awards, Smith was a recipient of the Phoenix Award (2022), which is the highest honor an individual or group can receive from the mayor of Atlanta. She is also the recipient of the People Profile Lifetime Achievement Award (2022) and the Network Journal 25 Influential Black Women in Business Award (2021). In 2017 Smith was recognized as an Outstanding Georgia Citizen by the Office of the Secretary of State and named the 2020 Georgia Outstanding Individual by the Georgia General Assembly. In addition, she is the recipient of a U.S. Congressional Certificate of Special Recognition. Smith was named the LEAD360 business organization’s Executive of the Year for 2020-21 and was a UNCF Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Honoree in 2020. Her alma mater, Bowling Green State University, named her to the 2018 Class of the Academy of Distinguished Alumni and she was honored by the St. Louis Urban League/Urban League Guild with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. Recognized by the NW Georgia YWCA as a Woman of Achievement, she has been listed in both Who’s Who Among African Americans and Who’s Who in the Southeast. In 2006, she was named a “History Maker” by The HistoryMakers (, a national African American historical registry which is housed in United States Library of Congress. She has also received numerous keys and proclamations from cities/states across the country.

Beverly and her husband, Stephen, have been married for fifty-one years. The Smiths have two married children: son Brian (Rashan Ali) Smith, daughter Stacy (Dr. Jason) Frazier, and five grandchildren.

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Celebrating Women and Jewelry: Women’s History Month

March is not just a month, it’s a celebration of resilience, strength, and beauty. As we step into Women’s History Month, Cerese D Jewelry reflects on the remarkable women who have graced our magazine covers over the years. Each cover tells a story of empowerment, grace, and timeless elegance, with our jewelry adding that extra touch of sophistication. Our journey through the years has been nothing short of a dazzling adventure. As we flick through the pages of our past, we find the faces of extraordinary women who are shaping history and leaving an indelible mark on the world. From trailblazing entrepreneurs to fearless leaders, each cover represents a moment frozen in time, capturing the essence of these incredible women.

As we celebrate the rich history of Women’s History Month, we invite you to explore our current collection and discover pieces that resonate with the timeless elegance of our past covers. These women have showcased our One of a Kind necklaces so elegantly, but it didn’t stop there. Cerese D Jewelry continues to curate a selection that caters to the diverse tastes of today’s empowered women.

Shop Iconic Looks Inspired By Our Past Covers

Green Foil Hornet Necklace

Classic Homestead Double Necklace

Labradorite Train Cab Necklace

Smiling woman with brown hair in a black top and standing in a park like setting and wearing a long lariat style necklace in gold metal with a large blue stone on a Cerese D magazine cover
Smiling woman with brown hair in a black top and standing in a park like setting and wearing a long lariat style necklace in gold metal with a large blue stone on a Cerese D magazine cover

Puppy Love 2 Necklace

Smiling woman with brown hair in a black top and standing in a park like setting and wearing a long lariat style necklace in gold metal with a large blue stone on a Cerese D magazine cover

Stripe Graphite Necklace

Smiling woman with brown hair in a black top and standing in a park like setting and wearing a long lariat style necklace in gold metal with a large blue stone on a Cerese D magazine cover

White Sand Capiz Necklace

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2024 Mar. Mag

March 2024 Mag

Carol McElheney is the regional vice president of operations at Hudson, the largest travel retailer in the world. Carol has been with Hudson for more than 10 years and continues to excel in her role. She continuously demonstrates her proven abilities to craft and facilitate creative business solutions, resulting in major improvements in operating plans and successful new revenue generation.

With over 20 years in the F&B industry, Carol clearly demonstrates her understanding of the value of customer service. She defends and supports that everyone wants and deserves to be treated with respect.  When this occurs, the outcome is often the beginning of a meaningful relationship.  Carol has nurtured so many incredible relationships over the years, several of which continue to inform many of her decisions and business opportunities. From universities to corporate dining rooms, Carol has had the pleasure of building and developing business models that work and add long-term value.

Smiling black woman standing in front of a night time cityscape wearing a black sleeveless dress and and a large beaded white and black necklace on a Cerese D magazine cover

Carol is wearing Cerese D’s Real Soft Focus Pearls.

While it is important for Carol to cultivate an inclusive workplace, this sentiment carries over into her decisions to intentionally bring diverse business partners into her locations.  Women and minority-owned businesses are sorely underrepresented but have dynamic offerings that can thrive and prosper if allowed to be recognized by the masses. Our business should reflect the many travelers who come through our airports. Travelers should experience a “sense of place.” Bringing some of the city’s unique aspects inside the airport allows Hudson to pay homage to what the city and state offer.

Carol loves her role as RVP in the airport space and all that it represents! She believes everyone on her team brings value to the organization. Her leadership style supports building a diverse team and business through intentional relationship building. Carol is very passionate about serving and helping people. She is committed to ensuring all her team members are trained, mentored, and championed for personal and professional growth opportunities.

Her interests include improving all people’s lives and mentoring young professionals.  She actively serves on several boards in Alabama, most recently joining the Sloss Furnace Board in Birmingham.

Carol is a true change agent, committed to leaving everything better than she found it. Her faith and servant leader mentality continue to motivate her success.

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2024 Feb. Mag

2024 February Mag

In a departure from the ordinary, Marquita Richardson’s venture from Corporate America to the realm of pet treats is a story of purpose, and a non-traditional job path. Marquita, an extroverted perfectionist with an innate desire for deeper meaning, always sought comfort “off the beaten path.”

Smiling black woman standing in front of a night time cityscape wearing a black sleeveless dress and and a large beaded white and black necklace on a Cerese D magazine cover

Marquita is wearing Cerese D’s White Sand Capiz Necklace.

Leaving Corporate America and starting a pet treat business is probably not high on most people’s list, but an extrovert, perfectionist who always looks for the deeper meaning and purpose of every choice she makes, Marquita Richardson is unlike most people.

Smiling black woman standing in front of a night time cityscape wearing a black sleeveless jumpsuit and and a long lariat style necklace with a large bead elementFrom the earliest memory she has, Marquita has always found comfort “off the beaten path.” So, with the encouragement of a professor, forgoing the traditional job route and jumping right into entrepreneurship after obtaining her Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) seemed more in-tuned to her purpose. Before her degree was in hand and armed with one client she obtained at the completion of an internship, Marquita launched Rich Creative Branding (RCB) a PR and social media firm whose tagline was, Don’t Leave Your Brand to Chance. After about a year, she decided to turn RCB into a part time gig and get corporate employment full time. Though a short-lived experience, Marquita gained some very valuable lessons on business and communications. 

Change Management

Marquita joined the PR team of a hospital system and quickly rose to become the communications assistant to the President. When the hospital was considering a buy-out and becoming a for profit entity, she was in the room providing perspective and crafting messaging.  

“I was doing change management, before I even knew it was change management” a statement Marquita often says when discussing her career journey.

Very early on during her time in corporate spaces, Marquita realized the things that she was naturally good at were highly sought after skills. With this realization, she bet on herself and followed yet another non-traditional job path. With the goal to get as much experience as possible in the shortest amount of time as possible, Marquita became a contractor – something normally done at the latter part of someone’s career. And after a few years and a handful of projects, she set her site on consulting with the big leagues, the “Big 4” to be exact. With no referral, no assistance, Marquita cold-submitted an application to the best of the Big 4 and got in. The rest is history, as they say… 

Smiling black woman sitting on a gray upholstered chair wearing a black sleeveless top and and a large beaded white and black necklace on a Cerese D magazine coverWorking with large and larger companies across the country and managing projects of $10+ Million, growing teams and providing thought leadership in the growing landscape of Change Management principles and DEI, Marquita has more than made her mark after eight years and tenures at two of the four largest audit firms in the world.

Making a Bigger Impact

However, as time has gone on, and as the world continues to change Marquita found herself asking, more times than not, if there was more that she could be doing to make a bigger impact, while also living in her truth and purpose. So, when the stress of a project presented itself as hives, she knew it was time to pay closer attention to the voice in her head and tap into her creativity to figure out her next chapter. Instead of money, becoming a partner or status being key drivers, Marquita focused on the things that brought her happiness in the simplest forms – her dog and baking.

Image of a smiling black woman wearing a turquoise sequined sleeveless dress standing in front a a turquoise ice cream cart holding a small white dog in a part setting with a white umbrellaFrom this place, Sweet Paws Creamery was born. Sweet Paws Creamery is a pet treat brand on a mission to make products that are good for dogs and the communities they bark in. Committed to sourcing locally, empowering and supporting local initiatives, and serving pet owners and businesses that embrace our canine companions, Marquita is making doggy ice cream with a purpose. 

It also doesn’t hurt that the pet treat business just so happens to be a 35-billion-dollar industry. Marquita is now proudly creating the company she has always wanted to work for, tapping into her creativity and doing things that she loves with who she loves.

Marquita is a living testament that remaining true to yourself, and anchoring back to your calling or purpose will always lead you to where you are supposed to be.

See what Marquita is up to:

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2024 Jan. Mag

2024 January Mag

Soror Gina Merritt-Epps is an active, esteemed member of Xi Tau Zeta in Atlantic City. Her pivotal roles include serving as Zeta’s first National Director of Risk Management, crafting influential Risk Management Policies, and excelling as an attorney in corporate governance. Elected as Zeta’s 30th International First Vice President, where she oversees all membership functions. Her achievements span groundbreaking leadership, legal prowess, and community service, resonating with her commitment to family and professional excellence.

Smiling beautiful black woman wearing a black off the shoulder top and a large blue beaded necklace and dangling earrings on the cover of a cerese D magazine

Gina is wearing Cerese D’s Falling in Reverse Earrings.

Soror Gina Merritt-Epps was initiated into Mu Eta chapter at Pennsylvania State University in 1987. She currently is an active member of Xi Tau Zeta chapter in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and is a Diamond Life Member and Centennial Founders’ Society Member. Gina has served the sorority in several capacities, including her most recent service as the Director for the Atlantic Region and Zeta’s first National Director of Risk Management.

Risk Management

Beautiful black woman wearing a black off the shoulder top and a large beaded necklace and dangling earrings standing in front of greenery.She created the first formalized Risk Management Policies for the sorority and Amicae auxiliary and created the risk training program, which is now a Certification program that is highly regarded by the Sorority’s insurance carrier and campus professionals.

She also served as a member of the Zeta Organizational Leadership (ZOL) Steering Committee on two occasions, the 13th New Jersey State Director, and previously was the parliamentarian for the Atlantic Region and the State of New Jersey. At the 2022 international conference, Gina was elected to serve Zeta as the 30th International First Vice President with responsibility for all of the Sorority’s membership functions.

Beautiful black woman wearing a black off the shoulder top and a large beaded necklace and dangling earrings leaning against a steel wall

A graduate of the Pennsylvania State University and Howard University School of Law, professionally, Gina is an attorney and corporate governance professional. She was the first African American female elected as an officer of southern New Jersey’s gas utility, serving in various capacities, including, Senior VP, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary. Her areas of expertise include the protection of information, corporate compliance and ethics, regulatory compliance, and Board processes. She is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Governing with Style

Gina is a member of the Society for Corporate Governance and the former chair of the Diversity Task Force. She is a Trustee for the AtlantiCare Health System and serves as Vice Chair of the Governance Committee.

A native and resident of New Jersey, Gina has two daughters, including her “bonus” daughter Soror Danielle Epps, and Taylor Epps, a reporter, and anchor for WKBW in Buffalo, New York. She is married to Michael C. Epps, Esq. a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated.

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2023 Dec. Mag

2023 December Mag

Introducing Karen Boykin-Towns, a force to be reckoned with. Her journey from Harlem to the zenith of corporate and civic leadership illustrates a life dedicated to effecting change. A trailblazer renowned for her strategic prowess, she seamlessly intertwines business acumen with fervent advocacy, spanning her 35-year career. 

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Introducing the remarkable Karen Boykin-Towns, President/CEO of Encore Strategies LLC, a boutique consultancy specializing in the integration of business and public affairs initiatives. Throughout her illustrious career spanning multiple sectors, Karen has consistently tackled challenges with unwavering determination. In her role as a dedicated wife and mother, she channels the same vibrant energy into her 28-year marriage to former Assemblyman Darryl C. Towns and their two daughters, both accomplished HBCU graduates and professional engineers.

Karen Boykin-Towns is an accomplished strategist, a global business luminary, and a driving force for civic betterment. Her indelible mark stretches across government, the nonprofit sector, and Pfizer, a Fortune 50 global biopharmaceutical juggernaut. Her journey to success commenced within the corporate realm, where her leadership and strategic brilliance continue to forge an enduring legacy.


Woman standing in front of a holiday scene with a white christ,as tree in the background smiling with black rimmed glasses and wearing a white button up shirt with a large beaded necklace with her hand to her cheekBorn and raised in Harlem, New York, Karen Boykin-Towns emerged from challenging times with a determination to defy expectations and champion social change. Her college years marked the beginning of her activism, a journey that would lead her to cross paths with then State Senator David A. Paterson, setting her ablaze with a profound passion for public service and advocacy.

Fueled by her fervor for policy and politics, Boykin-Towns embarked on an extraordinary career. She served as legislative director and later ascended to the role of chief of staff to New York State Senator David Paterson, who would go on to become the 55th Governor of New York State. In this pivotal role, she orchestrated the strategy and execution of legislative endeavors centered on civil and human rights, community development, and environmental concerns.


At Pfizer, Karen Boykin-Towns advanced quickly into executive management roles. Her reputation for success in state government earned her the role of senior legislative analyst, where she would go on to hold pivotal leadership positions in public affairs, government relations, communications, global policy, and human resources.

Karen’s remarkable journey spanned 22 years at Pfizer where she concluded her career as Vice President of Corporate Affairs for their $34 billion global innovative medicines business. In this capacity, she held a pivotal position as a member of the Senior Leadership Committee, comprising the top 200 leaders in the global organization.

Earlier in her tenure, Karen’s significant impact in driving organizational change led to her selection in 2008 by Pfizer’s CEO as the company’s inaugural Chief Diversity Officer. In this role, she masterfully crafted an integrated, global strategy that not only fostered internal progress but also garnered external recognition for Pfizer’s strides in diversity and inclusion, positioning it as a competitive advantage. Amidst her rise in the corporate world, her unwavering commitment to advocacy remained unshaken.

Today, with over 35 years of dedicated public service, Karen Boykin-Towns exemplifies the ability to thrive in all spheres, effortlessly bridging the gap between the public and private sectors. Her family remains her anchor, and she champions the fight for equitable resources, especially for marginalized communities.


Karen actively nurtures and champions the next generation of leaders. At this year’s NAACP National Convention, the Youth & College Division established the Brock/Boykin-Towns Leadership Award in recognition of her positive impact on young Black women. She serves as Vice Chairman for the NAACP’s National Board of Directors in addition to independent director for iFIT Health & Fitness maker of NordicTrack and member of the American Airlines Community Council. Karen is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated, The Links Incorporated and The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).

Karen Boykin-Towns


As the President/CEO of Encore Strategies LLC, Karen integrates business and public affairs initiatives, showcasing her skills as a strategist, coalition builder and social change agent. Her goal is to apply and share her experience to make positive changes in business and community.

Her dedication to public service shapes policies addressing societal inequities, reflecting her unique background encompassing corporate, advocacy, and social justice. Karen Boykin-Towns sets an example for those seeking positive change, championing diversity, equity, and inclusion, and leaving an indelible impact on society. Her journey inspires us all to embrace our roles as agents of change, believing in the power of diversity on the path to success.


Boykin-Towns has been recently recognized by Ebony Magazine as one of the ‘Top 5 Black Female Activists Making History in Their Own Right’ and has been featured in Essence Magazine, Black Enterprise, Bloomberg Businessweek, CBS This Morning, Black Entertainment Television, PR Week, WWD, Crain’s, African American Career World, Network Journal and The Cut, among other publications.

Savoy Magazine named her a “Top Influential Woman in Corporate America” in 2016. In 2020, she was named “Woman of the Year” by Seeds of Fortune and named by City & State as one of New York’s Power Players in Politics and Government. In 2021 Karen was selected for Lafayette 148‘s Unordinary Women Campaign and in 2023 featured by City & State for their Above and Beyond: Women award.

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2023 Nov. Mag

2023 November Mag

Kyla Thompson, APR, boasts over 35 years of experience as a seasoned consultant in Public Relations, Marketing, Media Crisis, Media Relations, and Public Affairs. For two decades, she successfully ran her own company in Denver, CO. Among her many awards, she notably played a crucial role in crisis management in aiding the Columbine High School families after the tragedy. Kyla’s extensive account experience encompasses various industries, and she now enjoys retirement in New Mexico with her husband Roger.

Smiling woman with brown hair in a black top and standing in a park like setting and wearing a long lariat style necklace in gold metal with a large blue stone on a Cerese D magazine cover

Kyla is wearing Pave Coil Earrings.

Smiling woman with brown hair in a black top and standing in a park like setting with water in the background and wearing a lariat style necklace in gold metal with a large blue stoneKyla Thompson, APR, has been a consultant in Public Relations, Marketing, Media Crisis, Media Relations and Public Affairs for more than 35 years. She owned her own company in Denver, CO for 20 years. Her expertise includes Product Marketing, Economic Development, Large Event Management, Real Estate Development, Media Training, Community Relations, Corporate Imaging, Change Management, Key Message Development, Grass Root/Constituency Relations and fundamental communication strategies.

Who’s Who

She was listed as Who’s Who in Business by the Denver Business Journal for six consecutive years, and was awarded Denver’s prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Social Responsibility award for her firm’s volunteer work with non-profits. She was a member of the Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee and the Downtown Denver Partnership – which revitalized downtown Denver. She was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from her professional organization, Public Relations Society of America, PRSA.

To Tell the Truth

As a crisis expert, Kyla has worked for corporations and individuals to help tell their side of the story, to tell the truth and tell it in a timely fashion. In 1999, she was hired by the families of the murdered and injured victims of Columbine High School in Denver. She advised 35 family members through media training, and ongoing media advice, and comprised a team to raise $3 million to build a new library to replace the old one, which was the scene of the massacre.

Smiling woman with brown hair in a black top and standing on a waterfront with boats in the background and wearing a lariat style necklace in gold metal with a large blue stoneAccount experience includes such diverse industries as non-profits, health care organizations and hospitals, banking, construction, large real estate developments in CO and NM, environmental hazardous waste sites, environmental science companies, large engineering firms, the Denver Broncos, the Denver Avalanche hockey team, Coors Field, Denver International Airport, University of Colorado, Vail Associates and Winter Park Ski Area.

Kyla and her husband Roger, a former national TV voiceover, are both retired and live in the Rio Grande River Valley in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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