As we turn the page on 2017, one thing is clear—women have persevered and prevailed. One such woman is founder and producer of You Night Empowering Events, Lisa Angelos McKenzie, who is ensuring that the women of New Orleans and St. Tammany Parish are playing a part in the cultural shift that is rocking our country. Since the modernization of fashion, runways have been reserved for the young and the thin, portraying and symbolizing the pretense of health. Well, move over!
You Night Empowering Events is flipping the catwalk upside down and tackling cancer by providing a platform for local survivors to build a sisterhood.
Inspired by her mother’s own journey with the all-encompassing disease, Lisa Mckenzie’s political science and journalism studies have instructively prepared her for her unforeseen role as entrepreneur or as Lisa describes it, her “accidental dream.” Lisa felt that traditional cancer support groups were lacking that joie de vivre or joy of life that New Orleans exudes, and she created You Night to encompass all aspects of healing. You Night distinguishes itself by connecting survivors and arranging goal-oriented activities—empowering the women to live life to their fullest potential.
My first introduction with Lisa was via cell phone minutes before she was to take the stage and announce her most recent endeavor—ScART “Scar Art,” a partnership with fellow local entrepreneur’s, Painting with a Twist. This partnership with Painting with a Twist, which has franchises in 39 states, enables Lisa to spread her mission even beyond the geographical area we call home. ScART classes are specially designed for cancer survivors to artistically transform their physical scars into a work of art, reflecting their emotional healing. Each one is as unique as their story.
I was invited to attend the You Night’s New Orleans class of 2017’s graduating runway show, witnessing genuine moments composed of every emotion ranging from laughter to tears. This special night, a fashion show filled with optimism and power, is a culmination of a yearlong journey of self discoveries.
When I stopped by the Contemporary Arts Center to get a sneak peak of the extravaganza, I met the ladies as they hurried around during rehearsals.
Like three fairy godmothers, I was embraced by big sisters, Ruth Mora Avila, Kristyn Moorefield Kemp, and Beth Farinola (all alumnae). With a whimsical and giddy sentiment, the sisters fell into their docent roll briefing me on You Night and showing me around. Chattering away, I was attentive to the emotion and energy they spoke with, almost more than the actual words accompanying it.
I also recognized a familiar face—Shelly Ruffin, who I met during FestiGals earlier this year, and I had no idea the battles she has been fighting. Just as Cheryl McKey writes in You Night’s yearbook, “My prayer with this journey is that somewhere along the line of my story you will feel hope and strength.” You Night creates that empowerment for each of its classes—a sisterhood that none of them imagined they would be a part of that turned into a sisterhood that they could not imagine living without. And that sisterhood extends to those who support You Night.
Twin sisters and owners of H2O Spa, Holli and Heather Gaspar, pamper and prepare the ladies hair and makeup for their graduation. Local shops, Fleurt Boutique, Hemline, and Jean Therapy provide the fashions for the three collections the ladies walk: formal, contemporary, and Grand Finale—the rockstar look. And WGNO ABC 26 New With A Twist’s, Tamica Lee, aka Foxxy Cleopatra, and Kenny Lopez, aka Austin Powers, make a dynamic duo emceeing the big night.
Runway coaches, Leslie Legania and Lauren Siegel, stepped up to the plate when their third sister coach, Tammy Broussard’s recent reoccurrence prevented her from continuing working. But nothing would prevent Tammy from cheering on her ladies as they walked the catwalk, and, in return, the ladies dedicated their champagne toast to Tammy—one of the most touching moments of the evening.
The relationships these women have built and the vulnerability they share with each other is a source of strength they draw from. They are powerful, loving, strong, courageous, and resilient.
They are Jamie Aguda, Pam Moss, Pam Smith, Eve Vavrick, Roxanne Powell, Charlotte Falgout, Priestly Frank, Claire Scioneaux, Jennetter Dobard, Cheryl McKey, Nicole Matherne, Shelly Ruffin, Lisa Weeks, Tonisha Bright, Lori Mentel, Eileen Long, Tracy Ulrich, and Phyllis Smith.
And as each one of the fierce ladies took their turn down the runway, the crowd went wild. The cheers emanating from the loved ones and doctors who traveled this journey with them. The ladies dazzled, and all I could think was this is the beauty show little girls need to see, and these are the women little girls need to look up to because these are the women who are our Wonder Women.
You can learn more about You Night Empowering Events here.