Controversial radio host Don Imus infamously outraged sections of the Black community, April 4, 2007, when he shrewdly called members of the Rutgers University basketball team “nappy-headed hos” during a live broadcast.
Coincidentally, one of the components that Imus unknowingly angered was the executive director of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, led by rap mogul Russell Simmons. Emerging from the fallout of Imus’ remarks, Valeisha Butterfield, the network’s executive director at the time, then hosted a meeting at her house featuring some of the most powerful Black women working in media to come up with a counterpunch to Imus’ verbal onslaught. That same year, Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN) was born.
Butterfield, co-founder of WEEN, has successfully created a coalition that stretches to over 43,000 young women worldwide. WEEN hosts programs year round designed to educate women in the areas of health, financial literacy, career development and personal advancement. The company recently celebrated its three-year anniversary and will host its first WEEN Summer Academy where 60 women will undergo a six-week crash course in the entertainment business that will acclimate them to an industry of which most are begging to be a part.
Butterfield’s vision has exploded before her very eyes into a growing movement. But it was a vision that successfully grew despite a controversial comment that helped unite the African-American community. “From that meeting we decided that something had to be done and one day I decided to put my foot down and make a stand,” Butterfield said. “As a woman who worked in the business, I felt like it was my responsibility and my obligation to do my part to create more balance in the way women, like me, are portrayed in the media.”
WEEN’s achievements haven’t totally caught the self-assured Butterfield by surprise but it is a feat the soon-to-be 33-year-old Wilson, N.C. native is most proud of. “It’s amazing because not only has it been successful but it’s gotten a lot of exposure,” Butterfield admits. “With exposure you have to have substance and it was important for me to make sure we were backing up all this access that we had with real programs that touched young women in a real way.”
After working with Simmons and now the driving force behind WEEN, Butterfield has also applied her services to working with President Barack Obama as the deputy director of public affairs for the International Trade Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has also served as the director of diversity for the national office of the Alzheimer’s Association.
With a laundry list of duties and accomplishments firmly in her pocket, Butterfield’s drive earned her a spot in ESSENCE magazine’s Top 40 executives under 40 for 2010. When asked about her many accolades, Butterfield alluded to her personal secret: “Having no fear,” she revealed. “As kids we have no fear and as we become adults we kind of, you know, over think and over analyze everything. I’ve always jumped in feet first.”
To find out more information on Valeisha Butterfield and the WEEN Summer Academy visit www.weenonline.org