Culture House, an artfully repurposed church, has become a welcoming community space where art meets DC’s creative scene.  

Hosted by actress and proud Howard alum, Ashley Blaine Featherson, alongside Girls United co-founder, Rechelle Dennis, the She Got Now dinner brought together fashionable students, social media influencers, and industry executives who gathered to honor Kayla Thompson, Ciara Jones, and Susan Kelechi Watson.

Derek Lewis, President of PepsiCo’s South Division, spoke on his organization’s decision to create this platform. “The She Got Now initiative is to celebrate and recognize the women of HBCU’s for all the things that they do, and all the ways that they shape culture.” For the PepsiCo leader, this collaboration also hits home, “This is personal for me.  We’re not just trying to sell products.  This is more purposeful.  I graduated from Hampton.  I grew up in D.C.  I have a daughter.” Mr. Lewis closed by noting “PepsiCo and ESSENCE are two powerful and iconic brands who are committed to the next steps to take this program to the next level.”

Rechelle Dennis, Ciara Jones, Kayla Thompson, and Ashley Blaine Featherson. Photography by Renee McRae.

She Got Now is an innovative collaboration between PepsiCo and ESSENCE, as they launch the inaugural Allen McKellar Jr. Internship Program—named in honor of the first Black professional to enter the corporate workforce through a job at PepsiCo, 80 years ago this year. Together the brands will provide summer internship opportunities at PepsiCo or ESSENCE during the summer of 2020.

Ciara Jones, of Orlando, Florida, was the first She Got Now honoree of the night. Ms. Jones is the Assistant Coach and Recruitment Coordinator for the university’s Women’s Volleyball Team. “I wish I knew that I could have gone to an HBCU”, Ms. Jones remarked as she accepted her award. The honoree works to give back to the community by providing free volleyball camps and clinics for girls of color.

Honoree Ciara Jones pictured in the center at the ‘She Got Now’ dinner in D.C. Photography by Renee McRae.

A graduate of Marquette University, Ms. Jones became the first female black athlete inducted into the school’s hall of fame for her celebrated efforts in volleyball. She recently received the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Thirty Under 30 award. She noted that her experiences at Marquette, as “the only black girl on the team”, “motivated her to offer our girls the opportunity to come to an HBCU and win championships.”

Event co-host Rechelle Dennis announced the official launch of Girls United by ESSENCE. Girls United is a new Gen-Z community dedicated to “challenging the perception of what it means to be a young, black women in today’s world.” Girls United will provide a safe space for community building and mentorship for black women.

Ms. Kayla Thompson, of Cleveland, Ohio, is a Junior Psychology Major at Howard University. She accepted the award as Miss College of Arts and Sciences. As a member of the university’s royal court, she uses her platform to remind us to be of service to others “because at the end of the day none of us got here on our own.” During her acceptance speech, Ms. Thompson reinforced her call to serve to the audience, “Community service isn’t time-consuming, and everyone has something they can bring to the table.”

The final honoree of the evening is Screen Actors Guild and NAACP award-winning actress and Howard Alum, Susan Kelichi Watson. Due to scheduling, Ms. Watson was unable to accept her award in person. Event co-host Ashley Blaine Featherson accepted her award on her behalf.

Derek Lewis. Photographed by Renee McRae.

ESSENCE and President, South Division, PepsiCo Derek Lewis of joined forces to close out the event by thanking the honorees and to announce an upgrade to the She Got Now initiative.

Mr. Lewis stated, “This initiative was not only created to celebrate the achievements of women at these HBCUs, but to expand to create opportunities for mentorship and eventually permanent employment for not only female but to male students of all Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

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