By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly
At the Women of Color Empowered event on Sept. 20, the entrepreneurial spirit was palpable. The event honored 15 women who scratched together businesses and lives from nearly nothing, who overcame challenges and struggles, and who came to prominence in local business.
The event was created by the Northwest Asian Weekly in 1996, when a group of women from all races and backgrounds decided to meet three times a year to network and support one another. At recent events, as many as 400 people participate in the luncheons.
Honorees of September’s luncheon included: WOW Chocolates owners Maire and Lesly Chacon, Seattle Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Maud Daudon, attorney Sophath Chou, Fuerte Fitness owner Adriana Medina, Savor Seattle owner Angela Shen, Modernist Cuisine researcher and chef Anjana Shanker, Norris Pacific Group owner and president Beverly Norris, Hourglass Footwear founders Kira Bundlie and Lisa Ström, assistant attorney general Kendee Yamaguchi, Purple Reels Productions founder Purple Tramble, Eastern European Chamber of Commerce founder Natasha Savage, Lam Seafoods Owner Yen Lam, and State Farm Agency owner Julia Johnson.
Savage, who started helping other immigrants resettle in the United States almost as soon as she arrived from Azerbaijan in the late 1980s, was pleased at the recognition of her efforts.
“Everyone who knows me knows I’m not a very shy person,” she joked. “Did I think I would receive this honor? No. Is it pleasant? Absolutely.”
Some of the women shared their unlikely success stories, such as Beverly Norris, a member of the Arizona-based tribe Tohono O’odham.
Norris showed up to Seattle about four years ago, she was in the middle of a divorce, homeless and without a job. Now she is a successful businesswoman, president of Norris Pacific Group, who works with other Native-owned businesses to market and sell products within Indian Country.
The goal of Norris’ business, which is located on the Puyallup Tribe reservation, is to encourage Native Americans to “Buy Native” and to create a tribal supplier network so Natives can support themselves instead of relying on non-tribal businesses.
It’s peculiar, she said, that Native Americans weren’t buying from their own people in the first place.
She has been able to turn the Norris Pacific Group into a respectable business, but it wasn’t without overcoming her own obstacles. In addition to coming to Seattle essentially homeless and penniless after ending a 23-year marriage, she had struggled with alcoholism in the past.
“I can tell you as a Native woman and a business owner, I’m a success story in that I’m in 16 years of recovery,” Norris said. “A large part of that was because I needed to make changes in my life to help keep me going in that direction.”
“I believed in my creative results and what I needed to do … and it has been an amazing journey. There have been so many rich women, and by rich I don’t mean monetary but rich in spiritual, who have come into my life as mentors and helped me go the direction I needed to go,” Norris said.
Through friends and a little bit of luck, she was able to claw her way up in Seattle. She found a friend who gave her part-time work. She was then able to take on a job as a resident aide for the Muckleshoot Tribe Recovery Home. Then, she met Harold Monteau, the brother of a friend in Rocky Boy, Montana. Together, they started brainstorming ideas that eventually culminated into the Norris Pacific Group.
“From being homeless to being here today is amazing. I am living a life beyond my wildest dreams. … If I had to give a message to women, and that’s women of all colors, it’s to dream big and never give up hope. There’s opportunity for us out there,” Norris said.
And for those wondering if they are on the right path, if all the hard work is worth it, Norris said, “Don’t stop five minutes before the miracle happens.” (end)
Zachariah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.