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The 312: Cafe Mocha Radio salutes Chicago women

Women are apparently running the talk circuit.

There’s “The View.” “The Talk.” “The Real.” And Cafe Mocha Radio, which got its start on Chicago’s WSRB 106.3-FM. It’s four years into syndication and can be heard on at least 17 stations nationwide (including Sirius Satellite Radio). It’s also celebrating nine Chicago women who have contributed to a movement that is enhancing the narrative surrounding people of color.

“I mark 10 years now with the company, so to me this award is a celebration of how a really small team, but a committed team, can actually impact millions of consumers nationally,” says Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, senior vice president for U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement at Nielsen. She’s also one of the nine to receive Cafe Mocha’s “Salute Her: Superwomen Making a Difference” awards.

Why? Because Pearson-McNeil is the brains behind the recent campaign, with Essence magazine, that launched a groundbreaking study that married existing data with a custom survey and general market responses to quantify and explain the economic and trend-setting power of the black consumer; perhaps most interestingly, its $1 trillion in spending power.

“We’ve been permitted the autonomy to connect in a lot of meaningful ways with communities and groups [in ways] that aren’t always conventional or traditional,” she says. “I think that when companies embrace diversity of thought — and how you approach diverse communities and connect with them [but] not talk at them — it actually has merit and proven results.”

Cafe Mocha is proof. Hosted by MC Lyte, Loni Love and Angelique Perrin, the show has flourished despite the naysayers. Creator Sheila Eldridge initially had some time convincing programmers that a women-led show would work. “All they thought was ‘you’ll have all this chatter, and ‘women don’t get along,'” she says. “It was very difficult convincing programmers that we could do this. … After Chicago, we got New York. Purely from a business standpoint, [I reminded them] are you addressing the fact that we represent a certain amount of dollars and we are the decision makers in the home? I really just went back to the basics of good business.”

The Salute Her awards, hosted by Robin Robinson and MC Lyte, will be held at the Ritz Carlton, 160 E. Pearson. The other awardees include singer/reality TV star Syleena Johnson; fashion designer Barbara Bates; digital strategist and blogger Luvvie Ajayi; Michi Marshall, vice president of The Brandon Marshall Foundation; Candace Matthews, chief marketing officer at Amway; Columbia Records’ vice president of urban promotion, Cynthia Johnson; Tarrah Cooper, press secretary for Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and Annette Nance-Holt, whose organization, Purpose Over Pain, focuses on ending gun violence.

The aftermath of the Ferguson protests and the overall issues surrounding the deaths of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are sobering situations, but some of the awardees say it is important to stay positive about moving forward.

“In the middle of all the madness I paused to post a Facebook status to ask people if they laughed that day and what made them laugh,” says Ajayi, an AIDS awareness activist and strategist with legions of politically savvy followers. “It’s a forced pause.”

Adds Matthews: “They’re celebrating a woman who started a foundation based on the fact that her son was murdered. She’s doing something positive in a situation that is very negative. Cafe Mocha celebrating that can show that there can be triumph over tragedy.”

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs can be reached at agibbs@suntimes.com or on Twitter @adriennewrites