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Girlz Talk fundraiser honors late founder, aims to help next generation of female leaders

Jacqueline Harris, program director, at Cedarmore Corp., center,

Jacqueline Harris, program director, at Cedarmore Corp., center, is flanked by Girlz Talk alumna Sage Thomas, 17, left, and Brianna Flythe, 18, both of Huntington, at a fundraiser on Saturday in Syosset.  Credit: Danielle Silverman

Women who believe success is a communal goal came together on Saturday to raise money to help girls blaze their own trails — and honor Girlz Talk founder Cynthia Perkins-Roberts.

“Lifting as We Climb — A Benefit for Girlz” at Syosset’s North Ritz Club will partly defray the program's expenses, including the seventh annual gathering at Hofstra University, set for March 30, which 400 are expected to attend. The day will be filled with keynote speeches, interactive sessions and candid conversations that focus on academic and social issues.   

“It meant so much; it helped me build my confidence,” said Brianna Flythe, 18, of Huntington, who began attending Girlz Talk workshops, conversations and training sessions in sixth grade. “They helped me get ready for college.”

“Just having older people tell you what they went through when they were younger — to see how successful they are motivates me,” said Sage Thomas, 17, of Huntington.

Perkins-Roberts, vice president of multicultural marketing and sales development for the Video Advertising Bureau, died of cancer on Jan. 1.

She founded Girlz Talk, one of several initiatives offered by Freeport-based nonprofit, The Cedarmore Corporation. Their youth empowerment programs include Boyz N2 Men, the Young Entrepreneurs Training Program and the Health & Wellness Initiative.

The registration fee for the Hofstra program is only $25, but even that is beyond the reach of some of those who wish to come, said Jacqueline Harris, program director at Cedarmore.

“We don’t want to say ‘No,’ ” she said.

So Perkins-Roberts last year “came up with this brilliant idea,” said Harris, which was organizing the first fundraiser. Her heirs hoped to match its success on Saturday.

“It was a way for her to have us embrace sisterhood and one another and help younger girls,” said Harris.

All too often, success can seem abstract and impossible to realize.

“They have to see role models; you have to see it so you can believe it can happen to you,” Harris said.

“Self-esteem is really what we focus a lot of our energy on,” said Norma Davis of Freeport, explaining that book-learning alone is not always enough to launch a career.

Not everyone grows up in a perfect home, and Girlz Talk aims to make up for any shortfalls.

“Sometimes, what they get at home breaks that self-esteem,” said Davis. Her dazzling crystal necklace, set off by her elegant black attire, identified her as a member of the organizing committee — and paid tribute to the founder’s love of bling.

So did the trumpet, glittering with 10,300 Swarovski crystals, that Syreeta Thompson, of Montclair, N.J., played her composition, “Blow Yo Horn” on.

“She never wanted to sit on the sidelines; she wanted to be the drum major for the underserved,” said Perkins-Roberts' widower,  Jeffery Roberts, 60, of Westbury. Referring to his wife’s high-powered career, he continued: “She understood what it took to get there — and she wanted to give back.” He added “And for boys, too.”

The founder’s daughters, Alexis, 19, and Jessica, 21, noted their mother would have turned 55 on March 11. “It’s a great way to celebrate her birthday, her life and the work to be done,” said Jessica.

Directed to reach into their gift bags, attendees pulled out a white oblong scarf, decorated with multicolored butterflies, which the presenter said, was a gift from Perkins-Roberts. She quoted her, saying:

“This is a hug from me to you …Thank you…I love you all.”

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