RALEIGH — Each day that Melissa Garcia of Raleigh talks by phone with her mother, Carmen Rosalez, the cherubic mom manages to bring up Tyler Perry, who was formerly homeless and sleeping in his car before becoming a mega-successful actor, director and television producer.
Garcia has gotten used to it. She says she calls her mom and she tells her, I cant talk right now. The Haves and the Have Nots are on.
Rosalez, who lives in Lorain, Ohio, said she loves Perry, who first came to her attention as the famous, and sometimes controversial, Madea character on Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
Hes very inspiring, Rosalez said Saturday. I love his movies, his plays. He inspires me because Ive been homeless; I have been beat(en) and battered; I have been addicted to drugs.
Garcia, who works at Wells Fargo, decided to surprise her mother. She knew Perry was going to be the featured speaker at the 20th annual Womens Empowerment event Saturday at the PNC Arena. So she purchased tickets and decided to tell her mother at the last minute.
I told her, Come to North Carolina. I have a big surprise for you. I cant tell you about it right now, Garcia told her mother. I dont know what youre doing on March 15, but you gotta come to Raleigh and see me.
So on Thursday, Rosalez, who is a housewife, hopped into her car and drove nine and a half hours to Raleigh.
She burst into tears when I handed her the tickets yesterday evening, Garcia said at the PNC Arena, where Perry was wrapping up his keynote address.
Even before he started speaking, the at-capacity crowd gave Perry a boisterous standing ovation when he walked onto the stage to have a one-on-one conversation with Cathy Hughes, the founder of the urban communications conglomerate Radio One, which sponsored the event. Radio One has three radio stations in the Triangle.
Perry praised single mothers, saying they had nothing to be ashamed of. He also talked about the hardships of growing up with a mother who took him everywhere to protect him from an abusive father.
I was the object of my fathers disaffection, he said. I sat at the feet of my mother and aunts, and listened to their stories. It gave me a sensitivity toward women.
As a child, Perry said it was hard watching his mother being beaten, and that everything he has accomplished in life was to support her.
I didnt want to be my father to any woman, he said.
Perry added that he received DNA test results last week that showed the man he had called dad all of his life was not his biological father.
Some of you have secrets that your kids need to know, he said. Let the chips fall where they may. For the peace of that person, let them know.
Perry also reminded the event-goers that African-Americans need to heed the lessons of other groups that work together for their communitys greater good. And most of all, he said African-Americans need to be more forgiving of themselves.
Power is in this room, he said. Power is where you spend your money.
Other featured artists and celebrities at Saturdays event included rhythm-and-blues vocalist Ronald Isley, neo-soul divas Chrisette Michele and Janelle Monae, gospel artists Regina Belle, John P. Kee, Byron Cage and actress Tamar Braxton.
The mammoth, daylong event also featured seminars on a variety of topics, particularly finances, but also growing old, politics, purchasing a home and womens health issues. Along with the entertainment, seminars and panel discussions, the event was full of vendors selling their wares on the upper levels of the PNC Arena.
Karen Clark, the news and public affairs director of Radio One here in the Triangle, said Womens Empowerment started when the communications conglomerate decided to really super serve the African-American market, specifically African-American women.
The first womens empowerment was launched at the old downtown Raleigh Convention Center as an after-work event.
It was the only event in the area geared toward black women, and all women, Clark said. It gave women the opportunity to get away by themselves, or in a group. Women have a tendency to put everyone else before us. It was thought of as a day to empower ourselves.
The turnout the first year was impressive, and attendance grew the next year, when Essence magazines former editor in-chief, Susan Taylor, was keynote speaker.
The number of people attending the event swelled into the tens of thousands. When the PNC Arena first named the RBC Center opened in 1999, Womens Empowerment organizers moved the event into the new facility. Nearly 18,000 were at Saturdays event, organizers said.
We outgrew the civic center, Clark said. It has become so huge, so successful, that other Radio One markets have emulated it.