Bessie Smith / Executive Director


Dionne Jennings


President, Bessie Smith Cultural Center

College/University Attended

Bryan College

What is your favorite aspect of being a leader?

My favorite aspect is being able to identify the strengths in others, encouraging them to utilize their talents.

What advice do you have for women aspiring to be leaders in their field?

I once read a quote that read, “I want to inspire people.  I want someone to look at me and say, ‘because of you, I didn’t give up!'”  That is the mantra I live by every day.  I would advise any woman aspiring to be a leader to never give up.  If you get knocked down, brush yourself off and try again until you reach your goal.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership means having the ability to work collaboratively with others toward the success of a common goal.

Approximately how many years have you been involved with CWLI?

I’ve been a CWLI member for 3 years.

On which committees have you participated?

I’ve been part of CWLI’s Board of Directors and the Women Mentoring Women committee.

What is your most memorable/outstanding experience with CWLI?

Participating in the Women Mentoring Women program is my most memorable experience.  It was during that program that I realized CWLI was made up of women who were truly committed to helping professional women succeed.

With what other community organizations/activities are you involved?

I’m involved with UTC’s Chancellor’s Multicultural Advisory Council, the Center for Nonprofits Advisory Council and am a part of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Board of Directors.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

My former boss, Mike Butler had an impact on me as a leader. Mike treated the janitor with the same level of respect as he treated the CEO. He never made anyone feel inferior.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Integrity is the most important characteristic a leader should possess.

What is the biggest challenge facing female leaders today?

At times, when women try to assert themselves they are considered bossy.  A woman with a take-charge personality is often considered too aggressive, whereas their male counterparts do not face the same type of scrutiny.