BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Photos by Suresh K. Volam
Atlanta, GA, June 7, 2018: The historic Wimbish House, affectionately known as the “Old Lady of Peachtree”, where fair ladies of Atlanta women’s clubs traditionally gathered in ornate Victorian bonnets, ribbons, flowers, feathers and jewels was shimmering with women sizzling in silk saris and tailored suits, along with men who serve as their ambassadors, on the evening of May 31, 2018. The saris and suits gathered together to celebrate the 6th year anniversary of the charity ‘Saris To Suits’. The charity was founded by in 2012 in Sarasota, Florida by Pratibha (Patti) Tripathi, who holds the distinction of being the first female reporter/anchor of Indian origin for the CNN News Group and reporter for CBS-Atlanta news. She is also the founder of TriPath Media.
Saris To Suits releases a signature calendar of inspirational and empowered women of South Asian origin. Profits from the calendar are donated to charities, some of which are chosen by the featured women.
Emcee for the night, Fox News anchor Kelly Wright, who has performed with Indian Disco King Bappi Lahiri was as ebullient as the legendary star and in his element- engaging, energizing, entertaining and even serenading the audience.
Titled Saris To Suits- East To West to South: “Women FIRST, Empowerment for All”, the event featured many firsts, including first US Ambassador to India of Indian origin, Ambassador Richard Verma as the charity’s Ambassador to impress upon ‘suit’ counterparts to support women’s ambitions and gender equality. The first female dean of Goizueta Business School, Dr. Erika H. James and Hardeep Melamed, The CEO of PurseN, (whose product made it to Oprah’s 100 Favorite Things List) were among the distinguished speakers.
Emory’s marketing Guru Dr. Jag Sheth, the owner of Nair Industries, PwC and the maker of home accessories Surya were some of the prominent leaders at the event. Surya CEO Satya Tiwari donated a fine rug with retail value of $10K for live auction. Representatives of PwC, Nexus Clinical, Chick-Fil-A Foundation were among the sponsors who attended the event. The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce served as one of the partners.
“Pathbreaker, trailblazer are words that fit Patti. At the time I met her, she was doing something no other Indian-American was. She is role model,” said Ambassador Verma, lauding Tripathi. Having drawn his own inspiration from his mother and grandmother who survived the trials and tribunals during partition inIndiaand having worked with the likes of Hilary Clinton and Margret Albright, Ambassador Verma proved to be the perfect envoy to advance Tripathi’s advocacy to empower and inspire women and girls whose voices have systematically been silenced.
“My mom had a spine of steel,” said Ambassador Verma, recalling the times his sari clad mother set off to work for kids with special needs in the thick of the snow. “A lot of work remains to be done,” he added, while pointing to the inequalities and under-representation of women.
“Women get paid 20% less than men. Only 20% of Congress is women,” he said, citing statistics. “All of you can be role models. You don’t need to be a senator or in a position of authority,” he added, while urging women to get involved in a big way, even for small reasons or in small places.
“Patti reminds me of Rosa Parks. In what she is trying to do, she is trying to continue the legacy of Rosa Parks,” said Rodney Bullard, narrating the story of the indomitable and invincible history-maker. Bullard is the author of Heroes Wanted and Vice President of Community Affairs at Chick-fil-A.
“I encourage you to empower yourself and other women. We need to be seen. We need to be visible,” urged Dr. Erika James.
Her impressive path to success, narrated by the Dean herself, was invigorating and all-inspiring. Born in Bermuda, James grew up in Texas and completed her undergraduate work at Pomona College, California. She then pursued an M.A. and Ph.D. in organizational psychology at the University of Michigan.
“I was one among the five African-American students at California,” said James, as she narrated her unusual journey. And unusual, was something she was accustomed to, only she always never thought of it that way. Being born to African-American parents but raised by step parents of inter-culture and interfaith, James often struggled with identity issues. It was during her summer visits to Michigan that she truly discovered herself, having met African-Americans who were achievers. She identified herself with the group and felt she belonged.
Having graduated with a PhD at 25, James modeled her teaching on fellow faculty, mostly men, only to realize it didn’t pay off to pretend to be someone else. Harvard University, which she was afraid was too good for her to apply had invited her to teach there and at a time of one of nation’s worst economic crisis. She was younger than all the students in her class with literally no experience when compared to them. It is then that she transformed herself and found her groove by simply offering the best she had to offer, by being someone who would listen, empathize and help; and mostly, by being herself. And the rest is history.
“No one knows you better than you. You have to bet on yourself,” she said.
“I’m a product of the empowerment of both my parents,” said Hardeep Melamed, a 2017 calendar campaign role model. Her family fled Uganda’s Idi Amin’s regime for Canada, and has been running businesses since she was 16 – from an Indian restaurant, to women’s fashion boutique store to her latest venture, PurseN.
“Everything is possible. Believe in yourself and have faith,” said Melamed. She added that, for her, FAITH meant being Fearless, Aggressive, Inspired, Thinking outside the box, and finding humor when possible.
Internationally renowned iconic women of South Asian origin such as the first female President of an academic institution Dr. Renu Khator of Houston University, and Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winning Malala Yousafzi have been featured in the Saris To Suits calendar, along with many known Atlantans who have posed for a purpose such as classical vocalist eye surgeon Arti Pandya MD, US military officer/tabla player Lalita Balakrishnan, CNN digital writer Moni Basu, health policy expert Nazeera Dawood, computer scientist/weight lifter Dr. Kulsoom Abdullah and differently abled Cara Yar Khan.
Guests enjoyed a sumptuous spread of Indian fusion menu created by Taj Hotel-trained Chef Anish of Jai Ho. Chef Anish was auctioned to get ‘men in kitchen’ to learn to cook and host a dinner for their partners for a party of up to 30 people.
The anniversary, held at the Chateuesque, Victorian-era home synonymous with success and splendor stood testament to the tenacity, trials and triumphs of the many achievers in the room.
“The greatness of a nation begins with the homes of its people,” as Wright rightly quoted, was evident as stories were narrated, including the host, Patti Tripathi’s own claim to fame.
We can only hope Tripathi’s endeavors to empower, enrich and enlighten lives continues to find encouragement and grow from strength to strength.