2023 #WhatWomenBring honorees announced by YWCA Greater Charleston

September 7, 2023

Twelve of South Carolina’s women leaders across a dozen industries will take the stage at YWCA Greater Charleston’s sixth annual #WhatWomenBring event at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, October 4, 2023.

The honorees will candidly field questions from event emcees Octavia Mitchell, award-winning WCBD News 2 TV anchor and Ann McGill, award-winning WCSC Live 5 News TV anchor, and an audience of all ages, races, and genders. Topics are expected to include gender bias, the gender wage gap, succeeding as a woman of color, mentorship, and more.

Networking and photo opportunities for attendees, including professional headshots, will again be offered at the beginning of the two-hour event, which will take place at The Conference Center at Thornley Campus, 7000 Rivers Avenue, North Charleston, S.C. 29406.

The honorees at this energy-filled event will include:

Zandrina Dunning
CEO and Artistic Director, The ZD Experience

Known for her passion, creativity, and commitment to spreading unity through music, Dunning has produced tributes to Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, and more… including a tribute to Pink Floyd, with the City of Charleston, that was the highest attended Piccolo Spoleto finale in years. As a vocalist she has opened for Natalie Cole and sung background for George Benson. Her show on Ohm Radio 96.3 FM delivers positive programming focused on the community. One of her most memorable interviews was with Bob Marley’s son, Stephen.

Dunning serves as entertainment chair for TEDxCharleston and on the board of the Charleston County School of the Arts Middle School Band. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in music merchandising and management from South Carolina State University.

Lee Deas
Founder and Visionary, ObviousLee

A champion for equity and an advocate for entrepreneurs and women in leadership, Deas is the founder of a multi-million dollar marketing company in a climate where only four percent of women-owned firms grow past one million dollars per year. This Charleston Regional Business Journal Forty Under 40 winner also founded the Charleston Cinco de Mayo Festival: the city’s first downtown event focused on Latin culture and arts. Deas is also a co-founder and board member of Citibot, an AI-powered, equity- and accessibility-focused chatbot connecting citizens with local government. She has served as board chair for Palmetto Goodwill, on the board of Lowcountry Local First, and on the founding board of Palmetto Excel, a tuition-free adult charter high school.

Deas holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of South Carolina and is a graduate of The Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Initiative.

Akua Katelyn Page
Independent Gullah Geechee Language Activist and Educator

A fierce advocate ensuring the voices of her ancestors are heard while fighting for a more equitable future for all Gullah Geechee people, Page educates locals and visitors on the myriad ways Charleston has been influenced by the Gullah Geechee people. She has been featured on a national level by NBC News, which lauded her work on TikTok to preserve the Gullah Geechee community.

After discovering that a brick structure at Riverfront Park was made by stolen Africans, she successfully petitioned the City of North Charleston to install an educational placard near the “Dead House,” honoring their hidden contributions. Page, who received the Jenkins Youth and Family Village’s Special Appreciation Award for her work mentoring foster girls, completed her Certified Interpretive Guide training at the Avery Research Center for African American Research at the College of Charleston.

Megan Manigault
Founder and Executive Director, I Am Voices, Inc.

A passionate ally of women on a mission to empower them to believe in themselves, Manigault created the first transitional program in the Charleston tri-county area serving female survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking. She is the author of a series of transformative books and literature, including “Wilted Flowers Still Bloom” for trauma survivors. She is also the co-chair of the Preventative Education subcommittee of the Tri-County Human Trafficking Task Force, a Shared Hope International ambassador, NOMORE Human Trafficking facilitator, national speaker for the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), South Carolina Attorney General Task Force member, and Charleston Metro Chamber Housing Coalition member.

Manigault, who has a day named after her by the State of South Carolina, has won multiple awards, most recently the 2022 Martin Luther King Portrait Award. She holds a degree in metaphysics from University of Sedona.

Tasha V. Joyner
Project Prevent Program Officer, Charleston County School District

A leader known for her authenticity, Joyner oversees a grant at seven North Charleston schools that is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education Office of Safe and Supportive Schools, supporting scholars, their families, and their communities. She has served on the district’s inaugural cohort of Restorative Practices trainers, as a founding member and lead educator for the Black Educators Affinity Group, the district‘s first affinity group, and as president and a lead charter member of the South Carolina Alliance of Black School Educators’ Lowcountry chapter.

Joyner is the founder of READy to Evolve, LLC, and has served as both a national panelist on staff wellness and equity and a national presenter on restorative practices for communities of color, in addition to serving on a host of boards and initiatives across the state. She holds master’s degrees in school administration and curriculum and instruction from The Citadel and Lesley University.

Liz Ashley
CEO, Align

An advocate for professional women and healthy workplace cultures, Ashley created her business to develop and align both leaders and teams to achieve results. Prior to that, she led more than 100 professionals at Estée Lauder Companies, building its highest-performing team in the nation, and worked in construction, recruiting women to represent more than half her team and founding her employer’s first professional women’s resource group.

Ashley, who also took home a 2023 Women in Business award and mentors several women, chairs the professional women’s group Thrive at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, serves in a variety of board and committee roles for The Harbour Club, and sits on the board of the Warrior Surf Foundation for veterans. She holds a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Virginia, where she focused on gender, race, and economic class, and a bachelor’s degree in international politics from Westminster College.

Loretta Thrower Bookard
Vice President of Youth Service, Alston Wilkes Society

An advocate who enjoys reaching back to help others achieve their goals, Bookard began her career in corrections as a line officer making $12,000 per year. Before retiring from the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice 31 years later, she had helped design four facilities and served as warden at its Coastal Evaluation Center. Today she supervises a high-management youth home for the Alston Wilkes Society, a multistate organization serving veterans and at-risk youth and adults.

Bookard, who has won multiple industry awards, has also served as president of the South Carolina Correction Association and as chair, for ten years, of its Line Officers Appreciation Luncheon. She holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Columbia College and a bachelor’s degree from South Carolina State University, where she majored in criminal justice and minored in counseling.

Nilsy Rapalo
Wellness Director, Circulos de Bienestar, LLC

A Hispanic leader who empowers and inspires local and global community, Rapalo is a trainer, coach, and organizer of community wellness events. She also produces a podcast and writes about wellness for newspaper El Informador and serves as a therapist for the Department of Mental Health. She has authored a self-help book for the Spanish-speaking community and research papers on domestic violence and the impact of infertility issues on women.

Rapalo is a founding board member of the Hispanic Business Association and a member of both the City of Charleston’s Latinx Advisory Board and M&WBE Advisory Committee, the Congreso Hispanopanoamericano de Negocios, South Carolina Community Loan Fund, New Visionary Women Exchange Club, and Commission for Minority Affairs. She has received multiple honors, most recently the Founders Trident Literacy Award, and holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in clinical psychology from Colombia’s Universidad del Norte.

Laurie Alderson Smith
Chief of Staff, Explore Charleston

Known as someone who “sees” others and seeks to lift them up, Smith lists her most fulfilling contribution to Explore Charleston as her involvement in building its Intern Cultural Enrichment Pro- gram, designed to grow minority leaders in tourism. Minority students, many from historically Black universities and colleges, participate each summer. “The intent is to impact young people who can then influence our industry’s diversity. I find, however, that these outstanding young people impact me,” she says.

Smith was named “Ally for the Future Workforce” at the 2023 Lowcountry Diversity Leadership Awards and co-wrote the post-9/11 article “How Charleston Got Her Groove Back,” published in the Journal of Vacation Marketing. A Leadership Charleston graduate, she serves on the board of the MUSC Children’s Hospital Foundation and holds an MBA from The Citadel and a bachelor’s degree in business from the College of Charleston.

Jennifer Owens
Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Sonepar USA

A leader determined to help women build their confidence, find their voice, and ask for what they want, Owens oversees litigation and compliance for Sonepar USA. In a previous role, she handled compliance for international firm Greystar, and specialized in government investigations at the Washington, D.C. office of Baker Botts, LLP. A fierce advocate, she has represented clients at trial, in government investigations, and before Congress, but her favorite personal accomplishment was having her mother’s recipe for baked ham buns, a Southern staple, featured in the New York Times: a tribute to her mother’s memory.

Named a “Woman Worth Watching in Leadership” by Profiles in Diversity Journal and a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers D.C., Owens is a Riley Fellow, has served on the board of PURE Theatre, and earned her juris doctorate degree from George Washington University Law School.

Marcela Rabens
Director, Universal Latin News Charleston

A defender of the rights of women and immigrants, Rabens created the first local Hispanic newspaper in Charleston in 2005… and followed it up in 2015 by creating the first local Hispanic directory, GuiaLatinaCharleston.com: each one connecting the Hispanic community to others. She also hosts Ritmo Latino, a show featuring Hispanic music, culture, and interviews with Latino singers and songwriters on Ohm Radio 96.3 FM.

Early in her career, she became the first young woman in Peru to produce a radio news program and serve as a national reporter at Channel 5 Panamericana TV. A member of the Federation of Journalists of Peru, Rabens has won awards in the U.S. and Peru and served on the College of Charleston’s Diversity Board and Hispanic Studies Advisory Board, as well as the boards of the Trident Literacy Association and Trident United Way, where she continues to serve on its Palmetto Steering Committee. She holds a bachelor’s degree earned in Peru.

Candice Cohen
CEO and Founder, Girl Go Hustle and CēSuite Digital Agency

An unstoppable force and entrepreneur in the world of digital marketing who fearlessly forges her own path and empowers other women to do the same, Cohen founded Girl Go Hustle in 2021 with the vision of creating digital tools and resources that allow women to launch businesses without tech overwhelm.

Cohen’s journey began at the age of 14 during high school, when she embraced leadership roles in pageantry and community service. Today she regards herself as a change agent and volunteers her time widely, including for Dorchester School District Two. From participating in a field day to teaching students about the economy via Junior Achievement, she is determined to spread her message far and wide. A member of ForbesBLK, Cohen holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Claflin University and is studying for a Master of Arts degree in new media journalism at Full Sail University.

Registration opens soon

The opening of event registration at www.ywcagc.org/whatwomenbring is forthcoming. A virtual component will be available for those attending from outside the Charleston region or on the waitlist. Tickets will be priced at $75 per attendee for the in-person event.

The annual event also raises funds to support all YWCA Greater Charleston’s programs and events empowering women and girls, enabling programs such as WE 360° for women entrepreneurs of color, SheStrong for young women in high school, and Y Girls Code for girls of color to be offered at no cost to participants.

To sponsor What Women Bring, organizations should visit www.ywcagc.org/wwb-sponsors.



For 116 years, YWCA Greater Charleston has worked to eliminate racism and empower women in Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester Counties. Among its initiatives to eliminate racism are its multi-day MLK Celebration, one of the city’s longest running events; its annual Stand Against Racism; and its Racial Equity & Inclusion trainings by nationally renowned Racial Equity Institute facilitators equipping local leaders and laypeople to address racism. It empowers women with its annual What Women Bring event, celebrating South Carolina’s women leaders in business, community, and culture; WE 360°, helping women of color overcome barriers in entrepreneurship; SheStrong, equipping young women in high school to become leaders and changemakers; and Y Girls Code, empowering girls and young women of color for career and financial success; among other programs. For more information, visit ywcagc.org.