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3 Reasons Why Black Women Should Pay Attention To The YWPL 40 Under 40 Young Women Professional League

Inductees into the 40 under 40 Young Women’s Professional League (YWPL) celebrate the call to empower women through service, but what exactly is the 40 Under 40 and why should black women care?

If you know of another organization in the City of Chicago that is actively bringing together 4o powerful, and professional women for a purpose, I really would like to be pointed in that direction! Because I honestly don’t see it, but please feel free to correct me. Let’s talk about the YWPL 40 under 40.

All too often many are very quick to dismiss black women as being a group of women that value convening and assembling with one another for the purpose of lifting each other up–you can thank reality shows and the Housewives for that perception–but there is something special happening in Chicago with an organization of women where the goal isn’t just to hand out an award, but to showcase service. Enter the Young Women’s Professional League (YWPL) 40 under 40.

On Thursday, November 30th, now in it’s 3rd year, I had an opportunity to witness 40 amazingly beautiful, professional, and accomplished women of color be inducted into the Young Women Professional League at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago.

Launched by a young woman where over two decades earlier she herself would find mentoring and direction through a similar organization in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago–Demoiselle 2 Femme–as a young mom, Cheresa “Reese” LaFrances Purnell launched the inaugural group of the YWPL 40 Under 40 Young Women Professionals League in 2015 to recognize 40 black women that are rising stars in their field of work.

Additionally, Cheresa launched the YWPL 40 under 40 to bring together professional, seasoned entrepreneurs and career women to help continue the work of serving young women ages 18-24–where research shows these women are at a higher risk of dropping out of school, engaging in criminal activity, and becoming single moms.

She also want’s to spawn the next generation of women leaders. She recalls clearly a conversation she had with Demoiselle 2 Femme founder Sherida Morrison where it was expressed that there was a need for this…

“I just recall having a conversation with Sherida where she spoke about the lack of service among young women of color. Sherida is getting older and she is very concerned with passing the torch to someone that will continue to do the work that she started. When we spoke it was clear to me that she didn’t see that from many of the women of our generation, especially millennials. This single conversation was the incubator for the idea that you now see today which is the 40 under 40.”

So when you think about the driving force behind why this organization was created, it’s clear to see that there is a lack of service, by-and-large, across every area of the black community. The women of the 40 under 40 serve a very viable purpose in helping to turn the tide of a lack of self-love and empowerment among women. This call-to-action for these 40 women require them to do more than just show up to an awards gala to receive an award.

There are also high expectations of the women that agree to be inducted into the league, such as participation in organization events and actively mentoring young girls.

The selection process to be part of the 40 under 40 requires that women go through a nomination process by their peers. These women, for all intents and purposes, are the gold standard in proffering a new legacy for women of color that is based on service, and less on accomplishments and accolades. The selection process is a year round event that culminates in the selection of 40 women by the month of September

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“We have women buying $700 shoes but won’t give $10 to an organization on #givingTuesday” -Cheresa LaFrances Purnell, Founder and President, 40 Under 40 Young Women Professionals League (YWPL)


3 Reasons Why You Should Care About the Work of the 40 Under 40 

To date this marks 120 professional women of color that have made a decision to join the YWPL with a commitment to continue to carry the torch of servitude that was pioneered by the founder of Demoiselle 2 Femme and an early mentor to Cheresa, Sherida Morrison.

There are several “40 under 40” organizations and award ceremonies in the city of Chicago, most notably Crain’s 40 under 40 which highlights the best and the brightest business executives, government leaders, and leaders in philanthropy. But for those that think that this organization is a farce or a spin-off of Crain’s “40 under 40” or any other more notable recognition event, think again.

When I asked Cheresa what she thought of people hinting at the idea that the organization and the event was a copy of another event she says…

“The difference here is that this organization is not just an Awards Ceremony. We are the only organization that actually works in an actionable sense after the awards are handed out, and the Awards Ceremony, in and of itself, is a small part of what the 40 under 40 is about. Our organization is about executing a call-to-action! We are creating a movement of women to help empower girls and there is nothing about our organization that was purposed to copy any other event in the city of Chicago.”

So, given that we can speak all day about the inequities that we have within the black community, here are 3 reasons why you should care about what the 40 under 40 are doing:

  1. A women’s organization unlike any other, with a concentration on service – The YWPL 40 under 40 is a women based organization, built for women, by women of color. What I saw at the event moved me as I listened to Cheresa and Sherida both speak movingly to the crowd in motivating and empowering all of us to be more. This is an actionable organization that requires the inductees to be active in their participation with the organization and the community, and if there is one thing that I am a fan of it’s actually TAKING ACTION to be better and make those around you better.
  2. A network of women helping each other coupled with giving back – This is my 2nd year attending the event and it was very clear to me that the love and support for this movement had grown from the year before. This organization has several programs where they pair inductees with women ages 18-24, they provide scholarships to women to help them attend college, and they also provide job and career training opportunities. Not only do they work to support young women of color, but they also host quarterly programs to help train, and educate the inductees as well. This organization is in it’s infancy and with the myriad of not-profits that are geared toward helping people of color this is an organization that is poised to have a huge impact in Chicago.
  3. The opportunity to join and grow a grassroots movement in it’s infancy with service in mind – If you are a professional woman in the City of Chicago and you’re interested in being part of a movement that is growing year, over year, this is the organization for you. In it’s 3rd year the number of women applicant’s has more than doubled, and the executive board already has plans to expand Nationally and create other 40 under 40 chapters across the United States. There is also talk of launching a men’s 40 under 40 and that would definitely be exciting to see!

To learn more about the the YWPL 40 under 40 you can visit them at http://40under40ywpl.org/


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