PCMA GMC Robert Donovan Award Winner Spotlight: Cherai M. Lewis, CMP, CTS
By Lora J. Di Padova-Tannehill, CMP-HC, GMC Awards Committee Member
Join us in celebrating all of our award winners at the Awards Celebration Event on March 16th at the Fairmont Millennium Park!
The Robert J. “Bob” Donovan Award s presented to an outstanding meeting professional who leads by example, inspires volunteerism, and is committed to the growth of the industry.
Cherai M. Lewis, CMP, CTS has been in the live events profession for most of her career. She has served as a sales consultant for event strategists, representing hotel brands, destination management organizations (DMOs) and an audiovisual company.
During her tenure with the YMCA of the USA, Cherai switched hats to become the event strategist, engaging with volunteer leaders and C-Suite execs to produce various Y Movement-driven conferences and events. Most recently, Cherai scaled a start-up division within Steelcase, helping clients reimagine a richer participant engagement experience through unique spatial design for business events.
Cherai has recently launched The Office Politics Playbook, a training course for female professionals designed to help them navigate through the political pitfalls we all encounter at work to the peace of thriving in your career. She also supports organizations with facilitation, strategic planning, and
project management services through Cherai Lewis Consulting Group, Inc. Cherai enjoys expanding her burgeoning culinary skills, volunteering with live events industry organizations, and cherishing her relationships with friends and family.
What it means to me on receiving the Robert Donovan Awards from GMC PCMA.
- Receiving the Donovan award is like having a dream come true that I did not even know was a possibility.
- The blood, sweat, time (and sometimes tears) we give in our volunteer roles is par for the course when serving in an industry that I love alongside people that I admire, appreciate, and adore.
- It is an honor and a blessing to be seen, recognized, and awarded for being an authentic and transparent colleague, mentor, and friend for the Greater Midwest Chapter of PCMA.
The Robert Donovan award is presented to an outstanding meeting professional who leads by example, inspires volunteerism, and is committed to the growth of the industry. I am committed to the growth of our industry now more than ever. While some of our current and rapid growth spurt has been extremely painful, the transformative innovation we are seeing has been an exciting roller coaster of a ride.
I am humbled and honored that being my authentic self as a Black Woman in the Meetings & Hospitality industry has served as an example of leadership. Traversing all the stereotypes and preconceived notions of who, what or how a Black Woman can be is always daunting and I’ve done my best to follow my Dad’s advice “Say what you mean and Mean what you say.” Whether it’s coaching younger professionals coming into the industry or switching from supplier to vendor to planner to my next, my intention is to always treat people how I want to be treated, with decency, kindness and an open mind and heart. My Superpower is Connection; my purpose is to connect people with solutions and strategies; be they human, digital, or financial. I look forward to continuing to do that for the rest of my life.
What brought you to the meetings industry?
Every Saturday night in my youth, I loved watching Julie McCoy, the Cruise Director of the Love Boat TV series. She traveled to different cities in Mexico and organized great events for all! I entered our industry as a personnel file clerk at the Sands Hotel & Casino. After graduation, I worked the front desk and then the VIP desk of the Showboat Hotel & Casino. I took a break (because I wanted to have weekends off) and became a legal secretary for a tax lawyer (why I know how to read contracts) and was bored very quickly. I applied and was accepted into the Marriott ID Management Training program. And once I became a newly minted Front Desk Manager, the sky was the limit!
What I love about our industry is that I was able to feed many of my passions and interests while staying in the industry, as both a planner, a suppler and a vendor with some great organizations. And, I would not have had it any other way.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
- Have a learning mindset.
- Get your graduate degree early so that it’s done.
- You don’t have to ALWAYS share what you think and what you know. Use discretion and diplomacy. (I learned this the hard way; but I did learn – eventually.
Please share the impact of your PCMA involvement for you personally and professionally?
During my 15 years+ of PCMA membership, I have been a consistent volunteer and member of GMC PCMA. PCMA excels at providing outstanding education at our chapter – Greater Midwest Chapter (GMC) and national level. One key thing I’ve noticed is that PCMA understands the importance of providing tracks of education that will support its membership at all levels of their career (college graduate, individual contributor, manager or executive) and no matter what side of the meeting & event industry ecosystem you reside (planner, supplier, vendor). I’ve grown personally and professionally through my committee involvement; facilitating and presenting at both chapter and national levels. Each learning experience has contributed to my professional and personal developmental success, for which I am grateful. The content delivered is always relevant and timely in our changing business environment and social landscape. My PCMA network of mentors, colleagues and friends are part of my extended family that I can rely on always for advice and mentoring as we journey together in our “never a dull moment” industry.
Please share your recent experiences and efforts with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) support and efforts with GMC:
When my dear friend, Yolanda Simmons-Battle called and volun-told me about the journey we were about to undertake, I embraced the opportunity to join in her vision and raise awareness, acknowledgement, inclusion, and appreciation for ALL people who meet, work and travel for positive industry outcomes. Our first step is a task force was to bring the conversation forward to help other members of the meetings and hospitality to acknowledge that racism, unconscious bias, sexism and various other “isms” exist in the world AND in our beloved industry. You cannot correct a problem if you cannot see it; so, our job was to bring the conversation out into the open for discussion.
Inclusion, Equity and Diversity is necessary in all areas of our industry, our workplaces, and our communities. This transformation of how we all consider others in our world will take time and commitment from all of us.
As current chair of is now the GMC Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee (we got an upgrade, y’all), I pledge my continued focus and commitment to bring lively interactive learning sessions, conversations, and shared resources on improved DEI efforts for our industry and for each of us to make a difference in our personal and professional lives.
As we continue to recover from pandemic and words of wisdom and personal experiences to share?
- Appreciate each day that we have on this earth in community
- Listen, engage with others, and appreciate others as we each are blessed with all our relationships.
- Focus on personal contact in any form… wellness phone calls; Zoom calls, social media (pick which platform works for you) and hopefully, by now, in person connections.
- We need to continue to lift each other up and make sure we reach out to those in need… family, friends, colleagues in transition. Relationships and building friendships are key to our industry and to life! Most introverts still have a group of people that are important to them. Stay in touch with them.
My personal greatest achievements …
- being with my father and supporting my mother in his last few months of life
- purchasing my own home.
Greatest professional achievements …
- Bringing the 2003 NAACP National Convention to Greater Miami and the Beaches. It brought a number of people from previously fractured relationships working together for almost two years to get the future convention agreement signed. I was honored to help facilitate the process and get to work with the entire Greater Miami business and political communities and the NAACP national, state and local officials.
- Scaling a start-up division within Steelcase called Event Experiences, helping clients reimagine a richer participant engagement through spatial design (and some great furniture).
- Creating “The Office Politics Playbook”, a program that teaches women in business six key strategies to help women navigate and win the grid-iron game of Office Politics.
If you could switch places with a famous person who would that be?
- Well, I would switch places with Gayle King so that I could have Oprah as a BFF.
What’s your walk-up song… Living My Life Like It’s Golden by Jill Scott.
- I love all genres of music and am a devoted Pandora girl. My mood decides my music preference. Soul music in ALL its forms is amazing. I love Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, Megan Trainor, and so many more!
- Most Memorable concert was Janet Jackson / Rhythm Nation Tour.
- Favorite actors – Viola Davis, and Regina King. Their range is so wide – you cannot put them in a box. I think of myself in the same way – not being placed in a box.
Something people would be surprised to know about me…
- I love historical romance novels; my favorite author is Bertrice Small.
- She writes her books around the actual major events of that era/century, and she is adamant on not changing the history to fit her writing.
- I got an A in World History 101 because of the accuracy of her books.
Last thoughts… Always be true to your authentic self – because you have to live with yourself every day. Holding back causes stress, trauma and living in “woulda, coulda, shoulda world.” Don’t be afraid to speak your mind – while always being mindful of your delivery. I’ve gotten in trouble a couple (or few) times only because my delivery was not the most appropriate to the audience.
Make sure to reserve your spot to attend the Awards Celebration taking place March 16, 2pm at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park.