Political Commentator Symone Sanders, Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, Black Girls CODE CEO Kimberly Bryant Among Those to be Honored at 15th Annual McDonald’s 365Black Awards in New Orleans July 8

WHAT: The 15th annual McDonald’s® 365Black® Awards is set to bring everyday heroes and celebrities from across the country to the Ritz Carlton, New Orleans. The dynamic event will take place during ESSENCE Festival® weekend and recognize exceptional leaders who make positive contributions to the African-American community. McDonald’s presence at the Essence Festival affirms the brand’s dedication to celebrating everyday people who are striving to make a positive difference in their communities and move Black culture forward.

2018 Honorees:

Symone Sanders is a champion for women, communities of color and those in need. Sanders is a go-to political commentator, a Spring 2018 Resident Fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and the Strategist for Communications and Political Outreach at Priorities USA. Symone rose to prominence during her tenure as the National Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. At 25, Symone demonstrated an uncanny command of the issues earning her a place in history as the youngest presidential press secretary on record and a spot-on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 16 young Americans shaping the 2016 election.

Sheryl Lee Ralph is an acclaimed veteran of film, television and the Broadway stage. Her award-winning work includes creating the role of Deena Jones in the legendary Broadway musical, “Dreamgirls” and earning Best Actress nods for Tony and Drama Desk Awards. No stranger to television, Sheryl Lee Ralph’s past TV credits include “It’s a Living,” “Designing Women,” “The District,” and “Moesha.” For the last three years, Sheryl was a lead on the hit Nickelodeon series “Instant Mom”. Ralph is also the creator of the Jamerican Film and Music Festival. Ralph has been one of Hollywood’s biggest voices in the fight on HIV/AIDS for over two decades with her Divas Simply Singing foundation.

HBCU Forward Scholarship award recipient:

Kimberly Bryant is the founder and CEO of Black Girls CODE, a non-profit organization dedicated to “changing the face of technology” by introducing girls of color (ages 7-17) to the field of technology and computer science with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts. Bryant enjoyed a successful career in pharmaceutical and biotech industries for more than 20 years. She has helped Black Girls CODE grow from a local initiative to an international organization serving more than 7,000 students. She was named a White House Champion of Change and received a Social Progress award from the Smithsonian Institute for her national work in increasing opportunities for women and girls in technology.

Monique Vann-Brown is the owner of seven McDonald’s franchises in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area and managing partner of her parent’s two Detroit restaurants. Her career began at the age of 14 as a crew member at one of her parent’s McDonald’s locations. She transitioned into the automotive industry at 17 as an engineering intern. After several years in supply chain management, she pursued her dreams of entrepreneurship in the McDonald’s Corporation Registered Applicant & Next Generation Programs. She soon became Co-Chair of the National Black McDonald’s Operator’s Association. This committee produced events designed to serve as a forum for future leaders within the McDonald’s Owner-Operator community.

Tishauna Wilson is a rising junior majoring in computer science at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University. She learned how to code in high school where she graduated at the top of her class. Earlier this year, Wilson revived the computer science research program at her university, where she is working on four Artificial Intelligence projects. The research projects consist of detecting fraud through conversations, identifying credit card fraud, as well as developing a voice-activated, self- driving drone and a basketball referee system. Wilson has hopes of pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science, founding an autonomous automotive manufacturing company, developing into a distinguished engineer and researcher and becoming a future CEO of a Fortune 500 technology company.

This year’s McDonald’s 365Black Awards will be hosted by acclaimed actress Essence Atkins. The luncheon will feature an all-star line-up of musical performances by R&B swooner Dave Hollister and gospel heavy-hitter Le’Andria Johnson.


Time Inc.’s (NYSE:TIME) 2017 ESSENCE Festival® presented by Coca-Cola® attracted more than 470,000 attendees to New Orleans this Fourth of July weekend for its annual cultural celebration featuring more than 200 performing artists and speakers—which included first-time appearances by Halle Berry, Diana Ross, Chance The Rapper and many more.  Recognized as one of the country’s largest live events, the 2017 ESSENCE Festival extended its reach worldwide by generating a record-breaking 4 billion social media impressions.

The annual 4-day Festival, which took place June 29-July 2, features entertainment, empowerment, and cultural experiences during the day and a state-of-the-art concert series with the world’s best performers each night.

Highlights of the 2017 ESSENCE Festival include:

  • Over 100 performing artists across the Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Many of the biggest names in the entertainment industry such as Diana Ross, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Chance The Rapper, Master P. and Solange performed at the event’s nighttime concerts and dozens of others across ESSENCE’s Center Stage and All-Star Gospel Tribute honoring Cissy Houston.
  • More than 100 speakers, authors, leaders and celebrities participated in the Festival’s free daytime experience –including a first-ever appearance by Halle Berry.  Other powerhouse speakers included Ava DuVernay, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and the return of favorites Rev. Al Sharpton, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Iyanla Vanzant, among others, drew packed crowds.
  • #EssenceFest social media posts driving more than 4 billion impressions with daily trending status on Twitter.
  • The launch of ESSENCE’s newly expanded ‘Path to Power’ business and entrepreneurship conference, as well as the return of consumer Expos focused on ‘Beauty & Style’ and ‘Entertainment All Access’ which drew crowds of thousands each day to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
  • Artist collaborations resulted in new Festival initiatives, including a first-time ‘Ladies Night’ featuring all female performers across five stages on Saturday night, and a first-ever celebrity basketball game to raise money for local youth scholarships in partnership with Master P. and his foundation, Team Hope NOLA.

For a full recap of all the exciting moments from the 2017 ESSENCE Festival, visit ESSENCE.com and log in to the ESSENCE Festival News Center for photo and footage highlights.

The 2017 ESSENCE Festival is executive produced by ESSENCE Festivals LLC, a division of ESSENCE Communications Inc. (ECI), and produced by Solomon Group. GeChar is the executive producer of the 2017 ESSENCE Empowerment Experience

Sponsors of the 2017 ESSENCE Festival include presenting sponsor Coca-Cola and major sponsors AT&TFord, McDonald’s, State Farm and Walmart.  Superlounge sponsors include Coca-Cola, Ford and Walmart. The All Star Gospel Tribute is sponsored by Walmart.



Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) is the number one media company dedicated to African-American women, with a brand reach of 21.2 million. With a multi-platform presence in publishing, live events and online, ECI is comprised of Essence magazine, the preeminent lifestyle magazine for African-American women; the ESSENCE Festival®; Black Women in Hollywood and Black Women in Music events; Window on Our Women and Smart Beauty consumer insights series; Essence.com; and ventures in digital media (mobile, television and VOD).


Time Inc. (NYSE:TIME) is a leading multi-platform consumer media company that engages over 170 million consumers globally every month. The company’s influential brands include PEOPLE, TIME, FORTUNE, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, INSTYLE, REAL SIMPLE, SOUTHERN LIVING and TRAVEL + LEISURE, as well as more than 60 diverse international brands. Time Inc. offers marketers a differentiated proposition in the marketplace by combining its powerful brands, trusted content, audience scale, direct relationships with consumers and unique first-party data. The company is home to growing media and platforms, including digital video, OTT, television, licensing, paid products and services and celebrated live events, such as the TIME 100, FORTUNE Most Powerful Women, PEOPLE’s Sexiest Man Alive, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Sportsperson of the Year, the ESSENCE Festival and the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen.