They stand tall among our most respected leaders, bear enormous responsibility with fortitude, insight and uncommon valor, and too often, do not get near the attention they deserve, according to Swanson Funeral Homes Inc. founder and chairman O’Neil D. Swanson Sr., who made the opening invocation at the Michigan Chronicle’s “Salute to First Ladies.”

The event took place on March 20 at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, and was produced by the Chronicle’s parent company, Real Times Media. Seven hundred people (including Detroit’s first ladies) attended the event in support of the honorees, who were recognized for their outstanding service in the religious community and beyond.

And, yes, they were dressed beautifully. If the retail fashion industry is experiencing an economic downturn in Detroit, it is not due to this group of fashion-forward trendsetters.

Larry Callahan and Selected of God choir, Verizon Wireless “How Sweet the Sound” 2009 best small choir competition winners, raised the roof at the event start, although most participants would agree that Lighthouse Full Life Center Church administrative pastor and first lady Dr. MaLinda Sapp, stole the show.

“She sure can preach, teach and tear up a crowd,” said one Hartford Memorial Church participant.

The women were lauded by their husbands, including Third New Hope Pastor E.L. Branch, who set the bar high with his introduction of his first lady Sister Lanell Branch. Other pastors’ high praise took the form of high-spirited sprints, personal escorts and a napkin-draped walkway for their honorees.

This was not an occasion for the meek, according to event emcee Dr. Deborah Smith-Pollard, host of a popular gospel program on WJLB FM 98.

Their guests included congregants like Rose of Sharon Church of God and Christ participant Mother Andrea Greenhill, who noted that these women play an important role in ministry.

“These first ladies support their pastor, their parish and the programs of their church often without the recognition they deserve,” said Norman Howard, Hope Grove A.M.E. churches. “They bring important insights and perspective to their role,” added Hope Grove A.M.E.’s William Parker, who commented that events like the Salute to First Ladies are needed to collectively applaud and support the many contributions first ladies make to the community.

Popular gospel artist Dorinda Clark-Cole closed out the event with a high-spirited, hand-clapping performance.

The Michigan Chronicle & Real Times Media Salute of First Ladies was sponsored by St. John Providence Health System, Third New Hope Baptist Church, Comerica Bank, and Detroit Gospel.com. Contributors included Dittrich Furs, which hosted a fashion show and awarded a mink stole to one lucky recipient at the event, and the Detroit Marriott Hotel.

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