Sheila R. Brown received a well-deserved surprise tribute Sunday afternoon, honoring the completion of her highly successful run as the Executive Director of the CineCares Division of Cinespace Film Studios.
Brown joined the Mirkopoulos and Pissios families at Cinespace in 2016 to help partner in the development of the Mirkopoulos Inclusion Program (MIP,) created to help young adults from traditionally underserved communities on the West and South sides of Chicago, obtain paid job training opportunities on network television shows.
Brown, who left the position in late May, was surprised with a celebration planned by Michele Santiago who worked with her at CineCares and her sister Charon Murphy. The celebration immediately followed the assembly that Brown had organized at CineCity Studios as a casual social gathering for all Cohorts of the MIP Tribe.
More than half of her former trainees were present, when in the middle of the event, more people began to arrive. The group included Brown’s mom, Hattie Brown, her husband, Ken Purnell, several dear friends, Abe Thompson, Rosie Burke, Shonda Morrow, Takara Beathea-Gudell, Telisa Felders, and colleagues Nefertiti Fulks, Debra Wesley of Mt. Sinai, Kenneth Malone, Alex Felton, and Charles Walton of 100 Black Men of Chicago, and Craig Gilmore, retired DEI Executive at State Farm. Alex Pissios, former President of Cinespace, who was out of town at the time, sent a congratulatory message to Brown.
“There were almost 50 MIP Tribe members who attended the gathering,” Brown said. “We started these all-MIP Tribe gatherings back in 2019 because we wanted to make sure that the members had an opportunity to get to know each other. And then we had 2020 and 2021 when no one could get together. I wanted the original folks to assemble for one last hurrah.”
“It was just so wonderful to see all of them,” said Brown.
Emotions were high early on when Michele Santiago, former CineCares Resource Coordinator asked the group, “How many people in this room have your union cards because Sheila Brown brought you into this program?” Hands went up all over the room.
“That made me cry,” said Brown. “Just to see them in the room, have them say they didn’t know how to get in this industry and then to see all those hands go up. That was just awesome!”
Memories of the day (photo credits: Rhonda Nunn)
It was a day of gratitude and celebration. Many took advantage of the open mic to let Brown know how much she was appreciated.
“I remember being 25 and wondering how I would ever get into this industry. When you look behind the scenes, you do not see people who look like us. However, I have now been on Chicago Fire for five years. I talk to friends in Atlanta, L.A., New York, Toronto and there is no other program that can fill a room with people who look like you, feel like you, have had the same struggles as you but want to be here to hustle and do this film thing together!” Bianca Brown, first female Closer in Locations on Chicago Fire.
“The CineCares Foundation created an outlook for me that was life changing. Even though it’s 2022, we have a long way to go with this culture change, but you made a great impact on it.” Chris Summers, Local 600.
“This is beautiful to see. I had no idea how big this was. It’s been life changing not only for me, but for everyone else. I love hearing everyone’s stories because we are all similar. We wanted to be in the business but had no idea how to get into it.” Joshua Garcia, Local 476.
“I just want to say thank you because I had a dream and really wanted to be in the industry, but I could not see how that was going to happen until you opened the door for us. For that, I’m eternally grateful.” Michael Key, Jr., Local 476.
“Thank you, Ms. Sheila. I had a rough start but then I transferred to the AD Dept on Chicago Fire and never looked back. I’m now the assistant to an Executive Producer on Chicago Fire.” Cassy “Sunshine” Williams, Chicago Fire.
“I think we all have our ‘oh sh*t moments’ when we need to reach out to Sheila for guidance and everyone doesn’t have that. We can’t thank you enough for truly being there for us!” Joshua Perez, Health and Safety, Force
Craig Gilmore, retired DEI Executive at State Farm, was in attendance. “When you’re in the corporate world and you help someone, you help them take their next step in their career,” said Gilmore. “The difference with you is that the changes you’re making in their lives are transformational for both them and their families for generations to come. They were crawling over each other to have an opportunity to thank you and to talk about it. This was just beautiful to witness.”
Brown said the day was emotionally exhausting. “It was such a fun time and of course I boo-hooed because I don’t like surprises! They presented me with an Appreciation Award. There were so many people, including my family and friends.” She sighed. “It was a day I’ll never forget.”