By the time the 10-minute documentary preview was complete, most of the women had jumped to their feet to applaud. Some were weeping.
They had just gotten a peek at journalist Renee Poussaint's upcoming film, "A Journey Toward Peace," about race relations in the United States and Africa. And they had been inspired by tales of how she followed her passion, leaving a comfortable, highly visible job as a reporter for a network television news show to produce the independent film.
Poussaint was the guest speaker at a breakfast Dec. 7 at BET SoundStage Restaurant in Largo, the first of a series of quarterly meetings scheduled to bring women in the county together to share their stories and expertise and make political and personal connections. The Women's World in Network Breakfast Series also marked the reemergence of the Prince George's County Commission on Women, a county office that was eliminated a few years ago during tough financial times. The most recent county budget restored financing to the agency.
The new breakfast series will feature prominent national speakers, such as Poussaint.
"Life ought to be about more than your paycheck," Poussaint said before previewing her documentary. "It ought to be about your passion."
The documentary, which will be aired next fall on PBS, brings together a multiethnic group of 21 youths; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who served as chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and historian John Hope Franklin, who headed the White House Advisory Board on Race.
The group toured an island off Dakar, Senegal, once the heart of the African slave trade and engaged in emotionally charged discussions on race.
Poussaint said she came up with the idea after realizing that the limits of network television would not allow her to pursue the stories she considered important. After several unsuccessful attempts to generate financing for the idea, Camille Cosby, wife of comedian superstar Bill Cosby, made it happen.
"My passion was to focus on issues that mattered to me," Poussaint said. "If I was ever going to make it work, I just had to jump out there and make it work. . . . It's been a scary path, but it's been the most exciting time of my life."
Prince George's officials are hopeful that the breakfast series will encourage women to support one another, take advantage of the resources they have to offer and work together for the good of the county. The event drew about 300, mostly women, which included politicians, lawyers, bank officers, business owners, wives and mothers.
"It was just a powerhouse of women, just a room full of delightful, talented women who love Prince George's County, who are willing to work together to say whatever we need to do, we can accomplish," said Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills), just hours before her election as the County Council's chairman.
Council member Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie) was the co-host. The event drew a few men, including County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), who was introduced by Bailey as "Sheila's husband."
Curry joked with the men in the room: "Fellas, y'all don't have to be scared," he said. "They promised not to hurt us."
The commission sold $35 tickets for the breakfast, and some of the proceeds will go to help the Family Crisis Center of Prince George's County, a nonprofit group that serves women and children who are victims of domestic violence.
Carla Nelson, 37, president and chief executive of her own business referral, training and development firm, said she was inspired by Poussaint's personal story and documentary.
"I hope we find a way to go beyond networking to empowering women," Nelson said. "Often, people think once we've made it, once we've arrived, we don't have struggles any more. We have real issues to deal with."
Pat Marshall, 35, senior vice president of government relations for Bank of America, said she supports the concept of the commission and has high hopes for its potential.
"I'd love to see it go forward and grow bigger and grow out of the space here," she said.
If she had been in earshot, Donna Crocker, deputy chief administrative officer for Health and Human Services, would have been pleased to hear that so many women considered the commission's first breakfast a huge success. Crocker said she was delighted by the large turnout and warm support for the commission, which falls under her agency.
"There are so many important issues," Crocker said. "Economic and job development, education, reduction of crime, those are all women's issues. We are bringing women together to network and move the county forward."
To contact the Prince George's County Commission on Women, which is in Hyattsville, call 301-985-3532.
CAPTION: Jacqui Woody, top center, from the County Census Outreach, speaks to a table at the Women's World in Network Breakfast Series.