Crain’s New York Business reveals Notable Black Leaders and Executives list

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Leslie Fields-Cruz [Photo by James Brooks]

Crain’s New York Business, the premier publication covering New York City’s business community, has unveiled its Notable Black Leaders and Executives list for 2021.

The list highlights Black businessmen and women working within the New York City metropolitan area who have impacted and helped the city in significant ways through their professional, civic and philanthropic work, according to a news release.

The list includes Leslie Fields-Cruz, executive director of Black Public Media (BPM), and PR powerhouse Cheryl L. Duncan, the founder and CEO of Cheryl Duncan and Company Inc.,

As the head of BPM, a Harlem-based nonprofit dedicated to developing, funding and producing content by and about people throughout the African diaspora, Fields-Cruz has worked at the nexus of media and diversity for decades.

“I’m honored to be included on this list with so many extraordinary professionals from different fields working to make permanent and positive change for Black communities and other people of color around the world,” Fields-Cruz said in a statement.

A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and New York University, Fields-Cruz joined Black Public Media — then known as the National Black Programming Consortium — in 2001, overseeing the organization’s grant-making to documentary programs slated for PBS. In the ensuing years, her commitment to telling stories that show the fullness and complexity of Black life proved instrumental to the creation of BPM’s signature series, “AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange.” Now entering its 13th season, the series, which brings documentary films about people from all corners of the modern African diaspora to U.S. audiences, remains the only public television series dedicated solely to showcasing the global Black experience. Fields-Cruz also served as co-executive producer for the Peabody Award-winning PBS documentary “180 Days: Inside An American High School.”

Named BPM’s third executive director in 2014, Fields-Cruz has helped the nonprofit surge forward in its commitment to Black creatives and stories as new methods and technology for storytelling continue to emerge. With her sights focused on lifting new voices in the media and filmmaking community, Fields-Cruz led BPM in the development of its 360 Incubator+ program, which has facilitated the mentoring and training of Black filmmakers, writers and other creatives since 2014; the program pairs the storytellers with industry professionals and links them with potential funders and distributors. Under Fields-Cruz, BPM has established its BPMplus program to train Black storytellers in emerging technology such as virtual reality.

In June 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic and summer of racial justice converged to create new realities on a number of fronts, Fields-Cruz focused BPM’s second annual Black Media Story Summit on helping producers and filmmakers learn how to navigate a media landscape more open to Black stories but severely altered by new filmmaking protocols and other safety measures. She also established BPM’s Emergency Relief Fund, which disbursed $30,000 in immediate aid to Black Public Media creatives who found themselves in desperate need. The fund has since become a permanent resource to assist BPM creatives facing emergencies brought on by health or natural disasters in the future.

Under her leadership, BPM has funded numerous projects by noted filmmakers, including Melissa Haizslip, Thomas Allen Harris and Yoruba Richen, and is supporting buzzed-about new projects, including “Ailey,” the documentary on the legendary dancer-choreographer Alvin Ailey, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January, and “Mr. Soul!,” which was recently nominated for an NAACP Image Award. BPM has also been named as a recipient of funding from Netflix to assist in the support of Black creatives.

Fields-Cruz’ dedication to the arts and diversity is also evidenced through her work as a board member for the Peekskill-based youth arts center New Era Creative Space and New York Women in Film & Television. She also is a Ford Foundation JustFilms Rockwood Fellow.

To find out more about BPM, visit www.blackpublicmedia.org.

Cheryl Duncan [Courtesy photo]

Duncan was selected for the Notable Black Leaders and Executives list for her positive impact on New York City and her work over the years in ensuring — through multifaceted, dedicated and creative public relations work — that #BlackStoriesMatter. The current tribute comes on the heels of her being designated as one of Observer’s PR Power 50 in December.

“I’m grateful to receive this recognition for the work I love to do. It is rewarding to be acknowledged for our hard work to push forward important voices and to effect change in our society on behalf of our clients,” said Duncan, whose boutique public relations agency specializes in entertainment and social betterment, in a statement.

The Howard University graduate and Jackie Robinson Foundation alumna continues to bring the breadth and beauty of the Black experience to all audiences. Duncan’s work has embraced various paths, from theater and other arts to small-business development and science education. Duncan has successfully incorporated the core belief — backed by effective action — that the Black experience and Black excellence need more accurate and in-depth coverage in the media. It has been Duncan’s passion to get these stories covered, and covered well.

Over the last year alone, Duncan’s firm has helped the African Film Festival Inc., launch its first virtual New York African Film Festival with Film at Lincoln Center, as well as its digital archives and streaming service; assisted Black Public Media in marking both its 40th anniversary of supporting Black storytellers and new fellowship opportunity with MIT OpenDocLab; and assisted National Black Theatre in celebrating its first Obie Award. Her firm is also part of a team led by theatrical press agent Matt Polk of Polk & Company on the return of Ntozake Shange’s classic “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide” / “When the Rainbow Is Enuf ” to Broadway when the industry returns. Cheryl Duncan & Company also represents WORLD Channel, which brings diversity of all types to the PBS system.

Over the years, the New York City metropolitan area firm has represented important institutions, including National Black Theatre, City College Center for the Arts, Hi-ARTS, ImageNation, the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Brotherhood/Sister Sol. In 2016, Duncan helped the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, known as the Black nuns of Harlem, mark their centennial, including an appearance on “The View.”

For more information, go to cherylduncanpr.com.

To see Crain’s New York Business’ full list of Notable Black Leaders and Executives for 2021, click here.

-BAM

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