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BET's 'Leading With Soul' Awards Honor Business Executives Ahead Of Celebrity Celebration

NEW YORK CITY (CBSNewYork) - The first-ever Soul Train Awards at the Apollo Theater aired Sunday night on BET, culminating a week of events throughout the Harlem community.

The Leading With Soul luncheon launched the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Soul Train, paying homage to businessman and show creator Don Cornelius. Before any celebrities took home awards, business executives were honored for their impact.

"For us, Black lives have always mattered at BET, and it is our honor and obligation to show up in a way that recognizes that," said Kim Paige, the network's Chief Marketing Officer.

Among the honorees was Unilever's Esi Eggleston Bracey. As the company's North America Chief Operating Officer, she has worked to end hair discrimination through the CROWN Act.

"It's Dove's mission for beauty inclusivity that helps make it possible, but it's kids I meet day in and day out that are advocating for us," Bracey said as she accepted her award.

Jonelle Procope was also honored for her work to revitalize the historic Apollo Theater, and BET's Louis Carr received a Legacy Award for creating the Blueprint Summit for Black men.

Advocating for more Black faces in the building and engineering industry are twin sisters Cheryl and Deryl McKissack. The pair was recognized as Black Business Icons.

McKissack & McKissack own separate firms of the same name, working on major projects across the country. CBS2's Jessi Mitchell sat down with them in Cheryl's Manhattan office.

"It's great to have a partner in crime and that's what I call it, where you can sit, we can cry about it, we can laugh about it and we can be angry about it," Deryl said.

"Yes, we tell our war stories and we share a lot of moments together," added Cheryl.

The family affair started five generations ago, with Moses McKissack the First, an enslaved brickmaker. The business his descendants built fell into Cheryl's hands.

As Cheryl expanded from Tennessee to New York City as owner of the oldest minority- and woman-owned construction company in the country, Deryl launched her own engineering enterprise in Washington, DC.

"I just had this burning passion to see if I could do something on my own," Deryl said, "and wanted to see if I could do it without the backing of our family."

Now, their work is seen by millions, from JFK's Terminal One to the National Museum of African-American History. The sisters still have to fight for a seat at the table.

"They're hiring them from Cheryl and I and other black companies," Deryl said. "They're making them the general managers. They're making them the principles of their companies, but they are not giving up revenue."

Last year, Deryl laid out a seven-point plan to encourage companies to award more contracts to minority firms and level the playing field.

Her sister Cheryl is currently seeking to build the second-tallest skyscraper in the skyline, the $3.5 billion Affirmation Tower, using a majority of minority- and women-owned businesses.

"We are the majority in New York, but we've had nothing to do with the economic development," Cheryl said. "We've had nothing to do with what shapes our city."

As they await news on the proposal, the McKissack sisters are taking a moment to soak in their success, and what the Leading With Soul award stands for.

"I think it's just a great way to highlight what we do so that people have an opportunity to say, I might want to do that one day," Deryl said.

Until then, they will build the stage for the next generation.

If you have a tip about the happenings in Harlem, please reach out to CBS2's Jessi Mitchell by clicking here.

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