BCN Staff – March 27, 2022 – Michele Wise Wright of Little Rock joined an elite club of prominent women this month when she was named one of USA Today’s Women of the Year, a recognition of female trailblazers across the country who have made a significant impact in their communities and nationwide.
The annual program is a continuation of Women of the Century, a 2020 project that commemorated the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. The 2021 honorees, which included women from all 50 states, were selected from hundreds of nominations sent to the nationwide newspaper chain, owned by Gannett Company Inc. in McLean, Va.
The list of national Black honorees for the prestigious USA Today award included Vice President Kamala Harris; U.S. Olympian, multiple gold medalist and the most decorated U.S. gymnast of all time, Simone Biles; and Kizzmekia Corbett, the National Institutes of Health’s lead scientist for the COVID-19 vaccine research. Rosalind Brewer, the former Sam’s Club CEO and Arkansas native, also made the list of national honorees. Since leaving her role at the Walmart warehouse club in Bentonville, Brewer served a brief stint as the COO of Starbucks and is now CEO of the Walgreens Boots Alliance and the only Black woman to lead an S&P 500 company.
Wright, also an entrepreneur, was chosen for the USA Today honor for Arkansas because of her activism for African Americans with Cystic Fibrosis. Wright said after meeting her husband, Terry, shortly after a blind date in November 1999, doctors had not suspected he had cystic fibrosis, which is relatively rare among African American people. In her story in the USA Today, she described living through 17 years of “medical hell” that included frequent trips to emergency rooms, days, weeks and nights in hospitals.
With Terry’s diagnosis, Wright has become an advocate for detecting and living with rare diseases, particularly in diverse communities. But it is the story of her husband and their years of unknowingly struggling with cystic fibrosis that is the subject of her film, “54 Years Late.” The film was one of five nominees for outstanding short film at the 2022 Black Reel Awards.
The Arkansas native is also the recipient of the Nations of Women Change Makers 2021 Global Leadership Award and a nominee of the EveryLife Foundation of Rare Diseases’ RareVoice 2021 Award for Diversity Empowerment. She is the co-founder and chair of the nonprofit National Organization of African Americans with Cystic Fibrosis.
In 1992, she became the first Black full-time student to earn a Master of Science degree in engineering management from the University of Tennessee Space Institute. In her March 25 interview with BCN Chief Creative Officer Angel Burt on KABF 88.3 FM, Wright said she was surprised when she first got word of the honor through an email from USA Today.
“I was actually at home just waking up to some of my husband’s famous gourmet coffee,” Wright recalled. “And I sat down and actually read the email, I thought it could’ve been spam. And then after looking closer, I was just blown away – it’s just ironic because we just had another article during the same time to come out in the USA Today to tell our story and journey with Cystic Fibrosis.
“But it’s just a dream come true to get such an honor and be among the phenomenal women that have also been honored,” said Wright. To list to BCN’s interview with the Arkansas USA Today Woman of the Year honoree, go here.
To see the USA Today story and video in the Fort Smith Southwest Times Record, which is owned by the USA Today parent Gannett Inc., go here.
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