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Meet Your 2023 Honorees

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Gianluca Russo

Gianluca Russo is a fashion and culture writer who specializes on the topic of body diversity. His work has appeared in GQ, Glamour, InStyle, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, and more. Gianluca’s former NYLON column “Plus Us” explored the many ways in which larger-bodied individuals are discriminated against in society today. ​Gianluca is the co-founder of The Power of Plus, a size-inclusive digital community aimed at promoting love, respect, and style for every BODY. His debut nonfiction book under the same name was published in August 2022 by Chicago Review Press. Publisher's Weekly has called the book "an illuminating chronicle of the fight to make fashion more inclusive for plus-size people. Fashionistas will be delighted," and Booklist reviewed it writing, "Triumphant, unapologetic, and righteously angry, The Power of Plus is a stirring ode to the fat-fashion community." ​Gianluca is currently represented by JL Stermer at Next Level Lit. He is a graduate of the University at Albany, SUNY where he graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. For more of Gianluca’s work, follow him on social media at @g_russo1.

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Sharon Quinn

Statuesque, poised, graceful, striking…all of those adjectives aptly describe attributes belonging to Miss Sharon Quinn, affectionately known as The ORIGINAL Runway Diva, due to her presence, style and unbelievable confidence on the catwalk. The 6-foot tall, shaved head beauty began her career on the local circuit as a plus sized runway model in the mid-1980’s with Maria’s Big Beauties, when plus sizes were a rarity in fashion shows. Maria’s Big Beauties produced a fashion show in Barbados that was sponsored by TWA Airlines, we even did a fashion show on the plane! During this period, she and a group of friends, (that included celebrity stylist & Author Susan Moses) saw a need for a plus sized modeling agency geared toward more inclusivity in fashion, created their own and simply called it “Elegant Extras”. This period in the mid 80’s saw the first serious push to shine a spotlight on the “new” plus sized model. There were quite a few major agencies launching plus divisions (Ford, Wilhelmina, Big Beauties, Plus Models) as well smaller boutique agencies that focused mainly on plus sizes. After declining a contract from one of the major agencies at the time, she met Gwen DeVoe through a mutual friend and began working club shows with her troupe, The Encore Models. The group was hugely popular in New York City. She honed her runway skills by performing in fashion shows up & down the East Coast circuit, where she was a crowd favorite at shows, often receiving standing ovations during her performances. In 1995, sponsored by designer Alexander Bruce she won a local “Model of the Year” Contest, sponsored by Maybelline Cosmetics, she landed on the cover of the Premiere issue of BELLE Magazine and then at the age of 34 went on to sign with the 12/20 Division of the legendary Wilhelmina Model Agency in New York City and began a long and successful career, traveling the globe with a client list that included The Avenue, K-Mart, Ashley Stewart, Lane Bryant & Nordstrom. She became a familiar face on television as well as in print, starring in national commercials for Weight Watchers & Just My Size and frequently modeling on ABC-TV’s hugely popular morning show, “The View”. As the end of the 90’s came near, she discovered that she was losing her hair and nothing she tried over the years helped. She cut her hair short and colored it blonde to hide the hair loss and wound up booking her very first ad campaign with Avenue Stores. Weary of the stress of hereditary hair loss, on the morning of Christmas Eve 2002 she walked into a Harlem barbershop and asked the barber to cut it off and her life began to change for the better! In May of 2005, she attended an open casting call by the Oxygen Television Network for a new kind of beauty competition called “Mo’Nique’s F.A.T. Chance” the F.A.T. stood for Fabulous And Thick. It was the first of its kind and the first nationally televised beauty competition, it was hosted by Comedienne (future Oscar Winner) Mo’Nique and it caught the attention of millions of viewers. Catching her (Mo’Nique’s) eye from a window as she was exiting a taxi, Mo’Nique said she knew immediately she was casting her! She went on to become the first runner up in the competition, making history at the age of 44 by scoring a perfect 10 score in the lingerie segment and was immediately offered a contract to return to the show the following season as Den Mother to the next group of contestants as well as Casting Producer & Special Choreographer for the show. She remained with the show through its final season. Her other television appearances include “Cash Cab”, “Throwdown With Bobby Flay”, BET’s “R&B Divas” and "Rip The Runway", Nuvo TV’s highly successful series “Curvy Girls” and The Style Network’s hit reality show “Ruby”. She created a personal advice blog in 1995 called “The Runway Diva Says” which was later picked up by and published for several years in Plus Model Magazine. She also authored an article called “The Casting Call” for the premiere issue of DeVoe Magazine. In late 2007/early 2008, she graced television screens again with her appearances on MTV’s Emmy Award winning series, “MADE”, assisting a young lady in her difficult quest to become a plus sized model. Sharon’s episode was not only the most-watched of that series; it also garnered the franchise a 2008 Daytime Emmy Award! In 2009 she was hired as the Press Liaison for Gwen De’Voe’s newly created event Full Figured Fashion Week. In 2010 she was appointed Casting Director, responsible for casting & training model hopefuls from all over the United States; a position she held proudly throughout the entirety of the event which ceased production in 2019. Carrying over a love of talking with people from all walks of life from FFFWeek, in December 2015 she created, executive produced and hosted her own talk show, “Model Behavior with Sharon Quinn” which aired from 2015 through June 2020 on the MNN Network’s Lifestyle, HD Channels and BRIC TV in Brooklyn. It’s Model as in “set an example for…” the show highlighted the careers of guests who have had success in their prospective fields and how they accomplished their achievements. Guests like Celebrity MUA & Author Reggie Wells, Fashion Icon Audrey Smaltz, Designer Marla Wynne, Trans Icon Tracy “Africa'' Norman, SuperModels LuCelania Sierra, Sharon “Magic” Jordan-Roach & Renauld White. “Model Behavior featured some stellar artists in their fields, and being able to interview some of my idols and friends has been one of my greatest dreams come true.” The show earned two OOLEE Awards for Best Talk Show. A modern renaissance woman, blazing trails wherever she goes, Sharon also teaches private runway instruction to aspiring models and travels around the country speaking to women both younger and older, about the power of loving oneself…first. The multi-talented Miss Sharon Quinn, who believes in surrounding herself with positive people and positive things, is a standout model/singer/songwriter/actress/author and role model. She stands heads and shoulders above the rest!

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Michael Moss

Michael Moss is a serial entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in multiple industries including: technology, fashion, lifestyle, transportation, government contracting, real estate, consulting, entertainment, investments and farming. Passion and Purpose are the driving forces for the growth of Michael's Enterprise. As a native of North Carolina, Michael attended and graduated from North Carolina A&T State University and then moved to Atlanta in 2003 to pursue a Graduate Degree in Public Administration. While completing his degree, he discovered his purpose and launched Instinctive Solutions, Inc., an IT consulting firm. With over $700 million dollars of contracts executed with large Fortune 500 companies, Michael has helped companies reach their full potential while providing long- term solutions for his clients. Another purpose was fulfilled in 2012 when he created Total Care Transportation, a Non Emergency Medical Transportation Company. The purpose of this company was to provide daily transportation services to elderly, disabled, and medical patients alike. That purpose was fulfilled by the people, employees, and life long friendships that Michael created or fostered throughout this venture. While these only name a few of Michael's entrepreneurial ventures, his passion has always been in fashion! Beginning as a stylist in 2012, he realized a gap in the Big & Tall industry and in 2015, he officially created Big Man Culture; a custom clothing solution for Big & Tall men. With this passion, he has been able to create custom garments that span from professional athletes to professional service providers. His goal is to make every garment fit to his clients expectations and create memories through one BIG experience. Overall, Michael continues to pursue his Passion and Purpose through his enterprise and prays to execute his future endeavors with the same zeal and excitement as all of his his previous entrepreneurial ventures!

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Zak Bell

ZaK Bell is an accomplished International American Fashion Designer. Throughout her years of designing and showcasing her award-winning collections that have graced the runways in Paris, London, and New York to name a few, her focus has been encouraging confidence through fashion. ZaK’s work has captured the eye of many producers, editors and chiefs of well-known magazines, headlined blogs, and has been spotted on city billboards, by staying true to her tagline, “Because Every Curve Is Beautiful”! Her passion for self-love and self-care turned into her ministry by birthing National Curves Day in October 2015. A day once founded for women to love who they see in the mirror quickly became CoEd and all-inclusive by late summer 2017 through the award-winning non-profit National Curves Day Inc., where she serves as Co-Founder and President. Her talents and visionary perspective have earned her the title of “highly effective” teacher in DCPS school system. It is there ZaK educates and empowers high school students with financial literacy skills and the benefits of having an entrepreneurial mindset. She prides her knowledge on real-world street smarts and her higher education where she received a BA in Fashion Design and Marketing and MBA. ZaK is currently a global citizen since the transition of her late husband John Bell Jr.(2021) and her Mom Peggie Shoulders (2022). She enjoys traveling, eating vegan/pescatarian, listening to rain, talking with her therapist, and creating memories with her 4.5, which consists of her two daughters Brianna & Sydney, her son King, and her business partner Aubrey.

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Chenese Lewis

Chenese Lewis, dubbed “One Of The Original Plus-Size Influencers” by Forbes has been on the front lines of the body positivity movement for over two decades. As a positive body image and self-esteem advocate, she has solidified her spot as an industry trailblazer and pioneer. Chenese gained international recognition as an entertainer and entrepreneur by breaking barriers and advocating for women who didn’t fit into society’s narrow beauty standards before it was mainstream. Crowned Miss Plus America in 2003, she made history as the first to hold the title. She went on to work with various national brands in different capacities, such as modeling for Torrid and being the Coast-to-Coast Curves Spokesperson for Ashley Stewart. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) featured Chenese in a campaign for the inaugural launch of Body Acceptance Week. A guru in the plus size industry, Chenese has appeared as an expert commentator on Dr. Phil and Huffington Post Live, as well as quoted in USA Today. As a highly sought-after emcee and host, Chenese’s ability to engage her audience, her quick wit, and relatable disposition makes her an in-demand host for major fashion and beauty events. For five consecutive years she hosted the TCFStyle Expo, the largest plus size shopping event in the South. She has also hosted largescale fashion events during New York Fashion Week, Los Angeles Fashion Week, and abroad in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Chenese’s style and eloquence help elevate events to unparalleled levels of success. She diversified her brand by hosting the Bronner Brothers International MidWinter Beauty Show, which is the largest multicultural beauty show in America with over 35,000 attendees. In addition, for six consecutive years, she hosted the New Orleans Natural Hair Expo in which she moderated panel discussions with some of the industry’s top natural hair influencers and conducted interviews with CEOs of national haircare brands in front of a live audience. Making a splash in the mainstream market as well, she graced the cover of VICE Magazine UK’s 10th anniversary issue, a publication distributed worldwide, and posed for the popular celebrity-driven NOH8 Campaign. In 2015 Chenese was honored by Baton Rouge Fashion Week with the Fashion Icon Award recognizing her outstanding achievements as a fashion trailblazer from Louisiana. Chenese is also a trailblazer in the podcasting field. In 2008 she introduced The Chenese Lewis Show, the first podcast for the plus-size industry. For fifteen years, the groundbreaking podcast has helped to amplify the industry by featuring indepth interviews with national brands, notable influencers, and celebrities. Recognized as a respected media outlet, the show has been quoted in the Chicago Tribune, featured in Podcast Magazine and the Podcast Business Journal for being a successful podcast in a niche market. Ebony Magazine stated, “The Chenese Lewis Show is an important voice in plus size fashion, providing a platform and outlet for those who are making moves within the community.” In 2010, Chenese was accepted as a media correspondent for the Essence Music Festival and participated for five years interviewing mainstream celebrities during the festivities including Boyz II Men, Gladys Knight, Chilli from TLC, Don Lemon, Tina Knowles, Tyrese Gibson, Valerie Jarrett, Former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, and a host of others. As a philanthropist, Chenese has been a national spokesperson for several organizations, to help raise awareness for charitable causes and shed light on prominent issues. She served as President of the National Organization for Women Hollywood Chapter (Hollywood NOW) for two years and produced Hollywood NOW’s “Love Your Body Day” event for six years from 2006-2011. The annual event to promote positive body image was officially sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. In 2010, the promotional campaign for the event, where she posed nude with America’s Next Top Model cycle 10 winner, Whitney Thompson went viral globally and was featured online, in newspapers, and on television shows including E! News, Extra, Daily Mail Online, People Magazine, CBS News, and more. The campaign magnified Chenese’s role as a leading positive body image advocate. Chenese has also been praised as an actress for her work as a cast member on BET’s “Hell Date,” which was one of the most popular shows in BET history. The show allowed Chenese to showcase her impeccable improvisational and comedic skills and kept millions tuning in weekly. She also received rave reviews for her dramatic portrayal of Connie Williams, a larger-than-life professional baseball player in the NAACP Award winning play "The Girls of Summer" set in the 1940s. She also has credits in film, commercials, and music videos. The Louisiana native is the Chief Creative Officer for Chenese Lewis Productions, LLC, a media company she established in 2007. Chenese genuinely embraces who she is, inside and out, and it shows every time she steps into the spotlight. Chenese attributes her success to not conforming to society’s ideals of beauty, but rather showing by example that you can be beautiful and confident regardless of your size. Considered an icon within the plus size industry, Chenese shows no signs of stopping her ambitious efforts anytime soon.

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Johnny Bigg

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