Mentor spirit marks WIE breakfast

Halle Berry receives Sherry Lansing Award on Friday

'Tis the season for giving, and never has that been more evident at The Hollywood Reporter's Women in Entertainment breakfasts than this year, when THR unveiled its mentorship program in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles.

The A-list speakers -- Halle Berry, Hilary Swank and Eva Longoria Parker -- and the powerful female execs who packed the Crystal Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel gladly shared the spotlight Friday with the dozen female high school sophomores from the inner city selected to spend the next year under the guidance of top entertainment execs. In their coming-out party in Hollywood, the girls shyly took a bow next to their mentors.

The spirit of mentorship permeated speeches at the event, with most guests sharing fond memories of the people who made a difference in their lives.

Many in the audience teared up during Berry's emotional account of the abuse she witnessed her mom suffer under the hand of her alcoholic father who made her feel worthless at age 10.

That's when her fifth-grade teacher, one of only two black teachers in a predominantly white school, took her under her wing.

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"I developed a work ethic, and I started to get a sense of value," said Berry, the recipient of THR's Sherry Lansing Leadership Award. She cited a line her teacher often told her: Nothing splendid has ever been achieved by anyone who didn't dare believe that somehow they were superior to their circumstances.

"I'm here as a witness giving testimony: Mentoring is one of the most important things you can do for a child," Berry said at the end of her speech, which received a standing ovation. "We have to be able to believe that we have value, and we need somebody to believe in us and remind us of that so we don't lose our way."

Berry stressed that "I am standing here because I had an amazing mentor," and fellow Oscar winner Hilary Swank said not having one made her road to success that much more difficult.

In her keynote, Swank recalled her childhood growing up poor in a trailer park, with no friends or people other than her mom to guide her in pursuing her dream of becoming an actor despite not having standard Hollywood looks.

"I didn't have a mentor, and I wish I had," she said.

Swank then spoke directly to the mentees and their mentors.

"L.A. is a glittering city, but I don't want you to think that you have to be famous to be successful," she told the teen girls. "Success is not about winning an Academy Award or being on the cover of a magazine; it's about becoming your best authentic self."

In addressing execs participating in the program, Swank used a quote from Amelia Earhart, whom she portrays in the current release "Amelia."

"A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots sprout and make new trees," Swank said, adding, "Thank you for taking these young women in and teaching them how to fly."

A&E TV Networks' president and CEO Abbe Raven recalled how, looking to get into television in 1982, she answered an ad from fledgling cable channel Daytime, a precursor of Lifetime, for a meet and greet with the network's executives in -- of all places -- the lingerie department of Macy's. That's where Raven met her mentor, veteran daytime producer and executive Mickey Dwyer-Dobbin, who guided her TV career.

"I love mentoring," Raven said. "To inspire children to achieve their dreams truly redefines success."

Longoria Parker, who recently received THR's Philanthropist of the Year Award, praised her mother, a special-ed teacher, whom she said raised her as a volunteer and urged everyone in the spotlight to help the less fortunate.

"We have the responsibility to take that light and redirect it to those in the shadows," Longoria Parker said.

Throughout the moving and inspirational speeches at the breakfast, there were some lighter moments too.

Berry talked about doing research to find anything she might have in common with Lansing after learning she would receive the award named after the movie executive-turned-philanthropist.

"She and I both have a Razzie Award," Berry announced. "And so what?" she added, snapping her finger. "Nothing can keep a good woman down." The 600 women in the room burst into laughter and applause, nodding in agreement.
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