Planning for Black success

Timmesse Thompson sitting at a desk with a phone to her ear

NAU student and event planning professional Timmesse Thompson has been coordinating events since she was a teenager planning her high school’s Black Student Union and multicultural events. “After proposing and planning so many social impact events, I became the go-to student affairs coordinator,” she said. At that time, no one talked about an “events industry,” so she had no idea that the work she loved to do was a paying career track. “I was obsessed with the movie ‘The Wedding Planner’ but thought it was a fairytale to be a logistics beast like J. Lo.” 

Even though a career in event planning felt out of reach for young Thompson, she couldn’t be kept from what she loved. She continued putting together events at Phoenix College as an officer in student government and president of BSU. She eventually dropped out of college after becoming homeless, but she continued volunteering to take on event coordination roles at work. As a secretary at Liberty Mutual Insurance, she planned a grand opening event and won two Bravo employee recognition awards. That’s when she knew this was the career she wanted full-time.  

Thompson talked to her Liberty Mutual boss about applying for a role in the events department, but he would not support the move, claiming she didn’t have the skillset to become a full-time corporate planner. So, with a little encouragement from her husband, Thompson decided to strike out on her own.  

Thompson on a stage pointing to call on an audience memberTimmesse Events opened on Aug. 15, 2016, with Thompson doing everything from coordinating to decorating to bartending. As a new business owner with no established clients, she took every job she could get. “Many people in my community reached out to me because they wanted my services, but they couldn’t afford an event planner,” she said. “If you only had $200 and needed something for your kid’s party, I’d make it work.” After years of building up her business, Thompson earned her first five-figure paycheck in 2019.  

Thompson’s success didn’t come without obstacles. Her early life was marked by violence: She grew up in a domestically violent household and survived an unrelated homicide attempt as a young child that left her with third-degree burns over 30% of her body.  

“I fought so hard to be alive at such a young age. As a survivor of that, my perspective on life has been shaped by the realization that our time on this Earth is limited,” said Thompson. “In a world filled with darkness, I have found purpose in bringing light through celebrating every aspect of life.” 

In her professional life, Thompson faced different kinds of obstacles. “The constant struggle to work harder than my counterparts and endure blatant disrespect is the norm,” she said. After tiring of dealing with unsupportive management and being told that racist jokes from coworkers were “harmless,” she began delivering talks on diversity, equity and inclusion at the corporate level. Then, realizing that others in her industry could benefit from her experience, Thompson created Black Event Professionals of Arizona (BEPA), an organization dedicated to meeting the networking and training needs of her peers.  

Thompson among a group of Black women on chairs and couches pulled into a circle for a meeting“It all began with three Black women—Stephanie White, Jeryse Kelly and I—three event planners coming together,” she recalled of the group’s first meeting in August 2022. Today, BEPA is a flourishing online community with more than 1,200 members who share best practices and provide resources and support to one another, including how to identify, report and cope with discrimination at work.  

Thompson wants to see BEPA grow into a non-profit resource center that offers housing assistance, education and training that will empower Black professionals to recognize and address racism in their workplaces. “My aspiration in life is to plan epic fundraisers to expand the financial and career success of my people through BEPA.” 

This is where her degree in applied human behavior from NAU comes in. Thompson’s studies are providing her with the foundation to turn this aspiration into a reality.  

“In this program, I am learning from professors in the human behavior program who have been where I am and have made it to the other side,” she said. “I envision a future where hundreds of thousands of financially successful Black event professionals thrive in Arizona, breaking generational curses unapologetically.” 


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Jessica Clark | NAU Communications 

NAU Communications