By Dwayne Lee
Special for the Milwaukee Times
When the lights dimmed and the 2018 Black Excellence Award program began at 7 p.m. on Friday February 23, 2018, more than 800 smiling faces in beaded gowns and tuxedos initially continued to socialize preventing co-hosts, Sheldon Dutes and Andy Choi of WISN CH12 from being heard. The audience was enjoying catching up with old friends and making new ones so much that Mr. Dutes needed some assistance from several people in the audience to help quiet the room.
For 33 consecutive years, the Black Excellence Awards have been the ultimate Milwaukee red-carpet event during Black History Month for people who quietly go about helping others and making their community a better place in which to live. Each year the Black Excellence Awards presented by The Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper honors approximately three dozen adults for their accomplishments. The Black Excellence Awards also serves as a fundraising event to provide scholarships to a group of Milwaukee High School seniors; and each year a Special Honoree theme is chosen to recognize a group of individuals, all of whom have demonstrated excellence in a specific field.
All 33 Black Excellence Award programs have been historic in their own way, but this year was especially notable for gathering the largest number of Milwaukee’s African American female television news anchors together to be honored for their accomplishments. It is believed to be the first time that all the local news anchors and producers were present at the same event at the same time. The Women in Media Honorees were Liddie Collins, MPTV 10/36 TV producer; Melinda Davenport, WISN CH12 TV anchor; Carole Meekins, Today’s TMJ4 TV anchor; Kim Murphy, Fox- 6Now TV anchor; Amanda Porterfield, CBS 58 TV anchor; Shannon Sims, Today’s TMJ4 TV anchor; Mary Stoker Smith, Fox6Now TV anchor; Beverly Taylor, Fox- 6Now TV anchor; and Toya Washington, WISN CH 12 TV anchor
The theme for this year’s event was “Mastering the Tools of Excellence.” Due to rapid innovations in technology we are on our way to becoming a global community. The free exchange of ideas between individuals on other continents is taking place more and more every day in all aspects of life and industry.
One of the companies at the center of this technology revolution is Intel Corporation. Intel products can be found in a large number of everyday items – from computers, to cars, cellphones, even kitchen appliances and televisions are powered by Intel microprocessor chips. Keynote speaker Rosalind L. Hudnell, President, Intel Foundation and Vice President, Human Resources, Intel Corporation delivered an inspirational talk on the importance of remaining technologically literate in this rapidly changing world.
Addressing the honorees, Ms. Hudnell praised them saying, “Your crowns have already been paid for. All you have to do is put it on. Tonight is a night to wear your crown proudly. People need to see you beyond Milwaukee,” she said.
Many honorees had family, friends and co-workers who attended the banquet to support their preferred nominee. Lennie M. Mosley, an honoree in the volunteerism category, said she brought more than 56 supporters from across the country.
Student Minister William Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and an honoree in the community leadership category said he was honored to be recognized in this way, although he felt somewhat unworthy. “It is a reminder to continue serving the community,” he said.
Cassandra McShepard, an honoree in the extraordinary achievement category, agreed with Student Minister Muhammad that it was “humbling” to be recognized for one’s work and so seldom done nowadays.
Special Honoree Liddie Collins, a long time TV producer, said she was especially honored to be included with all the young women in media. “I love the challenge of new technology,” she said. “People often come to me at the station for technological help.”
Special Honoree Toya Washington said being selected was an incredible honor after having previously hosted. “It has been a privilege to see it from the other side,” she said.
The Black Excellence Awards featured brief remarks by four local dignitaries: Mayor Tom Barrett; Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch; Evan Grant, Community Relations Director for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele; and Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver.
In addition to the 10 Louvenia Johnson Scholarship Award recipients, this year the Black Excellence Awards recognized two additonal students. Long-time, Milwaukee pharmacist and author Dr. Lester L. Carter, Jr., provided a scholarship grant to an 11th student, Simone Wright, and Faithe Colas, the widow of Eric Von, presented Teran Powell with the Eric Von Broadcast Fellowship, which provides a yearlong internship at public radio station WUWM.
Many former honorees return year after year to help recognize the honorees and volunteer to help the program flow smoothly. Some have donated more than two decades of service, including Nellie Weddle, a 1999 honoree; and Dr. Carter, who was recognized in 1992.
“I did not realize this was such a huge event,” said Gervis Myles, an honoree in military/ public service. “This is quite extraordinary and a pleasant surprise.”