Highlights from the 2013 Black Excellence Awards

March 22, 2013


Black Excellence Awards picture1Stay on-target and come back home

By Peggy Schulz

Special to the Milwaukee Times

Staying on the right path, acknowledging your support, especially when it’s God-given, acting as a voice to the voiceless, and coming home – these were common themes for many of those honored at the 28th Annual Black Excellence Awards on Friday, February 22, 2013. Steve Pemberton, the keynote speaker, also echoed those sentiments in his remarks at the event.

Black Excellence Awards Picture 2Whether the award recipient was near 70 or just 17, the ideas that were shared for how to live a blessed life were both simple and profound. Lynda Jackson-Conyers, in closing remarks, described the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper as “celebrating black history as a weekly event.” Brenda Sheppard- Nelson, principal of LaFollette School, described the Black Excellence Award winners as “the essence of our community, not just examples of excellence.”

Louvenia Johnson Scholarships of $1,000 each were presented at the dinner to 14 high school seniors. Louvenia Johnson was one of the founders of the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper. The scholarship fund was established in her name in 1988 to recognize her outstanding contributions to community journalism. Each student scholarship winner also received a laptop computer at the dinner, courtesy of Reid’s New Golden Gate Funeral Home.

Lorna Piggee, mother of Carter Piggee, one of the Louvenia Johnson Scholarship winners, related that she and her husband, Dennis, “have always instilled values and learning in our children. We kept him [Carter] on the path to be successful.” His parents are very proud of what Carter already has achieved, and hopeful for more. Carter expressed his desire to create a cycle in which African-American men continue to return to Milwaukee to help strengthen the community.

Black Excellence Awards Picture 3Josephine “Josie” Scott, another scholarship winner, is on the path to becoming a pharmacist. Upon hearing of Josie’s plans, Steve Pemberton, the keynote speaker, who is Vice President/Chief Diversity Officer for the Walgreen Co., rushed to give Josie his business card, apparently hoping her path might lead her to work at Walgreens someday.

A third scholarship winner, Jordan Taper, shared his hope that a career in music will allow him to inspire young people in the community – yet another example of a young person already on a positive path to not just personal, but also community, success.

All of the Louvenia Johnson Scholarship winners are not only excellent students. Each of them also has taken the time to already give back to the community through volunteer work at a variety of service agencies. Just as Carter Piggee talked about working to create a cycle of coming home, a number of adults at the awards ceremony noted the cyclical nature of success, that the young people present could look to the Black Excellence Award recipients sitting in the same room as role models for their adult lives.

Black Excellence Awards Picture 4Erik Conner, principal at Clarke Street School, one of the presenters of the Louvenia Johnson Scholarship Awards, was a first-time attendee at the Black Excellence Awards ceremony. “From my perspective, the student awards help to highlight some of the positive things going on in America, young people who are going to be our leaders next year. A lot of times,” Conner said, “a lot of hard work goes unnoticed.” He was very grateful to be part of this recognition of the scholarship winners who already show so much promise for the future. Many in attendance at the awards event were encouraged by how many of the scholarship recipients expressed their intent to return to Milwaukee after college to make a strong contribution to the community that supported them as children and teenagers.

Black Excellence Awards Picture 5Black Excellence Awards Picture 7In introductory remarks before dinner, Mayor Tom Barrett spoke to the fact that “the strength of this city is found in the residents. The everyday heroes are the ones who have the most significant impact on our city.” Newly-elected State Rep. Evan Goyke also touched on the “everyday” nature of the amazing contributions of the Black Excellence Award winners. “Excellence happens every day in the city,” Goyke said.

Black Excellence Awards Picture 6Steve Pemberton, the keynote speaker, is the author of the book, “A Chance in the World.” The title comes from his childhood, when a baby sitter who learned of his circumstances, as an often unwanted, unloved foster child, wrote in his diary that he didn’t have “a chance in the world” of succeeding in life. He certainly proved them wrong. He is the first person in the 110-year history of the Walgreen Co., to hold the position of Chief Diversity Officer

Pemberton spoke of a number of experiences he had as a child, of people, much like the Black Excellence Award recipients, who

“stood in the gap” for him. A nurse who treated him compassionately when he was beaten by his foster parents, a high school teacher who took time to encourage and support him, and a woman – a complete stranger – who stopped to talk to him one day and returned later on to bring him a box of books.

Black Excellence Awards Picture 8
“They are the ones who are special,” Pemberton said, “the ones who made all the difference in my life, who helped me focus on the triumphs, not the tragedies.” Again, referencing the award winners, Pemberton said one key to their own success is that they obviously are “a bit more than dreamers, a bit more than hopers. These are people who believe,” Pemberton said, “who sacrifice something and act as advocates for others. You change generations of lives, you do God’s work.”

In addition to the 35 Black Excellence Award winners spread across 14 categories, five special awards were presented in the field of Child and Youth Advocacy, in recognition of the childhood experiences of Pemberton. Dawn Shelton-Williams talked about the importance of speaking for those who don’t have a voice. Bregetta Wilson, who, like Pemberton, also grew up in foster care, talked about her position as a community health navigator with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and “circling back to give people opportunities. It’s [her job] like breathing, it’s part of who I am as a person,” Wilson said. “I became that youth voice.”

In a real-life example of many of the common themes of the evening, Tito Izard, a family physician and director of Milwaukee Health Services, was seated at the same table as Lessie Hudson. Izard thought she looked familiar and approached her. It turned out Hudson had been Izard’s third-grade teacher at Henry David Thoreau School in Milwaukee. “She [Hudson] was very supportive and very strict, to make sure we got all our work done,” Izard said. “Ms. Hudson was passionate about teaching. There were no excuses for why you couldn’t do better.” Izard has two brothers, one of whom also is a doctor, and the other is in the ministry.

The 2013 Black Excellence Award winners join a group of more than 800 other remarkable individuals over the award’s 28-year history.