An Ebony honor

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 3:56 p.m.
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Giving the keynote address was Judge Mabelean Ephriam, formerly of "Divorce Court."

MARVIN HALELAMIEN/Special to the Guardian
Honorees and guests attending the 24th annual Ebony Appreciation Awards Banquet were told about the importance of helping others by a former national television personality.
"Living for others through the work that I do" was the theme of the banquet held Sunday afternoon at Springhill Missionary Baptist Church. More than 450 people attended the event.
"We are here to pay special recognition to the people who have provided great public service contributions to our community and to the people who are the most precious things in our community, the centenarians," said Bernadette Woody, the coordinator of the event.
The Ebony Appreciation Awards Banquet honors African-American achievements in the local community, and it also recognizes residents who are centenarians, or those 100 years old or older.
Centenarians honored were: Roberta Memory Campbell, Oscar Washington James Jr., Laura Blakely Jenkins, Ethel McHenry, Johnnie Middleton and Amanda Freeman Oats. Washington was the only centenarian who attended the banquet.
The following were honored as ''Pioneers'' at the banquet:
  • Betty Jean Martin Baker, the first black administrative services director for the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.
  • Voncea "Pie" Brusha, the co-founder and president of the Greater Gainesville Black Nurses Association Inc.
  • Willie Dennis Jr., the first black power plant shift supervisor at GRU.
  • Thomas Jefferson Foxx Jr., the first black manager at a GRU power plant.
  • André Tyler Hammel, the first black in Alachua County to own his own waste and hauling company that owns its own dumpsters instead of renting them.
  • Verdell Washington Robinson, one of the founders and organizers of the Bland Community's Families of Alachua Inc., a non-profit organization established in 1977.
  • Corporal Isadore Singleton III, the first black K-9 supervisor for the Gainesville Police Department.
    Alachua County Court Judge Walter Green introduced the keynote speaker, Judge Mabelean Ephriam, formerly the star of the nationally syndicated television show, "Divorce Court."
    Ephriam began her speech by thanking God for allowing her to fly into Gainesville safely. She then revealed why she is no longer the star of the show, ''Divorce Court.''
    "Fox (the network) and I had some irreconcilable differences that ultimately led to a divorce," Ephriam said. She quickly got on the topic of the importance of helping others.
    "It is so often we think about doing things for ourselves," said Ephriam, in the same down-to-earth persona she showed on the TV show. "But we really have arrived when we do things for others. It is those times when we sacrifice and do things for others that we have arrived."
    Ephriam said her spirituality is very important to her, and she reminded people about something God said in the Bible.
    "How can you say you love me who you can't see, but hate your fellow man who you can see?" Ephriam asked. "The only way we can serve God is by serving others."
    She said the only way she got the job on ''Divorce Court'' was through the help of one of her friends.
    "I was minding my own business, doing what I was doing," said Ephriam, describing where she was mentally when she got the opportunity to host ''Divorce Court.''
    She said she told a friend, who was going to a conference on sports and entertainment law, to look out for her, and to let people know she was interested in doing something different. She said at the time, all of her children were grown, and she was tired of working 16-hour days and dealing with 100 clients.
    "I figured if I could get me two or three good clients, I could make $200,000 to $300,000 a year, and work half as much as I was used to working," Ephriam said. "More money and less work, that made sense to me."
    She said an executive from Fox was at the conference and asked several people, including her friend who she had told to look out for her, if they knew anybody who would be a good candidate to star on ''Divorce Court.'' She said several people mentioned her name to the executive.
    "Those people were there to help themselves, but at the same time, they were working for me," said Ephriam, who didn't go to the conference because she had to go to Bible study at her church that night.
    "I made a commitment long ago not to forget God," she said. Ephriam said after she talked with executives from Fox, she had to meet with them soon afterward. She said she needed to get her hair done, but her normal stylist said she couldn't fit her in to her schedule.
    She said she called a stylist who had stopped doing hair because of medical reasons, and lo and behold, the stylist had been trying to contact Ephriam to let her know that she was doing hair again, but only for special customers.
    Ephriam said she had avoided the stylist's phone calls just days before she knew she had to go to a screening at Fox Studios.
    "She has issues," said Ephriam. "Y'all sisters in here know what I'm talking about. We all know people who have drama in their lives all the time. I just didn't feel like being fooled up with her."
    Ephriam said when she told the stylist why she needed her hair done, the stylist rejoiced for her. Ephriam said that a problem arose. The same day she needed her hair done was the same day the stylist had planned to move to a new residence.
    Ephriam said she offered to help pay for someone to move the stylist, but the stylist told her that she would be able to do her hair anyway.
    She said once she got her hair done, she had to hurdle another obstacle - a flat tire. She said God got her through that situation as well, and though she arrived at the screening late, she was calm and reserved, and wowed the executives.
    "Sometimes, we have to let go and not be so uptight," Ephriam said. "I knew if I got that show, it would help a lot more people than Mablean."f-z She said Hollywood does not feature a lot of blacks, and that history was made when she and three other blacks hosted court shows that came on five times a week.
    "Somebody worked before me to allow me to have the opportunities I have had," she said.
    She then mentioned that she hired as many young blacks as she could to work with her.
    "When you are put in a position where you can help somebody rise up, don't be selfish," Ephriam said. "Help them."
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