Ebony awards banquet honors local black pioneers


Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 9:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 9:08 p.m.

For a week, Karen Coles hunted for a ticket to the Ebony Appreciation Awards Banquet. Her 6-year-old son Kouvaris had begged her to take him to see his friends from the Star Center Children’s Theatre speak.

After going through several people, Coles, 34, chased down banquet coordinator Bernadette Woody and paid for two $40 tickets. She bought her son a lavender dress shirt and a tiny gray-striped vest.

At the banquet, Kouvaris perched on his seat as his small hands gripped the chair and listened intently to the speakers. He took pictures to show later to his friends at Littlewood Elementary School.

“He just likes to hear people speak,” his mother said. “I’m going to keep bringing him to these events so he can learn about African-American history in Alachua County.”

About 300 people attended the 30th annual Ebony Appreciation Awards Banquet on Sunday that honored prominent blacks in Alachua County who are pioneers in their field and have made significant contributions. The banquet at the Best Western Gateway Grand also acknowledged the contributions of a community service award recipient, four centenarians and a local landmark.

Two high school female athletes, Kalen McGill, 17, and Dominique McBroom, 15, were honored at the ceremony. McGill is the first black fast-pitch softball pitcher at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School and McBroom is first black lacrosse goalie at Buchholz High School.

Other pioneers honored included: Kim Barton, the first outreach coordinator with the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office; Ann Bowens, the first black woman in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Office to deliver a live nationwide televised training course; Trávis King, the first black male judicial assistant in the state of Florida; and Dr. Carolyn Tucker, the first black University of Florida professor honored as a Distinguished Alumni Professor at UF.

Rhonda Wilson received the community service award for founding the Star Center Children’s Theatre Center in Gainesville, and the Safety Cab Company also received recognition as a landmark.

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., was the guest speaker at the banquet and has been described by President Barack Obama as “One of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens.” He told the story of Henry and Eliza Briggs, a couple who filed the case Briggs v. Elliot, which became one of five cases that was combined into Brown v. Board of Education.

“They had a dream that although he was a filler at a gas station and she was a maid, their children would do better,” said Clyburn. “It ain’t about having degrees. It ain’t about having money. It’s about having the intestinal fortitude, the guts to take a stand when necessary.”

Clyburn, who was elected president of his NAACP youth chapter at 12, lost three elections in a row at the beginning of his career. He said his friend told him that after three strikes, he was out and should stop trying.

“I told her that was a baseball rule,” he said. “You ain’t ever out in life. We must remember to let our children succeed no matter how many times they fail.”

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