by Asia M. Howell, For New Pittsburgh Courier
Former Steeler great Mel Blount was the special honoree and J. T. Thomas the special guest of Champion Enterprises and Five Starr Corp. at the 34th annual Willie Stargell banquet to raise funds for programs to help keep youths off the streets and in recognition for community achievers.
|MEL BLOUNT, special honoree.
On Nov. 14, elegantly dressed women and men gathered at the LeMont Restaurant in Mt. Washington to celebrate the Stargell banquet. Blount and Thomas were the Steelers starting cornerbacks during the ’70s helping them win four Super Bowl championships.
Additionally, the New Pittsburgh Courier’s own, Joan Alli, was recognized and awarded for 38 years of service with the Courier.
|SERVICE AWARD—Joan Alli with family was honored for her 38 years of service to the New Pittsburgh Courier. With her are, seated, from left: Sy Alli, son; Gwendolyn Leonard, niece; and Rhonda Alli, daughter.
“I am grateful for God blessing me with health, happiness and a memorable 38 years with the Courier,” said Alli, who also shared that it was the Courier’s staff that helped to make those 38 years the most eventful. “It does not even seem like it’s been that long since I walked through those doors for the first time.”
J.T. Thomas expressed his gratitude for being recognized as an honorary guest. “I am truly flattered—humbled to say the least.”
Also humbled by the invitation to be honored, Blount expressed his admiration for Bill Neal’s efforts and commitment to the young people in the community. “I truly admire what Bill is doing—Champion (Enterprises) is trying to show Pittsburgh youth an alternative to the streets.”
Neal, organizer of the event and president and CEO of Champion Enterprises, a 34-year old community service agency, was sure to provide the attending guests with an example of just that—an alternative to the streets was a commitment to education and success in school.
Ten outstanding middle school students selected as finalist for the “Why I Say No to Drugs, Alcohol, and Violence” essay contest, organized by middle school educator, Lorena Mitchell, were recognized for their hard work and commitment to thriving in their academic endeavors.
Michelle Travis, an eighth-grader from Arthur J Rooney Middle School and winner of the essay contest, disclosed her reasoning for staying away from drugs, alcohol and violence. “My good friend was killed by gun violence…and my brother lost his father when he was only two years old.”
Travis explained that her little brother lacks the presence of a father in his life because his father chose to sell drugs and is now incarcerated because of that choice. She further explained that her close friend didn’t have a choice. “She was shot by stray bullets fired into her house while she was on the couch.”
At the conclusion of Travis’ essay, everyone stood and applauded, some even came to tears to commend Travis on her bravery and commitment in staying away from drugs alcohol and violence.
Thomas, before introducing Blount, shared some profound words that were disclosed to him many years ago by Blount. He advised the youths in attendance to always heed and share, “Your circumstances never define who you are or what you can become.”
Captivated by Travis’ story and disheartened by the plight of Pittsburgh young people, Blount addressed the audience with a call to action. “Life is quick and we have some serious problems in our communities and with our youth.”
He told the audience that they’ve become immune to what’s going on in their communities and with their youth. “It’s like we’ve been vaccinated to not let these youth being shot and killed bother us.”
Admitting that his success had much to do with growing up in a two-parent household, Blount said, “There has been a breakdown in our families and our moral values and we need to regroup as a people if we want to change things.”
Blount also said “We need more people and organizations like (Bill Neal and Champion Enterprises) to try to reach out and help change lives.”
Neal, was here, there and everywhere during the event, trying to ensure that things moved smoothly. Guests continually recognized and saluted him for his efforts and commitment to the youths in the community. Humbly, he reminded the audience that this banquet was not about him but about the kids. All benefits and money generated from raffles and the silent auction were going toward saving summer youth programs and other programs such as “Toys for Tots.” He recognized the essay finalists as “the best of the best middle schoolers that we refuse to see on the 11 p.m. news.”
Even though Blount was the special honoree, 10 other men and 10 women were also honored. The men were: Sam Clancy, B.B. Flenory, Bob Rager, Don Patterson, Glen Mahone, James Cook, Howard Slaughter Jr. Ph.D, Fredrick Crawford, Kevin Cameron and Jim O’Brien.
The women were: Lillian Wright, Tene Croom, Joan Alli, Debbie Hickman, Gail Klingensmith, Pam Cohen, Dawn Webb Turner, Anita Drummond, Kathy Ferrari, and Monica Malik.
The sponsors of the event were Penn Avenue McDonald, Prudential, Frank B. Fuhrer, Highmark Blue Cross, the Pirates and the Courier.
(For more information about the Willie Stargell annual banquet, Champion Enterprises, or ways to get involved with the Champion’s efforts, call 412-607-3637.)