AWC honors those who helped open doors

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A lot of people said it couldn’t be done. But that’s always the case when people who have the vision, faith, desire and courage to try turning their dreams into reality face those who gave up on their own dreams long ago.

Well, one walk down Liberty Avenue will show you that it could be done—that it was done.

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GROUNDBREAKERS— From left: Oliver Byrd, Yvonne Cook, Valerie McDonald Roberts and Sala Udin receive Founders Awards at the August Wilson Center, July 13.

“We’re looking at moving from a local to a regional to a national to an international perspective, to make this the preeminent African-American cultural center, for African-American culture and arts, in the world,” said Aaron Walton, the new chair for the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture, prior to the honors cere­mony. Walton is also the retired senior vice president of corporate affairs for Highmark, Inc. and one of the many people who was there “in the early days” of the center’s development.

Community leaders, their families, friends and other supporters gathered in the intimate environs of the AWC auditorium July 13 to honor those who believed and worked tirelessly to make the dream a reality.

“We want to thank those people who brought us to the dance,” said Walton.

Among those honored that night were activist and former city councilman, Sala Udin; former NAACP president, Tim Stevens; Nancy Washington, Ph.D, the center’s former vice chair; Carol Brown, founding president; county councilman Bill R. Robinson; and Elmer McClung, former executive assistant to Allegheny County Commissioner Larry Dunn.

The evening’s event also served to usher in the center’s new leadership in the form of Walton as chair, David Hillman, president and partner at PNC Equity Partners, as vice-chair, Mark S. Lewis, president of the POISE Foundation, as treasurer, and Mona Generett PhD, vice-president of community development at Dollar Bank, as secretary.

“It’s mixed emotions for me,” said current board member, Karen Farmer White, regarding the board’s changing of the guard, “because I love to see these people honored for the work they’ve done, but we’re going to miss them so much. I’m sure they’re going to stay involved and those of us who are friends with them are going to make sure they stay involved. [But] I’m excited about the new leadership and the new spark and renewed excitement,” she added.

“As we advance our mission at the August Wilson Center, it is important that we continue to strengthen our board with seasoned professionals. We are delighted to welcome our board’s new officers. Their vision and vigorous advocacy for the Center is energizing,” said new AWC president and CEO, André Guess, in a recent press release.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Udin about being honored, “because I was close friends with August—performed his works—and as a community member to have the honor to participate in the development of something like this is unmatched.”

Besides board members and community leaders, AWC also recognized community organizations, such as the NAACP Pittsburgh branch, African-American Chamber of Commerce, etc and religious leaders like Rev. Glenn Grayson, the late Rev. Maurice Doss—brother of the New Pittsburgh Courier’s publisher, Rod Doss—and Bishop Donald O. Clay, with plaques that will be displayed prominently in the center.

“I’m just very, very thrilled. This has been a very long journey, but a very wonderful journey,” said honoree, Washington. “I just can’t think of anything in my life that’s made me prouder than looking across Liberty Avenue and seeing that sail.”

“I think it’s fabulous, and it’s so great to receive such honor and that people recognize the hard work and dedication and commitment and passion that I think people have for the center and for what we know could happen, what the center could actually be,” said co-founder and former treasurer, Yvonne Cook.

“There’s still so much more that the center can and will do to continually revalidate the African-American experience … its real importance has not yet been felt,” said Udin.

The Courier and WAMO Radio were also recognized for their commitment to providing continuous coverage of the center throughout its development.

The event and subsequent reception were underwritten by Highmark, Inc. and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh.

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