Western Pennsylvania professionals were recognized for their work to improve hundreds of lives in the region on Jan 2.
The first annual Western Pennsylvania Executive Humanitarian Awards, a black-tie affair with just over 150 guests, was held in the ballroom at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland and hosted by the Pittsburgh Community Alliance Inc.
The Alliance said that the 20 honorees were acknowledged for their efforts through their demonstration of “exemplary and dedicated service in helping and improving the lives of those they serve, work and live with.”
Master of Ceremonies, Bill Neal, CEO of Achieving Greatness Inc., said, “This is a diverse group who all implement different ideas in different ways that amount to helping the less fortunate in Western Pa. These are everyday people trying to make the world a better place.”
He said that holding the event at a historic venue like the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, a facility that was erected in 1908 and used to be a private club, is symbolic of how humanitarianism is becoming more inclusive.
Neal, through his 40 years at Champion Enterprises Inc., the former summer programming system geared toward keeping kids on the right path by staying out of the streets, and his work with the Willie Stargell MVP Banquet, said he wanted to create an awards program that recognized people from all walks of life that “give up themselves for the betterment of others.”
He said that during the 8-week process, 50 names where whittled down to 20 based on finding candidates that were willing to accept the award and those deemed most worthy.
One of the award recipients, Emmai Alaquiva, said that he was honored knowing people were watching him.
“We don’t do the things we do for people to see us. When you work with such a passion on a 24/7 basis, you fail to see who’s watching,” he said. “It’s a humbling feeling to know that these individuals have binoculars on the accolades to what you’re doing.”
Alaquiva, once homeless, has run an arts education program in 11 Pittsburgh area school districts for grades K-12 since 2007.
He said the hip hop based program has reached more than 5000 young lives through music videos, social media and radio by giving them the tools to utilize their voice through arts education.
“What I see in young people is what I saw in myself: open-minded youth wanting to include others,” he said.
Dr. William Simmons, president of Gateway Medical Society, a faction of the National Medical Association dedicated to addressing and implementing solutions to the ethnic and social disparities in medicine, was honored for making strides in multiple aspects of the community.
The society has had three major projects that have benefitted minorities in the Western Pennsylvania region, including conferences with youth, women and men about illnesses and diseases they are susceptible to in the Black community; a provider symposium in which doctors educate doctors on the focus of care for underrepresented minorities; and most notably the “Journey to Medicine” precollege mentorship program.
Journey to Medicine is an academic mentorship program for African American boys starting in the sixth grade. It focuses on the emphasis of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum, classes that most Blacks aren’t focusing on in college, to get them prepared for careers in medicine or related fields.
“I mentor because I have been a recipient of mentorship during my upbringing. To see these young people that could have fallen through the cracks—-our boys in our city schools, to see them do well and excited to apply to college is what I’m most proud of,” Simmons said.
Ann Mason was recognized for her work as an executive director and program director of non-profit organizations for more than 30 years that dealt with community service for juvenile delinquents, job training, incapacitated seniors and hunger relief.
Now retired, Mason said, “The non-profit sector is extremely important in Western Pennsylvania and all over the country. There are an awful lot of people who deserve to be honored for what they do.”
Dwan Walker, mayor of Aliquippa, said he’s fortunate to be a part of such a decorated group of honorees.
As mayor, Walker has overseen projects that mentor children, feed the hungry, collect coats for children, community days, giving out Christmas trees, providing holiday meals and cultivating relationships between the youth and police officers of Aliquippa.
“Everything we do is always about uplifting the kids and uplifting the city of Aliquippa. We don’t have much, but what we do have, we make sure everybody is a part of it,” he said.
He added that he loves being active in the community, and makes sure he is a constant visitor in the schools in Aliquippa, and has trained with city police officers.
He follows this advice: “Just Be.” “That’s what my father used to tell me all the time. Sometimes you just have to be there, be there to listen to anybody who’s anybody can come to me with their problems and we’ll fix them together,” Walker said.
Other honorees included former Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl Champion Robin Cole; Rev. Dr. Alfred Brown; Charles Allie; Troy Miles; Chuck Sanders; Lee Davis; Pamela Macklin; Dawndra Jones; Judge Ralph P. Watson; Jimmy O’Brien; Arzella McCauley; Dr. Sharon McDaniel; Superintendent Linda Lane; Nathaniel K. Goodson; Sonya Toler; and Richard “Dick” Clouser.
Neal said that after taking a break from the action for a couple of weeks, the alliance will begin the search for next year’s candidates in early April.
“This is an annual event with plenty of people to consider for recognition. It will go on for quite some time,” he said.
(Samson X. Horne is a contributing writer for the New Pittsburgh Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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