| Merit Awards Goes “Hollywood”with “Shaft” as Emcee
By Geneva Topps
Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader
There was an air of “Hollywood” in Chicago when the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation (NNPAF) held its annual “Merit Awards” gala at the National Newspaper Publishers Association convention. Held at the historic Parkway Ballroom guests at the gala walked the red carpet into the beautifully appointed grand ballroom after MillerCoors Brewing Company presented their A. Philip Randolph Awards to several recipients under the big top in the courtyard.
The venue sparkled with attractive decorations and excitement built as the audience waited for the announcement of the winners. The A. Philip Randolph Awards hosted by Larry Waters, vice president of multicultural relations for MillerCoors, assisted by Moses Brewer, director of multicultural relations, African-American segment for MillerCoors made more than $25,000 in awards for the 2011 award winners: Kathy Chaney, The Chicago Defender; David L. Horne, Our Weekly; Christian Morrow, The New Pittsburgh Courier; David Stokes, The Atlanta Inquirer and Wendell Hutson, The Chicago Defender.
Then the audience was thrilled to know that Richard Roundtree, also known as “Shaft” would be the emcee for the evening at the plated-dinner in the ballroom. He entered to the theme from “Shaft,” played by the Soul Syndicate Band. All of the ladies that were presenters received a “warm greeting” from Roundtree. Xernona Clayton, chairperson of the 2011 Merit Awards, ably assisted Mr. Roundtree. Mrs. Clayton is the president of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc., producers of the Trumpet Awards, emanating from Atlanta, Georgia each January.
Mr. Roundtree and Mrs. Clayton kept the program moving and attendees were overheard saying this was the best Merit Awards program yet. Rev. Dr. L. Bernard Jakes, Senior Pastor of the West Point Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, gave the invocation. The Soul Syndicate provided dinner music and foot-tapping songs throughout the evening.
Added to the program this year were 40 scholarships for students entering school in the Fall, sponsored by corporate sponsors, AT&T, General Motors, Nielsen, Ford and Wells Fargo.
Presenters read like a “Who’s Who In the USA” which included Jocelyn Allen, General Motors; State Senator Jackie Collins; WVON radio host Santita Jackson; Kim McCullough, Director of External Affairs for AT&T –Illinois; Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, The Nielsen Company; Chicago’s own Actress Regina Taylor; Michelle Thornhill, Wells Fargo; Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr.; as well as the Chicago Defender’s Michael House, who substituted for State Senator Kwame Raoul (who had to leave before the program began), Chuck Deggans, a columnist for the Gary Crusader made the presentation for Karen Freeman-Wilson, Democratic nominee for Mayor of Gary, Indiana. The highlight of presenters was the great granddaughter of Ida B. Wells, Michelle Duster, an author and writer and keeper of the legacy of Ida B. Wells.
Performing his latest single “Hold On To Your Dreams” was Marshall Thompson, lead singer of the Chi-Lites. He also was a presenter of the Armstrong-Ellington Entertainment Award. The audience was most appreciative of his performance.
There were 19 categories from General Excellence, Best Church Page, Best Sports, best News Story, News Picture and Best Layout and Design. One by one the winners came to the stage to receive their award for first, second and third place positions.
(Winners in the 19 categories are attached)
Future newspaper publishers were introduced when they presented the Youth Award. Imani Jasper Baker, the son of Dawn Cherie Jasper of the Chicago Crusader staff, joined Andrew, Chandler and Chantale Leavell. They expertly made the presentation to The Philadelphia Tribune, 1stplace; St. Louis American, 2nd place; and Chicago Crusader, 3rdplace.
Near the end of the program, the John B. Russwurn Award was presented to The Miami Times of Miami, Florida. Garth Reeves, publisher emeritus of the Miami Times accepted the award and recounted the pride he felt in receiving this coveted award for the first time. The John B. Russwurm award is awarded to the newspaper scoring the highest number of points in the 19 categories. It is required that the newspaper must be 1st, 2nd or 3rd place in the General Excellence category.
The last award was presented to the publisher voted by his/her peers as the Samuel E. Cornish “Publisher of the Year.” Receiving the award was Dorothy R. Leavell, Publisher of the Crusader Newspapers – Chicago, IL and Gary, IN. Mrs. Leavell has been an active member of NNPA since 1968, when she became publisher upon the death of her husband, Balm L. Leavell, Jr. She has served as president, treasurer and board member of the Association over 43 years. She has for the last six years served as chairperson of the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.
Chairperson Leavell turned the tables and made awards of her own, dubbed the Chairperson’s Award to: Richard Roundtree, Xernona Clayton, NNPA Chair Danny Bakewell, Foundation Board Members: Harry Alford, President of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and Mary Alice Thatch, Publisher of the Wilmington Journal, Mollie Belt, Publisher of the Dallas Examiner; and NNPA Foundation columnist Charlene Crowell, National Center for Responsible Lending.