Local ‘Unsung Heroes’ Make Life Better for Community
By Brianna Holliday and Antwan Bowleg
Community servant C. Ron Allen rubbed elbows with some of the most famous names in Palm
Beach County recently as they were honored as Unsung Heroes, one of the highest awards the county bestows.
The former newspaper reporter and editor of the Boca Raton Tribune was among 12 other selfless community leaders recognized in a ceremony at the Palm Beach County Commission chambers recently.
“I never expected anything like this but it is very nice to be recognized,” said Allen, founder of KOP Mentoring Network – formerly Knights of Pythagoras Mentoring Network – a grassroots mentoring program for youth ages 7 to 17. “It was the chance of a lifetime to be with all the big players, and also an opportunity to attract some attention in hopes of getting some help to continue the work in the trenches.”
Allen was honored for his more than two decades-long commitment to improving the lives of children in Palm Beach and Broward counties through his organization.
So involved has Allen been in his charitable endeavors, his work defies easy summary. No single story can capture all he has done.
But Wanda Gadson, a Delray Beach resident who introduced Allen, offered this: “C. Ron tries to look out for the best of the community and gives a voice to the voiceless youth since he started.
“He will give you the shirt off his back,” she said, adding that Allen worked with her on filling Thanksgiving baskets for the community 30 years ago when she was employed by the Urban League of Palm Beach County.
As a reporter for the Sun-Sentinel, Allen got tired of reading about young boys who were in the local police blotter. He decided to do his part and started working with three young boys in 1991.
“From that time on, he has touched so many youth in the community and you can see the product of that here tonight with the young lady saying, ‘He is as a dad to’ her, and all of the youth that he has worked with really see him as such,” Gadson said. “Even up until today, the ones who are gone on to college or in the service or in their particular jobs, when they see him, it’s like Mr. C. Ron, Mr. C. Ron, [although] they gave him a lot of trouble growing up in his mentoring program.”
Through the organization, hundreds of children were exposed to life outside the city. He took them to two U.S. presidential inaugurations in Washington, D.C., to the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee and each year to crime prevention conferences in Orlando, Miami, Tampa or Jacksonville.
“For some of these kids, that was their first time going beyond the city limits, staying in a hotel or even dressing up,” said Allen, president of CRA Media Group. “That is a critical value that we add to their lives.”
Robert Dodd, program manager for KOP Mentoring Network, calls Allen the poster child for youth mentoring in South Florida.
“C. Ron has been doing so much for so many kids, it comes just naturally,” said Dodd, who has worked with Allen for more than 15 years. “He has been my brother’s keeper long before there was a My Brother’s Keeper [organization].”
County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor began the Unsung Heroes Awards Program to recognize residents who have gone above and beyond to make a difference.
“There are many whose shoulders we stand on, whether it is employment or social issues which, affects individuals in the community,” Taylor said in an email. “Usually we do not know individuals who have worked hard to bring about change. The UHAE allows us to recognize them and also to say thank you for their sacrifices and to let others know what the person has done in the community to make a difference.”
The County sent out an e-mail blast requesting nominations and staff vetted and made the choice.
“Black History Month is an excellent time to do this recognition,” Taylor said. “Of course the opportunity to say thanks is not just for February. We should say it more often, however, I chose that month as a celebration of Black History Month and also as an opportunity to focus on our local heroes.”
The US Postal Service also unveiled its postage stamp for Black History Month at the event.
Other multitasking Unsung Heroes are retired Miami-Dade County Commissioner and educator Barbara Carey Shuler, who runs a local funeral home for the last 20 years; boxing promoter Don King, longtime Palm Beach County school administrator Emma Banks and retired educator, community activist and leader Ida Elizabeth Wesley.
Becoming the county’s ‘Unsung Hero’ has now been added to Allen’s list of highlights for his work with young people, which include being named a Florida Governor’s Points of Light, recognition from President Bill Clinton, and the JM Family African American Achievers Award.
“Mr. C. Ron is a rare person who relates and responds well to students,” said Geovanni Martinez, a graduating senior at Atlantic High School and former member of the mentoring program. “If it hadn’t been for Mr. C. Ron, I’d been in jail because of the things I was doing. He is a great role model to all the students who have in his program.”