Published On: Fri, May 12th, 2017

A Quarter Century of Recognizing Community Giants

Twenty five years ago automotive legend Jim Moran saw the need to recognize members of south Florida’s black communities who were enriching lives, improving their communities and inspiring their neighbors.

Oftentimes, they did this with limited resources and very little recognition.

So he started the African-American Achievers awards observance, an evening where folks from the tri-county area would gather to celebrate the unsung heroes among them. He also wanted to inspire future generations.

Ten years after his passing, Mr. Moran’s wish of continuing this tradition is still being honored.

Over the years, an independent panel of judges – often past honorees and community leaders – have had the difficult task of selecting four winners from nominations submitted by area residents. This year they and I poured through nearly 300 entries and selected an educator, an accountant, a historian and an Oscar-winning actor/playwright.

All four giants – Anthony Lockhart, Shaun Davis, Enid Curtis Pinkney and Tarell McCraney – uphold the ultimate spirit of perseverance and selfless giving.

One of the honorees, Anthony Lockhart, has a local connection. The former assistant principal at Spanish River High School and principal of Atlantic High School left his A-rated Atlantic to take over the hemorrhaging F-ranked Lakeshore Middle School in Belle Glade without hesitation.

The school, which was among the lowest performing in Palm Beach County, was plagued with discipline problems, a high crime rate, exasperated faculty, recent revolving door of principals and an overall lack of purpose, according to school officials. It also was on the verge of being taken over by the state after receiving F grades for two consecutive years. Within one year, Lockhart moved it up to a C, which earned him the honor of the 2016 Palm Beach County Principal of the Year.

Within minutes of meeting Lockhart one will see his passion for education. Whenever the minister enters a room, you can feel the increase in energy. He is so enthusiastic about everything he is involved with that you can’t help but get excited with him.

Shaun Davis, founder and managing partner of S. Davis & Associates P.A., turned his dream into one of the largest African-American-owned certified public accounting and consulting firms in the southeast. He is a mentor for minorities considering a career in accounting and entrepreneurs seeking advice on starting their own companies.

The community service honoree was Enid Curtis Pinkney, a historian who worked tirelessly for decades to document and preserve the history of blacks in Miami. “The Cemetery Lady,” as she is affectionately known, was instrumental in preserving several historical sites, including the historic Lemon City Cemetery, the Native American burial grounds downtown and the Hampton House Motel, one of the few places where black athletes, celebrities and entertainers could stay during the Jim Crow segregation era.

The arts and culture winner was internationally acclaimed actor, playwright and professor Tarell McCraney, who inspires and mentors youth in Miami’s Liberty City area. He wrote a script from his work with youth that became the basis of his Oscar winning movie “Moonlight.”

Each year, JM Family also recognizes a youth with a needs-based four-year scholarship to Florida State University. The 2017 Jerome Edmund Gray Youth Achiever Award winner was Phabie Jean of Atlantic Technical High School, a senior in the magnet program at Atlantic Technical High School in Coconut Creek.

To date, the African-American Achievers awards has recognized 152 men and women and donated $564,000 on the recipients’ behalf to about 130 unique non-profit organizations throughout South Florida.

In recognition of the 25th anniversary JM Family donated $25,000 each to the Urban League of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties to help further their work in their communities.

Colin Brown, president and CEO of JM Family, puts it best when he says the awards program is their way to say thank you to the unsung heroes for their accomplishments and contributions to South Florida.

“As we celebrate 25 years of this special program, we are grateful for the dedication of our past and present honorees,” he said. “Their continued determination and selflessness is an inspiration to our community and the next generation of leaders making a difference.”

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