By Alexander Parisel
The Greater New York Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Black History Awards Breakfast at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square.
The event started with a networking breakfast and ended with an awards presentation.
After the breakfast, Mark Jaffe, President and CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, took the stage and welcomed the six honorees, as well as the different sponsors and guests.
“I want to thank T-Mobile, Emigrant Savings Bank, Healthfirst, and Mercy College for making it possible to have such an event,” Jaffe said. After thanking Helana Natt, the Executive Director of the Chamber, for her hard work in organizing the event, he introduced the first awardee.
“The first award we are giving out, is the Bill McCreary Legend Award. It is an award that recognizes leaders of journalism,” said Jaffe. William “Bill” McCreary was a black legendary award-winning newscaster who believed in holding the powerful accountable.
The recipient of the McCreary Legend Award was Denise Richardson, co-host of “The Pledge Drive” on PBS and host of AM 570’s “The Mission WMCA.” After receiving the award, Richardson thanked the Chamber for the recognition and spoke about her career path.
“My show has nothing to do with politics,” she said. “My show is about inspiration. If you are interested in hosting a show, I will let you use my show for $600. I don’t care who you bring or what you talk about. All you need to be is inspirational.”
Richardson ended her speech by saying, “Listen when God taps you on the shoulder.”
The next award, the Community Service Award, was given to the Apollo Theater because of its black arts and culture.
The recipient was Billy Mitchell, who is the unofficial ambassador for the Apollo and has worked for the Apollo for 54 years.
“It is an honor and a privilege to represent the Apollo,” Mitchell said. “I want to thank the Commerce for this recognition. It is heartwarming.”
Given that he has worked at the Apollo for more than a half century, Mitchell gave some interesting anecdotes, such as explaining to the guests who organized the first ever radio show in the Apollo or how he observed James Brown and other artists using the theater as their experimenting ground.
Following Mitchell, was honoree Dr. Brian L. Johnson, who received the Black History Award for his continuous work with the Chamber.
Dr. Johnson is the Vice President of the Mercy College Manhattan Campus, as well as the former president of Tuskegee University. He informed that he was the seventh president of the university.
“Thank you, Mark, and thank you Greater New York Chamber of Commerce,” said Dr. Johnson.
He also thanked the Mercy College and said, “Mercy College is the largest, most diverse private institution in New York State, which is one of the reasons why I chose to work for this school.”
Award honoree Alphonso David is a counsel to Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as a professor of Constitutional Law at Cardoza Law School.
David thanked everyone the recognition he received. He then explained that he lived in Liberia for 14 years but had to flee the country after his uncle was assassinated in a military coup and his father was sent to prison for a year.
“These experiences taught me about liberty and civil rights and inspired me to fight for the voiceless and the disenfranchised,” David said.
Honoree Major General Nathaniel James is a former Commanding General of the New York National Guard.
“Thank you for keeping history alive,” James said. He added, “I grew up when people did not celebrate Black History Month. I lived in a time where I always put my credentials in my pocket because people would not believe my qualifications for certain positions.”
He then ended his speech by saying that a person once told him that if someone talked longer than three minutes, people lose their interest and start thinking about their own issues. The room was full of laughter and James received a standing ovation due to his services for the country.
The final honoree was Hazel Dukes, who is the President of the NAACP’s New York State Conference.
After thanking the Chamber and the other honorees, Dukes said, “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is like a beautiful salad. Take all the ingredients together and you have a beautiful salad. Imagine if everyone in NYCHA could register and vote. We can change policies.” Dukes ended her speech saying, “If anyone leaves without being inspired by Black History then that means they missed something. All of these honorees have made history.”
Dukes received a standing ovation and all the honorees assembled together to take group pictures with their awards.