Black nonprofit to celebrate ‘shared history’ at awards gala

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    A nonprofit group is slated to hold an event honoring Michigan African-American leaders in honor of Black History Month. Last year, now-Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist was awarded with the the African-American Leadership Institute’s “Great Expectations Award.”

    Garlin Gilchrist II

    This year’s gala is on Friday, Feb. 22 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. History plays a vital role in the event.

    African-Americans have served in the Michigan Legislature since 1893 when William Ferguson was sworn in to serve in the state House.

    Ferguson, a successful businessman and attorney, gained prominence when he sued Gies’ European Hotel Restaurant in Detroit for attempting to restrict him to eating in the “colored section” of the business.

    Represented by lawyer David Augustus Straker, a Black man, the case led to the historic 1890 state Supreme Court ruling that separation by race in public places was illegal. It has come to be known as Michigan’s “Great Civil Rights Case.”

    Ferguson’s legacy is important to the African-American Leadership Institute, a nonprofit that presents the annual African-American Leadership Awards.

    The event honors unsung heroes who “labor behind the scenes to advance the policies and causes that empower the community,” says Al Williams, president of the African-American Leadership Institute.

    The ceremony began 2014. Previous winners include: Daisy Elliott, a former state House and 1961-62 Michigan Constitutional Convention member; A. Gregory Eaton, longtime lobbyist with Karoub Associates; Highland Park’s Martha Scott, a former state Senate member and first Black woman to serve as a Michigan mayor; and, posthumously, Richard Austin, former Michigan Secretary of State who served from 1971-95.

    William Ferguson portrait, Michigan Capitol | Ken Coleman

    “This year our theme is ‘Shared History,’” said Williams. “It’s hard to make history if it’s not shared. It’s important for us to recognize the work done and highlight the leaders from yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

    Event emcees are Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley and WXYZ Detroit editorial/public affairs Director Chuck Stokes. Gail Perry-Mason, senior director of Investments at Oppenheimer & Co Inc., will be the keynote speaker.   

    Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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