The 37th annual Giants Awards ceremony will be held this Saturday at DeVos Place, honoring African-American citizens and organizations that have helped shape the history and quality of life for Grand Rapids community members.
The event was founded by Cedric Ward and Dr. Patricia Pulliam in 1983, and is organized by The Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion at Grand Rapids Community College. Each award is named after a Grand Rapids resident who has demonstrated excellence in the African-American community.
Victoria Ann Upton, who passed away in September, will be awarded the William Glenn Trailblazer Award posthumously. Upton founded Women’s LifeStyle magazine in 1998 and also served on several local committees such as those for ArtPrize, Gilda’s Club, Laughfest and Gazelle Girls.
Two Junior Giants awards with attached scholarships will also be given to students of African-American heritage who have displayed the qualities of future leaders. The Junior Giants Cedric Ward Leadership Scholarship will be presented to Jmyrea White of City High School, and the Dr. Patricia Pulliam Leadership Scholarship recipient is Maya Smith of Hope College.
B. Afeni McNeely Cobham, GRCC’s chief equity and inclusion officer, spoke of the requirements needed for the Junior Giants Award.
“Students nominated for the scholarship must demonstrate contributions and skills in the areas of leadership, community involvement, and academic achievement,” McNeely Cobham stated in an email to The Collegiate. “Publicly recognizing students for these qualities may serve as motivation for other students to excel.”
Other 2019 Giants award winners include:
· Walter Coe Public Service Award — Attorney Mari Beth Johnson-Jelks, who recently retired as Grand Rapids’ managing director of Administrative Services after serving 30 years with the city.
· Eugene Browning Medical Service Award — Vascular surgeon Dr. Jason D. Slaikeu, who also serves as chair of the Spectrum Health Medical Group’s board of directors and a member of the Spectrum Health Hospital board of directors.
· W.W. Plummer Humanitarian Award – LaSandra “Sandra” A. Gaddy, the first African-American female private banking executive with National City Bank (now PNC) in West Michigan, now serves as CEO of the Women’s Resource Center.
· Ethel Coe Humanities Award – Lisa M. Knight, director of Health, Wellness and Youth at the Grand Rapids Urban League.
· Milo Brown Business Award – Troy Yarbrough, founder and CEO of Preferred Construction Group.
· Phyllis Scott Activist Award – Cole Williams, life skills facilitator at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center and founder and CEO of Son to a Father and ColeSpeaks LLC.
· Raymond Tardy Community Service Award – Community activist India Manns, who has campaigned for funding to support the YWCA Helen Claytor Recognition Society, scholarships to fund visits to historically black colleges, and other causes.
· H.C. Toliver Religious Life Award – Bishop Dennis J. McMurray and Dr. E. Jean Lackey-McMurray, who founded Renaissance Church of God in Christ and the Victory in the Word ministry.
· Martha Reynolds Labor Award – Carrie L. Jackson, the Special Assigned Benefit representative for UAW/GM.
While other honorees are selected and notified in advance, the recipient of the Giant Among Giants award will not be announced until Saturday’s event.
McNeely Cobham noted the work involved to hold such a ceremony.
“I have watched with acute attention the amount of preparation it takes to bring this event to fruition,” McNeely Cobham stated. “By my estimate, the Giants Awards and banquet is the Oscars of Grand Rapids. On full display is the culture, history, and legacy of the black community.”
The sold-out Giants Awards ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 at DeVos Hall. Proceeds from the event will help fund the the GRCC Foundation’s Milo M. Brown Memorial Scholarship and the Junior Giants Fund. More information on this year’s honorees can be found here.