An astronaut, an Olympian and a legendary debate coach were among 10 inaugural recipients of the Mayor’s History Maker Awards, an honor Mayor Sylvester Turner said he planned to make an annual event to recognize public service-minded individuals.
Turner said he hoped the event would serve as an inspiration to other Houstonians whose quiet, and often challenging, mentorship and advocacy efforts improve the city.
“In our city, every single day, people are volunteering their time, they’re giving of themselves to benefit other people, and, quite frankly, every now and then we need to stop and recognize and acknowledge them,” Turner said afterward.
Each of the honorees will be featured in 30-second public service announcements by Comcast, which sponsored Friday’s luncheon. Comcast also will donate $1,000 to each recipient’s chosen nonprofit.
Most of the 10 recipients are committed volunteers at local nonprofits, and some have a formal role with service organizations. The crowd at the Houstonian Hotel laughed and sighed as brief videos were shown of each honoree, in which the recipients spoke about the joys they find in their community service.
Carol Freeman, for decades a volunteer with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston, spoke of working with at-risk youth.
“I’ve been able to show them they are worth something and they have a purpose in life. They have the key to opportunity in their own hands,” she said. “These youth have an ability to make an impact that is greater than any I’ve ever made myself.”
Barbara Curtis spoke of founding R.A.R.E. Pearls, Inc. to mentor young women.
“I realized very early on the value of mentors and positive role models in the lives of young girls,” she said. “I’m an example of the difference that it makes, and I always wanted to help other girls to allow them the opportunity to have the same chance that I did.”
Honorees were young and old, came from myriad careers, had been Olympians – and even astronauts.
Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr., a physician, former astronaut, businessman and volunteer for Communities In Schools, became the first African American to walk in space 23 years ago Friday.
Bobbie Henderson, volunteers for the United Way of Greater Houston’s Bright Beginnings program, focusing on early childhood education
Pamela Joubert Davis serves as a board member of the Children’s Museum of Houston.
Elexa Orrange Allen, a West Point graduate and former Olympian, volunteers for Goodwill Houston.
Marilyn Douglas-Jones, who volunteers for the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, and Michael Pearson, who volunteers at the Chinese Community Center, both spoke of helping immigrants achieve their version of the American dream.
“If I can help facilitate those types of individuals coming in to be a part of our dynamic, diverse society, I want to be at the center of that,” Pearson said.
The youngest honoree, 36-year-old Christina Porter of the Chauncy Glover Project, spoke of mentoring young black and Hispanic men in local high schools, speaking to them about their dreams.
“I’m called to be an advocate for these kids,” Porter said. “Sometimes all it takes is just one person to believe that you can do something for you to believe in yourself, that you can do just that.”
Thomas Freeman, founding dean of the Thomas F. Freeman Honors College at Texas Southern University and for more than six decades a faculty member and coach of the school’s acclaimed debate team, received a Living Legend award – and an even longer standing ovation than the mayor.
“Age means nothing,” he intoned in his video segment, to laughs from the crowd. “They stimulate and motivate me as I hope I may stimulate and motivate them. It’s more than just the joy in working with them, it’s watching them grow. Without them, my life would be empty.”
The event, formed in recognition of February’s designation as Black History Month, was hosted by KPRC Channel 2 meteorologist Khambrel Marshall.
The panel of selectors included Houston’s First Daughter, Ashley Turner, nonprofit leaders from the United Way of Greater Houston, Legacy Community Health, Career & Recovery Resources and the Montrose Center, City Councilman Jerry Davis and Comcast Houston’s Senior Vice President Ralph Martinez.