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Best in Black Awards: A Memphis tradition is born

BIB-TE-0I've discovered two very powerful things: the actualization and birth of a long held dream/ vision and the sobering experience of a potentially deadly accident. Last Thursday (Aug. 30), I experienced both in the same evening, providing one of the most unique and inspiring combinations of clarifying moments in my 40 years of living.

The Best in Black Awards (BIB) – conceived in late 2009 –was conceptualized out of a desire to inspire a new level of pride and passion in a sleeping giant, the African-American community of Greater Memphis. It was conceived out of the need for a unique platform that would give every desiring citizen a voice in identifying and recognizing those that so often go overlooked and unrecognized.

BIB-TE-1Here is a basic truth: Many of our businesses, organizations and individuals fight to overcome disadvantages. BIB was initiated out of a sincere desire to provide a mechanism and platform for those entities to build and enhance their brands and their visions. Sure, I rec¬ognized BIB as a way to generate revenue/income. I also knew it was a vehicle to inform the community and inspire a new generation of leadership while also positively impacting the Greater Memphis community that I love.

Three years later and a few hours before the inaugural BIB Awards Show, a near tragic event, cemented in my mind the need to act boldly. It reinforced a sense of urgency and emboldened me to get it done despite naysayers, detractors and obstacles.

Around 3:45 p.m., as I was heading to my office before making my way to the Cannon Center to give my final inputs into the production and delivery of the BIB Awards, I was forced to detour to Methodist University Hospital. As I traveled south on Second, covering a route I'd made thousands of time before, I proceeded through the green light at Second and Union only to be rammed by a driver on my left heading west on Union. My life began to spin before my eyes as my car spun down a rain-slick Second Street.

I came to a halt in front of the Peabody Hotel, realizing that I was out of mortal danger, most likely hurt and regrettably in danger of missing the first Best in Black Awards Show.

BIB-TE-2TSD Sales Executive DeJuan Hendricks happened to be in the area. It must have been divine intervention, as he was able to assist and reassure me as I wrestled with ignoring the circumstances and my physical pain to head straight to the Cannon. He helped me get things situated as I was transported to Methodist University Hospital on Union.

I am thankful for emergency rooms, but if I never visit one again it will be too soon. I was rolled around on a stretcher for a while before I was finally assigned to a space that should never be confused with a room. After an hour and fifteen minutes of sitting, sleeping and otherwise waiting in that spot, I became more assertive about my treatment. Finally, I was processed in, seen by a practitioner, reassured of no broken bones or very serious injuries, given a prescription and cleared to be on my way.

I made it to the Cannon Center in pain but with an even greater sense of appreciation for the moment and the work it had taken to get to that point. It truly made me more intent on soaking up the evening. I listened as our guests raved about the elegance and creativity of the VIP reception. I witnessed our team overcoming challenges with tickets and seating arrangement issues. I watched as the crowd responded to the event's opening and as each performer blessed us with their talent. I heard sounds of jubilation, delight, excitement, anticipation, appreciation and expressions of love as the winners were announced and then invited to grace the stage.

BIB-TE-3Alcenia's B.J. Chester Tamayo danced her way onto the stage to receive her award for Best Soul Food and then danced off to the back¬stage with that same excitement and appreciation for the opportunity to be recognized by the community for being the BEST. I beamed as Larry Williams accepted his award for Best (Night) Club or Lounge and struck a million-dollar pose that said. "Yes, we are the BEST and I appreciate the recognition!"

Those genuine expressions made all the work, all the obstacles, even the accident, worthwhile challenges toward progress, success and accomplishment. Not in a selfish sense of accomplishment, but in a way that created a powerful platform for the elevation of all of our winners and nominees and in many ways the entire community.

Subsequent responses via text, phone and Facebook solidified in my mind the constant need for bold action in the face of those that would stand in your way. John Cornes summarized my intent, passion and execution with this Facebook post:

BIB-TE-4"There were several nominees and the big winner of the night was the City of Memphis! I want to personally commend Bernal Smith for having not only the vision but the courage to take action in bringing to life the "Best in Black" awards show that was held last night at the elegant Cannon Center. From the VIP reception to the actual show itself, everything tastefully was done. Here in the City of Memphis, we dressed in Tuxedos and evening gowns and we clapped and praised one another. There were genuine hugs, kisses and accolades from us, by us, to us. I can almost say for certain that the widespread feeling of pride and uplift of one another last night at the Best in Black awards has not been felt since the late 60's...or at least since (Dr. Willie W.) Herenton first got elected Mayor of Memphis. So again I say kudos to Bernal Smith for helping to take Memphis to the next level!"

BIB-TE-5The event was not perfect, but in many ways the evening was. It was a testament to the fact that creative, unselfish and innovative con¬cepts and initiative are necessary to transform this community into an oasis of progressive growth and opportunity for the lot, rather than the few.

Essentially the people must have a greater voice, a choice and a chance. It is my vision that The New Tri-State Defender be that voice, and that initiatives and events such as the Best in Black Awards provide both greater voice and choice to the people and that, ultimately, those who have historically lacked access and opportunity have greater chance because of our efforts.

Congratulations to all of our 2012 Best In Black Award nominees and winners. Thank you for allowing us to give greater light to the positive work you do and to use that light to liberate and motivate others. Your energy and enthusiasm, along with the energy and enthusiasm of your supporters, allowed us to birth a Memphis tradition.

We at the TSD will continue to shine our light that others be liberated to shine theirs even more brightly, just as Mandela suggested so eloquently. We look forward to seeing you all at the 2013 Best In Black Awards Show!

Bernal E. Smith II, President/Publisher of The New Tri-State Defender

BIB Awards bring the 'juice'

BIB-TE-6Back stage at the Best in Black Awards, not long after presenting the award for the Best Social Entrepreneur/Activist, I took a moment to breathe deeply and regroup. I needed it.

I'd worked 21 straight hours –Wednesday morning to Thursday dawn – directing the production of our Aug. 30-Sept. 5 edition. After an oh-so-short break of four hours, I was back in the TSD office, preparing and delivering marked copies to the Bulk Mail Center, trying to ensure timely delivery to our subscribers. I had to reach deep inside for the energy I would need to give my best to the night's BIB Awards presentation.

As I went through my rejuvenation process – hopefully unnoticed by all – a well-dressed woman walked in and stood beside me. She was hyped. I mean really, really excited about having won the award for Best Soul Food Restaurant. Her name is Betty Joyce Chester-Tamayo and the restaurant is Alcenia's.

"B.J.," as she is called, was waiting to be interviewed by TSD columnist and radio personality Myron Mays, who was an on-air part of the team capturing the reflections of winners. She held her trophy up high, turned it around and remarked to one of my co-workers how beautiful she thought it was, repeatedly expressing her gratitude.

You can't fake that kind of enthusiasm. It juiced me up and I rode that energy burst throughout the remainder of the evening. It was affirmation

that TSD President/Publisher Bernal E. Smith II had been right – The BIB Awards helped the African-American community tell some of its most-preferred entrepreneurs that they were greatly appreciated by their ethnic family.

Later, I wove that experience into feedback I'd received from Pinkie Greer, the grandmother of my 21-year-old twins, Karanja and Jamila. She attended the affair with two friends. Why? Because, she said, there are some great people in Memphis, people who should be recognized and she wanted to celebrate with them.

The Best in Black Awards, she said, also reflected diversity within the community that often is not recognized – or appreciated – by non-Memphians. "Hats off to the Tri-State Defender and I am looking forward to next year."

Her associate, Betty Taylor, a 63-year-old retiree, was direct and succinct. "It was very nice, a good presentation...even though it was too long, I really enjoyed it. Black entrepreneurs deserve to be recognized."

OK, Ms. Taylor, your feedback – including the constructive criticism – is greatly appreciated. And be assured, next year will be better.

There will be a next year because this was just a first step. The recognition that the Best in Black Awards conveyed is a building block toward the eventual elevation of Memphis' African-American community to model-community status.

The TSD is not the only entity dedicated to that end. We are, however, uniquely suited to be a connector of those committed to reaching that particular "promised land." The Best in Black Awards signal our determination to pick up the pace and keep on stepping!

Dr. Karanja A. Ajanaku, Editor of The New Tri-State Defender

The Best in Black Awards Showcases the Best of Memphis

On August 30th, downtown at the Cannon Center was the place to be. Cannon Center was the place to be as the New Tri-State Defender held the Inaugural Best in Black Awards. From media personalities, physicians to realtors, the entire city was represented as the spotlight was shined on the best the city has to offer.

Everyone got the opportunity to vote for their favorite people or service provider. Where else can you vote for your favorite local Barber, Doctor, Athlete or even Attorney? These are people who give you great service, make you smile or give you one less thing to worry about. And for these things, they wouldn't normally get any recognition for it. However, all of these people not only make up our communities, but make them better places to live.

There was even a bit of glitz and glamour as guest arrived and walked down the "Black Carpet". This night was all about Memphis. Not only were there awards and plaques being handed out. From spoken word poetry to the sounds of Gospel, there were also great musical performances which featured the best of our city as well. Even the hosts of the show represented the core of what Memphis is all about. Michael Adrian Davis, Eileen Collier and Sherri Mackey were the hosts of what will become a Memphis tradition for years to come.

This type of event is something that the City of Memphis has needed for a while. Now we have it. We get the opportunity to honor our own. And instead of waiting for someone else to do it, we get the chance to shine the spotlight on ourselves. What can we expect next year? We will just have to wait and see.

Myron Mays, whatshappeningmyron.com

Life to the Vision!

I came onboard with the Tri-State Defender as their Event Planner earlier this year. Bernal laid out the events that he had in mind for the TSD to host throughout the year. There were (and still are) some fantastic things planned, and I was thrilled at the chance to bring some organizational leadership to the various events. When he told me about his vision for The Best in Black Awards, he described it as "Like the hoodie awards but with a hyper-local focus, exclusively for Greater Memphis." As a huge fan of Steve Harvey, and as an event planner, I was excited about the concept. It was an idea (a dream, if you will) that Bernal had a number of years ago, and had been trying to bring to fruition. I had no idea at the time how much of an undertaking it would be! For 2 months leading up to the event, I was eating, sleeping and breathing 'Best in Black'. I saw the red, black and green shooting star logo in my sleep. Everything in my life was Best in Black!

We had a few hiccups and glitches along the way, but in the end, it turned out better than I had ever imagined. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Bernal for trusting me and my Creative Solutions team (Nona Allen, Rosalind Johnson, Kenny B. Johnson, Shymiak Johnson and Angela Sargent – along with so many others) to give legs to his vision. We hope we did you proud! We learned a lot along the way, and there are definitely areas where we will fine-tune some things, but we are ALREADY planning for next year's event. Y'all get ready! It is going to be EVEN BETTER!!!

About the website – Jerome Robinson has an electronic media mind like nothing I have ever seen. He came in at a very difficult time in our nomination process and helped us make it happen! His development of the website and statistical data was SO VERY important and a key concept to making this all possible. I am so eternally grateful for your ideas, your input and your work on this project!

About the caterer – Felecia Bean Catering – enough said! I have had the opportunity to work with Felecia on a few events, and I have come to learn that once she is involved, there is NOTHING to worry about with regard to her aspect of the event. She covers EVERYTHING from beginning to end, and the food!!!! OMG!!! There is nothing like it! Thanks, Felecia for putting your all into everything you do.

Oh, and let me not forget Telisa Franklin – she swooped in at the ninth hour and made the VIP reception lounge POP! God bless you, T! Those little touches were phenomenal! I really appreciate you.

Nina Allen-Johnson

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