Community members are invited to come out and celebrate Black excellence as Sun Prairie students and adults will be honored and receive awards at the 5th Annual Sun Prairie B.E.A.M. Awards on Sunday, May 7, at 2 p.m. at the Bank of Sun Prairie Stadium at Ashley Field.
“My whole theme has always been that Black people need people who believe in Black people enough not to believe everything bad they hear about Black people. In that realm, for that message, and with that goal, that’s what we’re doing,” Marilyn Ruffin, founder of Black Excellence Achievement Makers (B.E.A.M.), told Madison365 while reflecting on the history of how the awards came to be.
When Ruffin was elected to the Sun Prairie School Board in 2015, she was no stranger to Black children’s experiences in schools having raised three children. Being the first Black public official to hold office in Sun Prairie through her school board position showed Ruffin how necessary it was for her to pursue more representation and recognition for Black people in Sun Prairie pushing for success. In 2019, she came up with the idea of BEAM to give Black Sun Prairie kids and residents recognition in their own community.
“For Sun Prairie to be a BEAM, a ray of light, it isn’t just spotlighting our children, it’s for the community to come out in support of our children. Seeing them in a positive light,” Ruffin said, reflecting on how focusing on negativity while ignoring positivity and achievement often creates community bias.
“Having the community out here, so you can dispel any myths of our children that you don’t have interaction with every day is important. This has become a community effort that was on purpose,” she added.
Ruffin, who is currently the vice president of family & community initiatives at One City Schools in Madison, raised two sons in the Sun Prairie school district, Marlon and JT Ruffin, who were often praised for their athletic abilities, but their academic achievements often went unnoticed. With that in mind, BEAM focuses on areas such as academic, leadership, and community engagement and achievement to highlight Black students and adults and give an opportunity for the community to celebrate them.
“The Black community was out and they were beaming with pride…pun intended,” said Ruffin. “The sun, the beaming, the feeling good, and shining the light on Sun Prairie, it all goes hand in hand. It’s also good for our families that are not Black to see us in that light.”
With recent national news attention on stories of violence following racial profiling and stereotyping, Ruffin feels the time is more important now than ever for a shift in the narrative. The BEAM Awards look to give everyone an opportunity to come out and be in community and celebrate with Black Sun Prairie residents. With a focus on Black students, educators, and families, Ruffin hopes the inspiration for Black students in Sun Prairie will continue.
“It goes back to dispelling the myth and always hearing something negative,” Ruffin said. “You’re always curious about those that are doing right, and they get swept under the rug. Some parents and families come up and make it a celebration, as they should. To be able to say that, ‘My child got recognized, I’ve never had this before.’ It’s different than just being recognized at the school. It’s having the community come out and celebrate.”
To learn more about the BEAM Awards, check out their Facebook page here.