Six outstanding Madison community members and one Charles Hamilton Houston Institute board member were honored at the 7th Charles Hamilton Houston Institute Annual Awards Luncheon Aug. 8.
The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute’s mission is to prepare youth for economic independence by focusing on self-esteem, health, goal-setting, academic achievement, study skills, business opportunities, diploma and degree completion, work skills, business opportunities service to others and citizenship. The luncheon, with the theme “Answers to Difficult Questions,” featured keynote speaker Willie Barney, the founder, president, and facilitator of the Empowerment Network in Omaha, Nebraska.
Dr. John Y. Odom, president of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, served as the emcee of the event. He acknowledged the board members of CHHI.
“They are a small group, but they are very hard-working,” Odom told the crowd at the Best Western Premier Park Hotel on the Capitol Square.
Odom called the names of the board members which included Greg Jones, Gynara Monroe, Camara Stovall, Joseph Thomas, Anthony Timmons, Kalyanna Williams and Walter Williams.
Every year, the awards luncheon is a chance to honor some outstanding community members with “Difference Maker Awards.” One by one, Odom called this year recipients to the front to be honored. Those recipients included Dr. Ruben Anthony, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison; Jonathan Gramling, founder and publisher of Capital City Hues; Frances Huntley-Cooper, Wisconsin’s first and only African-American mayor elected to office; Corinda Rainey-Moore, community outreach and engagement coordinator at Kids Forward; Patrick Sims, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at UW-Madison and Richard Scott Sr, longtime minority services coordinator at Madison’s East High School. CHHI board member Walter Williams won a special “President’s Award” at the event.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes gave the welcome at the luncheon and talked about his tough upbringing in Milwaukee where he was born and raised on 26th and Locust.
“Our communities are full of bright and capable people. Unfortunately, those struggles I saw growing up … these aren’t uncommon,” he told the crowd. “We know that poverty is one of the biggest roadblocks and one of the biggest barriers that too many of our children face. So many children have barriers to education and lack of education to quality, affordable health care.
“I was lucky to have a support system with my parents, my teachers, and my parents’ friends who were there to help me along the way … people that were there to make sure I didn’t slip,” he added. “But we need to make sure that opportunity is available to every child.”
Barnes says that when people talk about education, they talk about “achievement gaps” but it’s really an “opportunity gap.”
“That’s why our [Evers] administration is working to bridge that gap and create those opportunities that put children and our communities in the best positions for success,” Barnes says. “A part of that is giving our educators and mentors what they need to not only educate our children, but to challenge our children to make sure they not only meet but succeed our expectations.
“I believe that we can change things. I believe we can take negative statistics and turn them right upside down. But it takes so much hard work,” he continued. “It takes rooms like this [at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute Awards Luncheon] and it takes people who are dedicated and passionate to make sure that change happens. I hope to be some sort of inspiration to anybody in this room who wants to get engaged and make an impact everywhere across the state where you see a problem.”
The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute Annual Awards Luncheon is the largest fundraiser for the organization and is also a chance for the community to be updated on all of its programs including the celebration of 30 years of CHHI’s S.T.A.R.S. (Summer Teaching to Advance Reading Success) program which teaches basic academic and social skills to children who are currently behind grade-level performance. The program is led by Odom’s wife, Ann Odom, a longtime elementary school teacher in Madison.
Parent Dionte Prewitt said that his family moved to Madison in winter of 2008 and that the STARS program was a godsend.
“My daughter got a chance to have a preview into what school was like. STARS meant a lot to my daughter because it helped her develop a strong foundation in reading and also social and emotional learning,” Prewitt told the crowd. “It also showed her a structure of how school works before she started and it allowed her to meet kids in the neighborhood she hadn’t met yet.
“Based on that strong foundation, my daughter has been a strong student for all of these years and she just finished up her freshman year at [Madison] La Follette [High School] with honors,” he added. “I sincerely want to thank Dr. Odom, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute and Mrs. Odom for allowing us to be part of the program.”