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Willie Barney to Highlight Charles Hamilton Houston Institute’s 7th Annual Awards Luncheon Today

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The 7th Annual Charles Hamilton Houston Institute (CHHI) Awards Luncheon today at the Best Western Premier Park Hotel in downtown Madison will recognize individuals who have served the Madison community in many outstanding ways.

The event, with the theme “Answers to Difficult Questions,” will also feature keynote speaker Willie Barney, the founder, president, and facilitator of the Empowerment Network in Omaha, Nebraska. Empowerment Network is a united group of residents, leaders, and organizations working to facilitate positive change in that community.

Willie Barney

“Willie Barney leads a collaborative group of leaders of organizations in Omaha. They have coordinated leadership such that they have a singular force and voice to address the issues that impact the African-American community there,” Dr. John Y. Odom, founder of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute in Madison, tells Madison365. “So, they’ve had a long track record of success and they were impacted, like so many cities, by the assassination of Dr. King back in 1968. There was part of the city that was black-owned and it was burned to the ground at the time.

“They’ve done a remarkable job of recovering that area and have also been responsible for launching business start-ups,” Odom adds. “They meet frequently with the police chiefs on arrests and community issues and collaborate with the school superintendent. They have a model of collaboration across silos that is effective in addressing issues that plague our communities.”

Could that Omaha model be something that could be used in Madison?

“Indeed,” Odom says. “And elsewhere, too. I think the people at the luncheon will find him to be very interesting.”

The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute Annual Awards Luncheon is the largest fundraisier for the organization and it is a chance to honor some outstanding community members with “Difference Maker Awards.” This year’s award recipients are Dr. Ruben Anthony,  Jonathan Gramling, Frances Huntley-Cooper, Corinda Rainey-Moore, Patrick Sims and Richard Scott Sr. 

Urban League President and CEO Dr. Ruben Anthony will be honored at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute Annual Awards Luncheon today.

“We try to look at some people who perhaps are not receiving as much attention or haven’t received a lot of attention lately,” Odom says. “Some of them are pretty-well heralded and others are not so much. But we have a really great group this year.”

 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 event is a great opportunity to highlight some of the work that the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute is doing,” Odom says. “We give an annual update on who we are. We’re a small group but we’re plugging away. We have some good programs.”

One of those programs is the S.T.A.R.S. (Summer Teaching to Advance Reading Success) program that teaches basic academic and social skills to children who are currently behind grade-level performance

Dr. John Y. Odom

“S.T.A.R.S. is in its 30th year. It was started by my wife, Ann Odom, and she is still  leading that program. She was an elementary school teacher in 1989 and she and a colleague decided that the black student achievement issue was horrible back then and they decided to work together,” Odom says. “Even when she retired 14 years ago, she kept going with the program. 

“The program is for low-performing four and five-year-olds both English and Spanish speaking,” he adds. “We have a wonderful teaching staff of senior MMSD educators and they work with the children on a six-week basis. They work with young people on their skills.”

The 7th Annual CHHI Awards Luncheon will be held Wednesday, August 8, 11:30 a.m. at the Best Western Premier Park Hotel in downtown Madison.