The Westside Ministers Coalition (WMC) held its First Annual Scholarship Awards Banquet, Feb. 23, at the Merchandise Mart Holiday Inn, 350 N. Orleans.

The event honored elected officials, police precinct commanders, business owners, and religious leaders in the community who have had a noticeable impact on the West Side in the last year-in particular, their impact on community youth through demonstrable leadership and invested interest in their academic futures.

“[The individuals honored tonight] have had a definite effect on youth development in the community,” said Rev. Lewis Flowers, president of WMC. “These are individuals who show that youth development is partially about investing in our children’s futures financially, but also about getting them involved in community leadership.”

The MC for the event was Zelda Robinson, a radio personality on Gospel Radio 1390. Robinson opened the awards ceremony by speaking briefly about her organization, Higher Learning Network, which not only walks students through scholarship and grant options to help pay for college, but also teaches them about trusting their intuition when making career decisions and how to find monetary donations for schools that are legit.

“I had a woman contact me once who had left me a three-minute message on my voice mail. She sounded so distraught. Apparently, shortly after her daughter had been accepted into the college of her choice and had received her scholarship award from a private donor, the donor inexplicably withdrew the money from the account and the girl ended up missing school that semester,” said Robinson.

“This is the type of thing that can happen when students don’t have academic advisers in the community who can show them how to choose a scholarship and a career path that will best suit their needs. This is why you all are so important.”

Among those accepting awards at the black-tie and decolletage dress affair were Pheyon Thorne of Youth Out-Reach, African Accents owners and youth mentors Malcolm & Stacia Crawford, 15th District Commander Alfonza Wysinger, and 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts, who took some flack from the big box ordinace supporters for her unyielding support of Wal-Mart’s opening in Austin last September. Mitts proudly beamed from the podium as she spoke about the amount of needed employment opportunities the store provided those in the community.

“I remember my first job was as a cashier at a McDonald’s in my neighborhood, and I felt so fortunate that I was given the chance to work in the community while I attended school,” said Mitts. “My manager at the time was Ed Whimp, and when I left, I thanked him for helping me when I really was young, just starting out and needing work. Now I am in the position to help him.”

Mitts mentioned that the new Wal-Mart store created 400 new jobs, which means 400 fewer youths unemployed and 400 fewer youths engaging in illicit activity, she said.

“I want to thank the WMC for this award, but I also want to thank Ald. Mitts for her courage and dedication to this project,” said Margret Garner, of Broadway Consolidated Companies, Inc., while she held the gleaming bronze and wood stain plaque. Garner was the contractor who worked on the $20 million Wal-Mart development project in Austin. Ald. Mitts not only handpicked her for the project, but after discovering that Garner had never actually built a Wal-Mart before, encouraged the ownership of Wal-Mart to walk her through the design.

“Most of the time when you take on a project of this magnitude, you are expected to partner with a majority contractor,” said Garner. “However, because of her faith in my abilities, Mitts assured that I would not need to partner off. All she asked of me was that I select local vendors and workers in the community, assuring that it was a project that allowed children, business owners and even ex-offenders the chance to contribute to the project’s development. I think that shows her dedication right there.”

The Westside Ministers Coalition was founded in 1978 under President Rev. Milton Bronson. It has since served as a political outlet for the ministers on the West Side of Chicago. It has sought to identify the implemented programs that would bring about positive change in the community.