The Third Annual Black History Trailblazer Awards presented by Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) honored Chicago-based stakeholders for their continuous contributions to the African American community. The event was held at Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd., on Feb. 25.
This year’s award recipients were: Vera Davis, a member of the Women’s Commission of Cook County; Dr. Willie Wilson, Chicago businessman and former Chicago mayoral candidate; Rev. Janette Wilson, National Director of Push EXCEL: Christian Farr, NBC 5 Chicago news broadcaster; and Tone Kapone, WGCI radio personality.
Trailblazer Award recipients were selected based on public input, which a Cook County task force for final recommendations used to make their selections, said Boykin. He called the event “phenomenal” and credited young performers Khloe Janelle Hollins, Christ the King Jesuit College Prep’s choir and Maywood Fine Arts for bringing the event to life. He said he intends to host the Trailblazer Award every year he’s an elected official.
“This is a great event on the West Side of Chicago,” said Boykin. “We’ve got to remember our heritage, who we are and whose we are. I think it’s important for the community to have a night that they can enjoy, this is their night.”
Retired WGN broadcaster Bob Jordan was the master of ceremonies for the proceedings. Ernie’s Restaurant & Catering provided the dinner.
Ray and Jan Nelson, owners of multiple McDonald’s franchises throughout Boykin’s district, agreed to underwrite the entire evening, the commissioner said. The Nelsons previously supported last year’s Trailblazers Award ceremony and hope to continue to sponsor the event’s future installments, said Mr. Nelson.
“We’re big fans of the commissioner; we think what he’s doing and how he’s representing the community is good for the citizens of the community but also us business people in the community,” said Mr. Nelson. “Obviously, there are a lot of great citizens who are doing great work that are being honored tonight and we just wanted to be a part of that and support that.”
The Nelsons received a token of appreciation from Boykin prior to the award announcements.
“They said Black history is really American history and so it makes sense for [the Nelsons] to be involved in the community that patronizes McDonald’s in a big way,” said Boykin. “The Nelsons do tremendous work.”
Each Trailblazer award recipient was given a glowing introduction, received a glass statuette and spoke briefly before a capacity crowd.
Rev. Janette Wilson, National Director of PUSH Excel, said it was an “honor” to be recognized for her community work.
Chicago South Side native Tone Kapone recalled feeling excited after learning he was going to receive a Trailblazer award. He previously partnered with Boykin during the commissioner’s “Endangered Communities Listening Tour,” which sought to assess the needs of disadvantaged communities on the West and South Sides.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be recognized for the work that you’re doing,” said Kapone. “You do it because it’s your passion, you really love it, and then to be recognized for it is pretty good. I just do it because it’s in me. God gave me this calling and when you recognize that ‘whoa, someone really appreciates what I’m doing’ it feels good.”
Former recipients of the Black History Trailblazer Award include Rep. Danny K. Davis (1st), former Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins and Whittier Elementary School Principal Keshia B. Warner.