2015 Men & Women of Distinction Awards

BY Holly Kestenis Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The sixth annual Men and Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony kicked off an amazing afternoon this past Sunday. The St. Petersburg Country Club, located at 2000 Country Club Way S., was filled with well-wishers who came out to support the achievements of some 20 honorees.

The Gathering of Women, Inc. put on the event, which included lunch and entertainment for those in attendance. The afternoon started with Mistress of Ceremony Andrida McCall Hosey, a theater instructor at John Hopkins Middle School, welcoming guests and introducing Education Chair Josephine Lampley who handed out certificates and educational scholarships to five local youths eager to make a difference in the community.

The Roger and Renee Ambrose Education Scholarship was presented to Lindsay Ly, Nyree Adams, Kahill and India Harris and Destiny Coleman. This year marked the first time scholarships were given out to Pinellas Technical College students.

“We just like to know how good it feels to grow in our community,” said Lampley who boasted about the recipients maintaining grade point averages from a 3.5 to 4.1. “We consider this to be growth.”

Gwendolyn Reese had the divine honor to be the guest speaker, noting that being at the awards ceremony was so dear to her that she was willing to miss out on celebrating her father’s 87th birthday with her family.

“I am here with you,” Reese said, “so that tells you how special this occasion is to me.”

The Gathering of Women is an organization dedicated to providing women with a voice while being a driving force for change. It all began in 2005 with the formation of the Cross Cultural Alliance of Women building partnerships and developing community projects that would help to promote opportunities and economic security for members of the community.

Working toward transformation, the Gathering of Women provides a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, advocates for education and safety issues, as well as health and social issues. The mission: to build communities where women, families, and neighborhoods thrive and prosper through shared and continued personal growth.

“There are many types of selfless people in this world,” Reese said who acknowledged that many are often ignored, overlooked, unappreciated or taken for granted in their everyday lives. “Today’s honorees have sacrificed time, energy, money, family, privacy, personal health and well-being because of their commitment to others.”

The event’s honorees were then introduced one-by-one, some graciously accepting their awards with a few words of gratitude, others taking a more silent route.

Carla Bristol, founder of African-American art gallery Gallerie 909 in the heart of historic Midtown on the Deuces, was there to accept the award for Arts and Cultural Heritage. “The community as a whole has been extremely supportive,” she said announcing the one year anniversary of Gallerie 909.

Next on the list came a husband and wife duo. Drs. Ken and Nancy Bryant both received the Health and Awareness award for their work with the community. Both served in the military, Dr. Ken as a Major at Ft. Benning, Ga., specializing in urology and Dr. Nancy in the Army Medical Corp as an ophthalmologist.

Alexandra Fox, a senior at Gibbs High School was awarded the Young Woman of Distinction Award. She serves as student body president and is well practiced in the visual arts, most recently being selected as a National Gold Medalist in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She plans to attend the University of Florida (UF) in the fall. Her schoolmate Zachary Murray, also a senior at Gibbs High School, earned the Young Man of Distinction Award.

Zachary is involved in many extracurricular activities at his school such as being a registered tutor, a member of the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta, as well as an athlete participating in basketball and track. He too plans to attend UF in the fall.

The Humanitarian Award went to James and Joyce Robinson, who have been married for 30 years. The Robinsons are actively involved with the Pinellas Council on Adoptable Children Support Group, which was developed more than 15 years ago in an effort to advocate and support at risk and vulnerable youths who need a helping hand.

Dr. Cynthia Johnson was presented with the Business of Innovation Award for her work as Center Director for the Florida Small Business Development Center (FSBC) and her success in assisting small and minority businesses to remain healthy and create better jobs for Pinellas County.

“It’s so wonderful to be in the community that I’ve grown up in and I’ve been a principal in. Economic development is what I do and education is my life,” she said.

Theresa Ann Sowell Lassiter, better known in the community as Momma Tee, is known for her outspoken nature and planting seeds of activism wherever she goes. The award for Community Activist and Leadership Award was presented to both her and Kurt Donley, a Florida native and a local civil rights activist who currently serves on the board of Pinellas Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and is currently focusing on reducing the school to prison pipeline.

The Education, Training, and Development Award went to Sylvester Norwood and Robin Mobley. Norwood, affectionately known as Boe to his friends, recently was selected Director of Pinellas Technical College St. Petersburg campus where he focuses on programs relevant to business and community needs. Mobley has served in education for 20 years. She has served as a substitute, Assistant Principal of Curriculum at Gibbs High and is currently Principal of Tyrone Middle School.

Carl Lavender, Jr. received the Community Building Partnership Award, while Ivan Penn was awarded the Journalism and Communications Award. The Spiritual and Religion award went to both Rev. Dr. Rickey Houston of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church and Evangelist Valerie Ellis.

Cynthia Tomlin was presented with the Volunteer, Advocacy and Community award for mentoring local youths, her involvement in ministry and her clinical research advocacy for Healthy Start Federal at All Children’s Hospital.

Family of the Year was awarded to Reverend Louis Murphy, Sr. and family. Their focus on effective community change has impacted some of the city’s most overlooked areas.

“I want to truly thank God for the beautiful wife that he gave to me that allowed me to do ministry and serve the community. She did a fantastic job in raising our children,” Murphy said of his late wife Filomena. This proud father mentioned his children Chiriga and Louis, Jr., and grandchildren Jair and Filomena.

Finally, the Lifetime Achievement Award was given to power couple Darryl and Angela Rouson for their work in ensuring Tampa Bay is well represented not only in Tallahassee but in various local groups, committees and boards locally as well.

“She wasn’t selected necessarily for what she does,” said Reese, “but how she does it, she epitomizes womanhood.”

Without seeking the limelight, Angela has spent a lifetime advocating for change by tirelessly working in the background to ensure what needs to be done gets done.

“You all know I married up,” said State Representative Rouson who is grateful for his 15 years of marriage. “We’re going to keep up the fight; I love the people of this city.”

Along with scholarships and the Men and Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony, the Gathering of Women hold an essay contest each year, workshops and strive to dress underprivileged girls for prom with their annual community service project. They are also responsible for Christmas in Wonderland, a community event that opened its heart to some 400 children this past year.

For more on the Gathering of Women and how you can get involved in future projects such as the Man Camp Youth Summit, log on to thegatheringofwomen.com.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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