Formal settings typically require guests to maintain a certain decorum. For example, the speaker asks everyone to hold their applause at graduation ceremonies until all the graduates cross the stage.
Last Thursday, the St. Louis American Foundation's 11th Annual Salute to Young Leaders awards and networking program presented by Midwest BankCentre at The Four Seasons, showcased honorees in a professional, yet spontaneous, intimate and, exuberant manner in the sold out ballroom.
Rebeccah Bennett, founder and principal of Emerging Wisdom (the night's mistress of ceremonies), strongly advised all 400 attendees to loudly and proudly praise the 25 Black young professionals under 40 when they stepped on stage to receive their awards..
"I am not asking you not to shout out the name of your loved one," Bennett said. "I'm not asking you not to drum roll, not 'Skee-Wee,' and not do any of those things. This is a night where we give people their flowers while they're here.
Since 2011, the foundation has recognized 225 deserving nominees in fields across all spectrums, including business, healthcare, and entrepreneurship. This year, after a two-year break since the coronavirus shutdown, 25 (instead of the usual recommended 20) awardees in their respective professions, including a COO for a mental health agency, a community organizer, and a co-founder for a multimedia platform honoring Black fatherhood, and more were celebrated for their achievements both in the corporate realm and throughout the community.
"As we know, our whole world changed after the COVID-19 pandemic, and the social unrest following the death of George Floyd rocked us all, but we're still here," Ashley O'Neal, Senior Vice President, Retail Banking, Midwest BankCentre, and 2020 young leader alum said. "These leaders didn't just persevere through the last few years. They excelled. They advanced in their careers and leadership. They're making a real tangible difference in our community in many ways."
Several awardees were members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, also known as the "Divine Nine," historically Black Letter Greek Organizations, including the night's first recipient Marquita Chapman, Program Manager, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and also a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
When Chapman graced the stage, her husband, Darius Chapman, unapologetically hyped his wife up while she accepted her award, and a few of her sorors EE-YIPed in excitement for her.
Men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. were the majority, with countless recipients representing the first Black men BGLO including Christopher Randall, KSDK 5 On Your Side Community Manager, and Ono Oghre-Ikanone, World Wide Technology Supply Quality Engineer. Each time a member approached the stage, a fellow member chanted their popular calls.
A trio of Kappa Alpha Psi members also joked they wanted to see some "Nupes" be recognized as there were so many "Alphas" there.
Greek unity was alive and well, but the familial ties to the recipients stood out the most and left the unforgettable memories.
"That's my middle child!" Terri Williams' parents yelled.
"That's the fruit of my womb," Erika Wilson's mother screamed. "Those are my tuition dollars at work," her father joked.
The special ceremony proved how powerful diversity, equity, and inclusion are for those that stand on the shoulders of parents and generations which preceded them, and overcame despite great odds against them. Bennett said she brought her 8-year-old daughter to witness the limitless options her future can possess.
"The realization of their dreams has made our city, our community, and our region more resilient, more vibrant, more prosperous, more collaborative, and overflows with the richness of the gifts of diversity," Bennett said. "These are people who are stalking the heels into the future. They understand their future is intricately intertwined with the healed future of this community."