By Chris Levister
What could possibly get dozens of Community Builders out early on a Saturday morning in the sweltering summer heat?
The answer lies in Luke 12:48: “to whom much is given, much will be required.” The Black Voice News 40th anniversary celebration held at Riverside Grier Pavilion Saturday recognized “40 Community Builders” for their outstanding contributions to community outreach in the Inland Empire.
“To the 40 household names and everyday people who have had the courage to make community inclusivity their mission, we salute you,” Black Voice News co-publisher Cheryl Brown said in welcoming the 2012 honorees and event guests.
Retired Health Educator Dr. Lula Mae Clemons, activist Thelma Winkler-Beach, Vine Life Christian Fellowship Church pastor Dr. Robert L. Wilks Jr., author Laura Klure, Lake Elsinore Mayor Brian Tisdale, community volunteer Sara Garcia, Fontana City Councilman Matthew Slowik, Keynasis Buffong, Rialto High School counselor and co founder of Project Action, Inc., and Mark and Robin McKay co-founders of McKay’s Family Mortuary were just a few of the honorees recognized. “None of us could have gotten to where we are if not for the support, mentorship and achievements of those who came before us,” Black Voice News co-publisher Hardy Brown told the crowd seated in the open air space dedicated to the legacy of Riverside community builders Barnett and Eleanor Jean Grier.
Brown paid tribute to 2012 Community Builders recalling how in the late 1970’s, in an era of rampant racial and employment discrimination, he stood on the “shoulders of giants” at his former employer Kaiser Permanente as he struggled to realize his dream of buying the Black Voice Newspaper. “Honoree Rev. Arthur Forbes the first management executive at Kaiser Steel and Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program hired a staff of Blacks and Latinos to deliver healthcare services to a diverse population while fighting racial discrimination within the organization,” Brown said. He recalled Forbes’ staff including his secretary a Latino, was moved from the 8th to the 6th floor while he was in Washington on company business, without his knowledge. He pushed for equality at Kaiser. He fought for and got a diverse board of directors at the United Way in San Bernardino. He founded the Inland Empire Community Health Care Program 20 years ago. That program exists today,” said Brown.
He credited Forbes with hiring honoree Rev. John Woods, Kaiser’s first Regional Equal Employment Opportunity Program Administrator. Woods became the first African American to serve on the San Bernardino Board of Education. “John took a lot of guff when he tried to convince managers and doctors to integrate the Kaiser workforce. He rallied management to hire Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Indians as Affirmation Action officers at all of its medical centers in Southern California,” Brown said. “Minority personnel hired after 1973 stood on the shoulders of these courageous giants,” he added. “With the support of Kaiser President Jim Vohs and Dr. Raymond Kay of the Permanente Medical Group’, Art and John’s bold leadership as well as those individuals who worked behind the scenes to promote equality ultimately ensured my employment thus allowing me and my family to buy the newspaper and nurture it into a self sustaining instrument for justice and social equality,” said Brown. Similarly honoree Charleta (Charly) Marshall, RN fought for inclusivity. She helped found the United Nurses Association at Kaiser Fontana now the largest union of nurses in the state. She also started the first Medicare certified hospice program at the Fontana facility. Because of her exceptional writing skills, recalled Brown, she was once called an “arrogant Black woman.”
“Forty years ago in a climate of resistance and oppression, the Black Voice News, was born. Dedicated to independence and permanence, thanks to community builders like you, the Black Voice continues to both serve and be a part of this rich community,” added Cheryl Brown. Title sponsors of the celebration and Community Builders reception were General Motors, Macy’s, Wells Fargo and UC Riverside.
Dr. Ruth Jackson the first and only African American university librarian in all of the University of California schools recognized the Black Voice News which was started at UCR in 1972 by Ardess E. Lilly Jr. then-president of the campus’ Black Student Union.
“It makes me proud to salute you and be part of a community where all members have an opportunity to be knowledgeable about issues that shape their lives and prepare them for a better future,” said Jackson.
Other salutes included a resolution from 2012 honoree, Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge who was unable to attend the event. The presentation made by City Councilman Mike Gardner lauded the newspaper’s achievements and contributions often in the face of injustice and adversity. “You have not only reported the news, you have been a tireless advocate on behalf of civil rights, and a force in shaping policy and bettering this community.”
“Dignitaries and ordinary people, I believe that it takes a village to create and sustain communities,” said honoree Keynasia Buffong. “We are many voices with one mission, our attitudes and actions serve to expand equality and opportunity for all people.”
“We in the community are like the human body,” said honoree Carl Clemons, the first Black chairman of the San Bernardino Planning Commission. “We all have different parts – together those parts make one viable body. If we neglect one part, there’s a vacuum. If we don’t fill that vacuum, pretty soon we become dysfunctional. We all have a responsibility to keep the body functioning properly.”
“Our commitment to human dignity in times of loss is to never turn away a family due to a lack of funds,” said honoree Mark McKay founder of McKay’s Family Mortuary. “Celebrating our humanitarian efforts in this way serves to strengthen and empower us as Community Builders.”