To celebrate the many successes and contributions of Santa Monica’s African American community, local residents gathered for the second annual Black Excellence Community Awards this week.
Last year’s inaugural event was held on the Third Street Promenade, but COVID-19 forced city leaders to adapt this year’s program online. However, participants of this year’s awards ceremony were eager to build on last year’s festivities.
“The Black Excellence Awards are a time for us to honor black professionals who live and work in Santa Monica. Many of these professionals work behind the scenes to make a positive impact in our community now and for future generations. Some are well-known in their circles, but the wider Santa Monica community may not be familiar with him,” Code Enforcement Manager Sharon Guidry said. “These leaders do not seek accolades for the effort, but we want them to know that they are an inspiration to generations of people watching and learning from them. And although we are unable to celebrate in person tonight because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am grateful that we’re still coming together as a community to celebrate the contributions of Black professionals to our city.”
Equity and Communications Coordinator Delana Gbenekama agreed when she took the mic to announce the new Lifetime Achievement Awards that would be given to community leaders who have dedicated their lives to making Santa Monica a better place through their exceptional leadership and service.
“We added this award at the suggestion of community members who are part of the Black History Month committee,” Gbenekama said, adding, “The overwhelming loss of life we’ve experienced because of the pandemic also underscores the urgency of bestowing this award to those who are deserving.”
Shortly after a performance by Daansekou Arts Collective, Santa Monica College Trustee Barry Snell appeared to announce the 13 Black professionals who have made a profound impact on the Santa Monica community through outstanding leadership or service.
“These individuals truly embody what it means to be lifelong leader, service,” Snell said as he moved to introduce the first Lifetime Achievement winner.
Laverne Ross is an entrepreneur and activist who has spent countless hours giving back to the Santa Monica community since she first introduced the annual Juneteenth festival 28 years ago.
“The annual event has been used to register people to vote, provide health care information, and much more,” Snell said as he detailed how Ross has been a strong advocate for women and seniors while serving eight years on the Commission on the Status of Women and 10 years on the Commission for the Senior Community.
Ross said in a video appearance during the event that she was grateful to be considered for the award.
“I will continue to push hard because I love working with people. I love working with people. And this trophy will speak to what I am doing and have done and what the community is doing,” she said. “Thank you so much. I can’t say enough about this trophy that I will cherish year in and year out.”
Nathaniel Trives, a former Santa Monica Police Department officer who served as the first African-American mayor of Santa Monica was the next lifetime achievement awardee.
As Snell detailed Trives status as “Mr. Santa Monica” and his work in the realms of education, Snell said, “on a personal note, he is a man that I’ve always looked up to and tried to emulate in my services for all the work that he’s done in his city.”
Before he thanked Gbenekama for making the work possible, Trives said, “It’s my pleasure during this Black History Month to join such a prestigious group of folk who have given much of their lives to the success of this wonderful city of Santa Monica.”
“I’m proud to be among you,” he added. “Thank you very, very much for this honor that I will cherish forever.”
Lloyd Allen, who was described as one of the first and only black entrepreneurs to own and operate several businesses that enriched the Santa Monica community since he first joined the region in 1939, was the final awardee of the night.
Snell described Allen as an activist who has worked to better the lives of Black community members.“ And after the Second World War, he was among the protesters and the NAACP members who formed a picket line around the Sears to demand that black workers be hired.”
Snell said actions like these paved the way for Black workers to be hired at other companies in Santa Monica.
Like his peers, Allen was thankful for the recognition when he spoke Thursday.
“The building at Fourth and Pico stands as a monument of my 56 years of service in Santa Monica, Allen said, “and thank you for choosing me as one of your honorees. I shall never forget your kindness.”