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African-American Museum’s Black History Month Awards celebrates 10 years of honoring Trailblazers fr

The AAHCMSJV Museum’s new awards presentation style features local black reporters and media outlets

FRESNO, CA—Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, the African-American Historical & Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley (AAHCMSJV) hosted its annual Black History Month Celebration Banquet fundraiser at the beginning of February to honor its Trailblazers, the unsung voices of African-Americans from throughout the San Joaquin Valley.


In 2008, the vision amongst the AAHCMSJV Board of Directors started as a celebration of community leaders, displaying to the masses the good works that have been done by people who have extraordinary talent, vision, and leadership to uplift the community as a whole to greater heights. A plaque on the wall to present these greats eternally to the community and to patrons of the African-American Museum became the tradition.

By the second annual event, The AAHCSMJV began to use the word “Trailblazer” to designate the accomplishments of community leaders and advocates who have helped any member of the San Joaquin community through service and/or leadership against all odds. These icons have strived to make a difference in their communities while surpassing roadblocks, challenges or other personal hurdles that usually interfere with one’s greater achievements. Some of these leaders recognized are often historical firsts in different professions that were difficult for African-American to penetrate due to Jim Crow laws or extreme racism of the time.

Each year a Trailblazer committee meets once a month starting in June to analyze potential submitted names, making sure they fit the criteria for the Trailblazer profile: 68 years of age plus, (or at least 3 years shy of that age), are a Central Valley native or have resided in the Central Valley for 15 years or more, is an African-American first, doing something in his/her line of work, field or community, or is an African-American who is noted as the only person who accomplished something in a particular field or community; is an African-American who is outstanding in his/her field or community, or is an absolute outstanding exception to the rule and is completely committed to the plight of the Black community. (Community members are able to submit names of African-American from the San Joaquin Valley to be recognized who fit the above stated criteria before August 31st.)

This year’s 2018 Trailblazers included: Dr. Carolyn C. Drake, Honorable Cynthia A. Sterling, Billie Ann Jelks-Hood, Wilma Dean Woods, Roger L. Gray, Greg Louis McCowan, Dr. Leola Marie Archie, Apostle James O. Archie, Sr. (posthumously), Reynold L. Johnson (posthumously), Mattie Pilkinton Taylor (posthumously), and Fannie B. Pilkinton (posthumously).

Emceed by local weather reporter, Anthony Bailey, and community leader, Viva McCray-Straughter, the celebration also commemorated local black history and culture of the AAHCMSJV, informing the audience of the history of the organization and its founders, Jack and Rosa Kelley, and co-founder Jesse McDonald.

Since the events inception 10 years ago, the AAHCMSJV has added two more distinguished awards to its repertoire: The Professional Sports Wall of Fame and The Jesse McDonald Jr. Community Dedication Award.

It has been over 20 years since the AAHCMSJV has made an addition to its sports wall of fame, which was one of the key reason this award was created, acknowledging sports greats who have made history in the San Joaquin Valley.

The award was created to remind the community of the hard work and dedication that goes into not only an athletes training, but the exemplary infallible motivation that captures the heart of a top athlete, who in turn finds a way to give back to his or her community.

Ms. Sloane Stevens is the first woman, professional athlete to be honored on the African-American Museum’s Professional Sports Wall of Fame.

The Jesse McDonald Jr. Community Dedication Award was created based on the co-founder, Jesse McDonald Jr.; he was a dedicated community leader who participated in numerous civil rights activities throughout his young adult life and until his later years. In the early 1980s, Mr. McDonald and his longtime friend, Jack Kelley, visited a friend of Kelley’s in Tulare, CA who had a room full of historical photos and memorabilia. It was then the two discussed the idea of starting a museum to showcase African-American culture and history from throughout the Central Valley. Kelley collected photos and artifacts while Mr. McDonald helped to raise money; the pair established the African American Historical & Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley in Fresno.

Adding a different twist over the last few years by including local black anchors, reporters and media outlets as the award presenters gave the celebration a flair of “BET Award” excellence: The Professional Sports Wall of Fame given to extraordinary athlete Sloane Stephens was presented by iconic California Black Media’s Regina Wilson of Sacramento, CA whose family has founded generations of black newspaper entities and media agencies. The Jesse McDonald Jr. Community Dedication Award given to dedicated community advocate Alfred Boutte was presented by Tulare, Ca’s James Matt Johnson, Jr. who is the CEO & founder of popular Christian media outlet Minister’s Voice Magazine. The Shining Star Award given to local, rising talent Keysha Burns was presented by Fresno Bee--Central Valley Magazine multimedia and niche publications specialist Sonia White. Finally, the Trailblazer Awards was introduced by Valley Black Talk Radio political & news radio show hosts Mel Sanders and Kimberly Jackson.

Before the Trailblazer Awards presentation, another distinguished accolade was presented to hardworking pastor and dynamic speaker, Pastor David Joseph Lee-Criner of St. Rest Baptist Church; he received the 2018 Passing the Torch Award presented by legendary Tulare, CA mayor and 2016 Passing the Torch Award recipient, Carlton Jones.

The Passing of the Torch Award was created by the AAHCMSJV to recognize individuals who are community leaders in their own fields, advocates for justice, and are movers and shakers ages 21- 45, to encourage young leaders toward progress, hope and dedication to their communities, no matter how hurdled the path may seem

Star-studded talent and 2018 Shining Star Award recipient, Keysha Burns along with The Impromptu Band filled the entertainment space with unique reverberating voice strands and sounds, allowing a perfect ending for light dancing or easy-listening to familiar tunes.

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