James “JT” Taylor, former lead singer of Kool & The Gang, at the Knoxville Convention Center last week.
The annual Knoxville Area Urban League Equal Opportunity Awards Gala is a jam-packed night. You have a general reception, a VIP reception for sponsors, the awards ceremony itself, dinner and then dancing. This year, entertainment was by James “JT” Taylor, the former lead singer of the 1970s and ’80s R&B/funk band Kool & The Gang.
Yep. Kool & The Gang of “Ladies’ Night,” “Celebration,” “Get Down on It” and “Joanna” fame.
The event last week was a rollicking success with about 800 folks moving to the groove at the Knoxville Convention Center. It is the Urban League’s biggest fundraiser each year.
The most important thing about the gala, in addition to the funds raised, is the awards. And the most important of those awards is the Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award, which went this year to Theotis Robinson Jr., one of the first students to desegregate the University of Tennessee. He later became a UT vice president.
Theotis Robinson accepting the Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award.
“We are honored to recognize Theotis for his life’s work,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “From his first days at UT as a student and throughout his 25-year career, he was a fearless pioneer and an advocate who made a tremendous impact to eliminate disparities that existed in higher education in the state of Tennessee. He continues to be a tireless advocate for equality and diversity.”
Robinson ultimately registered for classes at Tennessee on Jan. 3, 1961, with Charles Edgar Blair, a fellow Austin High graduate. Prior to that, however, he had been denied admission and subsequently requested and received a personal meeting with UT President Andy Holt. Holt told him the issue would have to be settled by the Board of Trustees, and Robinson indicated he would sue the school if denied admission. The Board of Trustees sought an opinion from the state Attorney General before adopting a policy against racial discrimination at a specially called meeting in November of 1960.
Robinson retired from the university after 25 years of service, the last 14 as vice president and member of the UT System Administration executive team.
Urban League Board Member Rosa Mar holds the Minority Business Award as Mark Deathridge, president of CEO of East Tennessee Mechanical Contractors, delivers his acceptance speech.
The Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award is the most prestigious of all Urban League awards. It is named in honor of the fourth executive director of the National Urban League, Whitney M. Young Jr., who served from 1961 to 1971.
Past winners include Rita Geier in 2014; Dr. Harold A. Middlebrook Sr. in 2013; Love Kitchen sisters Helen Ashe and Ellen Turner in 2011; and author, historian and former legislator Robert Booker in 2008.
Other annual award winners last week included:
Volunteer of the Year – National Achievers Society Advisory Board
Minority Business – East Tennessee Mechanical Contractors, Mark Deathridge
Corporate Leadership – Randy Boyd, Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development
But now, on to that party!
Urban League President and CEO Phyllis Nichols with entertainer James “JT” Taylor at the VIP reception held in the Convention Center Rotunda prior to the event.
Dana and Danielia Dorcas took a turn with JT. Dana is with U.S. Cellular, a co-sponsor of the reception.
Amy and Chris Stokes with Dana Dorcas, right. Chris also is with U.S. Cellular, a valued Moxley Carmichael client.
Jim Nichols with his two daughters, Tiffany Powell, left, and Allison Toich.
All the food was fabulous. But the passed appetizers might have been my favorite thing. Like these Benton’s Southern prosciutto on cornbread with jalapeno chutney. Yum yum!
Or the spicy hummus with local chow-chow on pita rounds.
And who could resist Benton’s bacon and Sweetwater Valley Farm’s pimento cheese on grilled sourdough? Not me!
Phyllis with Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, left, and University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro. Both men are board members of the Knoxville Area Urban League.
Meanwhile, in the Convention Center’s Cumberland Concourse, a bigger reception was occurring.
City Councilman Finbarr Saunders, right, with his wife, Ellen Bebb, and Terry Tabors of the Knoxville Chamber.
University of Tennessee First Lady Deb DiPietro, right, with her friend Carol Pelliccia.
My hubs, Alan Carmichael, with our friend and client, Mary Bogert, general manager of the Knoxville Convention Center.
Miriam Blount and Tori Griffin.
Shaun Fulco Hyver and Natalie Bailey of Moxley Carmichael. We had two tables at the gala.
From left, Lane Morris, Tammy White, Lynne Fugate and Julie Morris.
Former Urban League Board Members Rosalyn Tillman and Bryan Stubblefield.
The centerpieces were beautiful.
The staging by our friends at M&M Productions USA was dramatic.
State Rep. Joe Armstrong and his wife, LeTonia.
Thomas “Tank” Strickland, the city’s director of community relations, and his wife, Terry, were at our table, as well.
Dennis Rowe of Priority Ambulance, and his wife, Sara, joined us.
Scott Bird and Natalie Bailey at a Moxley Carmichael table.
Joe and Geraldine Gallman. Geraldine works part-time for us.
Former Knoxville Mayor Dan Brown (and current city councilman) joined us with his wife, Cathy.
Moxley Carmichael’s Amanda Jennings and her husband, Mark.
At the Messer Construction Co. table, from left, Messer Vice President and Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Stan Williams, Operations Vice President John Blum, Economic Inclusion Executive Sonya Walton and EVCO Steel Fabrication President Kristina Everingham.
Broadcaster Hallerin Hilton Hill was the evening’s master of ceremonies.
Board Chair Al Pirie of Uster Technologies made welcoming remarks.
Board member Jan Brown of TVA poses with Phyllis Nichols while we waited for the music to begin.
Jim Clayton and Annette Brun of Scripps Networks Interactive.
Crystal Washington, center, with NJ Pesci and Cynthia Gibson, also at a Scripps table.
From left, Phyllis Nichols, Mayor Madeline Rogero and Ellen Bebb.
And then, JT!
And some women.
The audience was on its feet.
Rebecca and Alan Williams.
Urban League Board Member Russell Byrd and his wife, Gina.
Board Member Ted Lewis and his wife, Kathryn.
Michael and Alice Wirth.
JT had several costume changes. I think this is a bathrobe from the Holiday Inn World’s Fair where he was staying. (Just kidding.)