Gwen McKenzie honored by Ethel Beck Society

Knoxville City Council Member Gwen McKenzie was honored last Saturday at the Ethel Beck Society Brunch, a sold-out female-only event hosted by the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

Council Member Gwen McKenzie, center, with Monica Reed, left, and Cynthia Finch.

McKenzie was the first Black woman to be elected to Knoxville City Council (2019-present) and the first Black female to be Knoxville vice mayor (2019-2021). Even more notably, she was the author of the African American Restoration Resolution, a measure that passed City Council unanimously and designated $100 million to be raised and spent on repairing some of the damage done to African American neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal in Knoxville several decades ago.

“An apology is not enough,” McKenzie explained at the luncheon to a roomful of applause.

McKenzie said that if she had used the term “reparations” in crafting the resolution, it might not have passed because that concept is so polarizing. But the fact that the resolution passed was a welcome acknowledgement that the Black community in Knoxville had been damaged by the federal policies at the time. Read more here.

On Saturday, though, the focus was on celebrating. Those in attendance got a lesson in line dancing, listened to live music, played “Family Feud” and bingo, and won prizes in a raffle. Food was catered by Billie Rae’s BBQ and Soul Food and the mimosa bar was staffed by Allow Me Catering.

Attendees were asked to wear yellow, because yellow “represents warmth, sunshine, and positivity, which align with the society’s values,” the official website says. The Ethel Beck Society Brunch recognizes outstanding African American women from East Tennessee.

Saturday was beautiful and sunny — perfect for mingling outside as we waited for the doors to open.

From left, Talisha Anderson, Jenae Anderson Easterly, and Dominique Anderson.

Sherry Hensley, left, and Patricia Littlejohn.

From left, Rementna Dockery, Jaquetta Brooks, Linda Brooks, and Marzella Allen.

From left, Marla Fox, Cynthia Daniels, and Donna Butler.

From left, Jennifer Dixon, Gail Carter, and Joyce Sumpter.

Dr. Maxine Thompson Davis, left, her sister, Brenda, and Eleanora Williams, right.

A sell-out crowd packed inside!

Every table was decorated differently! I was at lucky table 7!

Patricia Hammonds, left, and Judy Carpenter.

From left, Rhonda Clay, Nikitia Thompson, and Anna Kander.

The proprietors of Billie Rae’s BBQ & Soul Food said their new eatery will officially open April 6!

I can vouch for the shrimp and grits — they were wonderful! And the candied bacon had folks coming back for seconds!

Tonya Mostella, left, and Jameslyn Kinney, McKenzie’s daughter.

From left, Traci Cash, Jean Anderson, and Geraldine Taylor, seated.

Tammi Campbell, right, and her mother, Vivian Gwinn.

Rhonda Clay, left, and Angela Conner.

Rev. Renee Kesler, left, and Tanisha Fitzgerald. Rev. Kesler is president of Beck Cultural Exchange Center and was emcee for the day’s events. She did a great job.

Gwen McKenzie, center, with Mildred Summer, left, and Cathy Wilson.

Melanie Dixon led a little line dancing!

They caught on very quickly. I don’t think this was the first time for most!

Selfie time! Patricia Hammonds, left, and Rhonda Clay.

How smart is this guy? Kwanbe Bullard’s shirt says, “Black Women are perfect. (that’s all)” The only man allowed at the luncheon, he works for Beck.

Minding the mimosas! Karen Hardin, front, and Audrey Wallace.

Joyce Conner, left, and Elizabeth White.

Jean Anderson, left, and LaTonya Hardin.

The guest of honor with Jane George, who is running against Congressman Tim Burchett, right.

Angela Dennis, left, and Brittney Bailey Dunn.

From left, Jean Ann Harper, Gwen McKenzie, and Slice Allen.

A display honoring McKenzie.

It’s a running joke how much McKenzie resembles Vice President Kamala Harris! So, Harris was introduced as the award winner, to great laughter.

McKenzie making remarks.

Music throughout the event was by “The Three Julias.”





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7 Responses to Gwen McKenzie honored by Ethel Beck Society

  1. Gay Lyons, on April 3rd, 2024 at 3:23 pm said:

    Looks like a lot of fun!

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on April 3rd, 2024 at 4:09 pm said:

    Gay: It was a blast! And an important honor, as well.

  3. Marsha Grieve, on April 3rd, 2024 at 6:35 pm said:

    What a great event! Gwen is a beautiful, smart and inspiring lady – so wonderful that she was honored. Wow – looking at that shrimp and grits and candied bacon made me hungry!

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on April 3rd, 2024 at 7:49 pm said:

    Marsha: Totally agree that she is very deserving! And we need to go to Billie Rae’s when it opens!

  5. Cile Mathews, on April 4th, 2024 at 8:49 am said:

    What a wonderful way to honor one of Knoxville’s jewels!

  6. Monica S. Reed, on April 5th, 2024 at 4:00 pm said:

    This was an excellent Women Only Event. I was a “First Timer,”
    but will definitely be a regular attendee. So much fun!

  7. Cynthia Moxley, on April 9th, 2024 at 11:13 pm said:

    Cile: Totally agree!

    Monica: I was a first-timer, as well! But will plan to be back. It was so much fun!

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