Every year in February, the Genesee District Library hosts the Black History Month Brunch, an annual community event that recognizes people who make a positive impact in Genesee County. It started out small and has grown to be a large community celebration, according to Eileen Button, GDL Community Relations Manager. The 15th Annual Black History Month Brunch will be held on February 6 at the Riverfront Banquet Center. “It is GDL’s largest event!” exclaims Eileen. “It is an amazing occasion to recognize people who have made a difference in the community. It honors people, their culture and heritage, and at times is very emotional.”
Four individual awards are given at the brunch, as well as a Partner in Progress award, which is received by an organization. This year’s honoree is Ennis Center for Children. “The Ennis Center has partnered with the library concerning fostering,” says Eileen. Nominated by members of the community, the four individuals who will receive the Award of Excellence include Reverend Alfred L. Harris, Sr., Henry Hatter, Coach Courtney Hawkins, and Burnie Nelson. “All of the honorees were chosen because the community spoke and we listened,” Eileen reports. As an example, the GDL received letters nominating Burnie Nelson for her work with women. The GDL also received letters regarding the positive impact made on the community by all of the selected honorees. “Reverend Harris was an instrumental voice in Flint’s water crisis,” says Eileen.
According to Eileen, attendees of the Black History Month Brunch look forward every year to a wide variety of entertainment. This year’s guests will be entertained by J. Moss, an award-winning gospel artist who just released an album. Also on the agenda are performances by local gospel artist, Lydia Seale, as well as spoken word artist Traci Currie and speed-painter, Martina Hahn. The painting that Martina created will be auctioned on-the-spot to the highest bidder. The proceeds from the painting are used to purchase books for children in Genesee County. Proceeds from the overall event are used to support the library’s Summer Reading Challenge that reaches over 1,000 children.
“I look forward to the GDL Black History Month Brunch every year,” says Eileen, “It is beautiful. I am always amazed at how wonderful it is.”
“All of the honorees were chosen because the community spoke and we listened.”
GDL Community Relations Manager
Henry Hatter has served six terms as president of the Clio Board of Education. He is also an Ambassador for Public Education for the State of Michigan. He worked at the Michigan State University Extension as the business education liaison in the School-To-Work program. He was also a senior staff engineer at the Buick Motor Division of GMC, and served as GM’s divisional representative to the Flint-Genesee Chamber of Commerce. Hatter has worked as a healthcare advocate for the Hurley Medical Center Board Advisory Committee and the Hamilton Community Health Network Board and has often been referred to as “the ultimate community health center supporter.” He was awarded the Most Distinguished Alumnus from SVSU and Flint Central High School. He and his late wife, Barbara, have three children.
Burnie G. Nelson
Author, motivator and minister, Burnie G. Nelson, is the founder of Where Words and Heart Meet, an organization focused on the well-being of women. Through inspirational writing, conferences and workshops, she empowers women to overcome life’s challenges. In addition, she is an employee of Kettering University in the Department of Liberal Studies. Gifted with words, she has taught in the Choosing to Succeed Enrichment Program, and the Wade H. McCree, Jr. Incentive Scholarship Program at the University of Michigan-Flint. She has also conducted self-esteem workshops at Kamp Kettering, a pre-college program. Committed to giving back to her community, Nelson has been a part of Flint’s Big Sisters program and served as a Girl Scout leader. She recently published I’m Not Built to Break! in Women’s Journal, which features articles written by influential women who seek to empower and inspire women in the face of life’s ordeals. Nelson actively serves the women of Carriage Town Ministries, the YWCA Safe House, and the Phinisee Outreach Shelter for Women.
Courtney Hawkins is the Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Beecher High School.
He has led his teams to the playoffs nine times in ten years, won three conference championships, two division championships and one regional championship. Hawkins has done great things for this small, Class C, Title I school district. In 2009, he successfully petitioned the Genesee Athletic Conference to include BHS as a member, saving the district thousands on travel for athletic programs. He increased participation in all sports every year, added middle school baseball and wrestling, and high school softball and bowling. He also worked closely with the superintendent to get a bond passed that resulted in the Beecher community getting its first track and field complex. Hawkins earned a full-ride athletic scholarship to Michigan State University in 1988, and was drafted into the NFL with the first pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1992. He played five years in Tampa and four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Courtney retired from the NFL after nine years and 15 surgeries. Hawkins was voted Regional Coach of the Year by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association three times, voted Regional Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, and was inducted into the Greater Flint Area African American Hall of Fame and the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame. Hawkins and his wife, Candace, have three daughters.
Reverend Alfred L. Harris, Sr.
Reverend Alfred L. Harris, Sr. is the president of the Concerned Pastors for Social Action and has been an instrumental voice in Flint’s water crisis. He is also the Religious Affairs Chair for the Flint branch of the NAACP. He sits on the board of Ennis Center for Children and is the vice chair of the Flint Council of Churches. In 2011, he founded the Saints of God Church on one fundamental principle: to operate according to the word of God, which is the Holy Bible. Reverend Harris also supports the Evangelistic Team and other numerous ministries at Saints of God. He preached his first sermon in August of 1972 at the Holy Ghost Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. He graduated from the American Baptist College in Nashville, TN and earned his Master of Divinity Degree from Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Reverend Harris has been married to his wife, Denise, for 34 years. They have a son, three daughters, and a grandson.
Partner in Progress Award
Ennis Center for Children
Robert Ennis founded Ennis Center for Children in 1978 to provide an alternative to residential placement for troubled adolescents. As a powerful advocate for struggling youth, Ennis has earned many awards, including the national Black Administrators in Child Welfare Valeria Bullard Award for exceptional achievement, and the Citizen of the Year Award by the Wayne State University School of Social Work Alumni Association. Ennis Center is a non-profit organization that provides therapy to children with special needs in foster care, and to their families when indicated. The agency offers a wide range of services and is the largest African American-led non-profit of its kind in Michigan. Ennis Center works with over 3,500 youth each year and over 300 abused, neglected and/or abandoned children now in foster care on any given day. In addition, they consistently rank as one the top Michigan providers of adoption services to children. The majority of Ennis Center’s children and families come from tumultuous environments. Many of the children Ennis serves have been abused, neglected, abandoned, and/or are medically and emotionally fragile. The Ennis Center for Children staff works tirelessly not only to preserve, reunify and create healthy families, but to also give children the services, skills and hope they need to improve their quality of living and break the cycle of abuse, neglect and impoverishment.
Source: Genesee District Library Photography by Mike Naddeo