By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – The list of qualities is long and impressive: A focus on love, a drive to be intentional, putting community first, providing a voice to the voiceless and vulnerable, and simply unsung heroes. These are just some of the countless ways the 2023 Black Achievers’ daily, selfless actions can be described as well as enduring impressions felt.
Last Sunday afternoon, inside the City of Poughkeepsie’s Beulah Baptist Church, the Social Action Ministry once again paid tribute to a special group of community trailblazers, who have deeply etched their transformational visions on the community, at the 36th Annual Salute to Black Achievers.
This year’s theme centered upon “being intentional.” The event’s first speaker, Honorable Lieutenant Governor Anthony Delgado, expanded upon that concept, stressing that love should always reside at the epicenter of all we do.
“When you lead with love, anything is possible,” said Delgado, who initiated his words with thanking the five honorees for their contributions to the community while keeping love at the forefront. “I felt love as a kid, and with that, always believed I could do anything I set my mind to.” He continued, “As we come together to celebrate Black History Month, let us truly lean on love, which has always got us through any situation and led to our shining Black excellence.”
Guest Speaker, Elder Albert Cook, Jr. of the Kingston SDA Church in New Paltz, also delivered heartfelt, powerful, wise words in his lively presentation, which rippled with the dire need for Black people to pay homage to their past, particularly the people in it. Providing an assortment of historical and biblical allusions, Cook drew a clear picture of where he deems genuine empowerment lies.
“We need to honor our ancestors; we don’t do it, and it’s part of the reason we aren’t valued; they valued community first, such as in Africa, how they played the drum, bringing people together and a reminder that community always comes first,” emphasized the animated, history teacher Cook, Jr. “In many ways, we are marching directionless; we need to have those deep connections to the Church and our pasts; we can’t afford but to honor our mothers and fathers.”
Each of the 2023 Black Award recipients, presented with formal honors by Reverend Dr. Jesse V. Bottoms, Jr. and his wide Jacquette, was a shining example of all of those pearls: intention, love and honoring our symbolic mothers and fathers that rippled throughout the event. Those very concepts were spoken of in their acceptance remarks.
“It’s important to recognize women, especially black women, in every space I enter,” honoree Barrington Randall Atkins, a Vassar Brothers Medical Center Emergency Room Social Worker and Assistant Principal at Poughkeepsie High School, pointed out after thanking the females in his life who helped raise him. “We as people of color must sit at every table and defend all people, not just some; please vote, by not doing so, it gives others power to make decisions for us.” Atkins’ words also expanded upon the cornerstone attributes: faith, resilience, perseverance, courage, strength and reassurance, that helped carve out the person he has proudly evolved into today.
Another 2023 Black Achiever, Isis Pascuala Benitez, also spoke about the importance of family, community and love. Presently the Lead Director of Community Relations for the YWCA of Ulster County, Benitez relayed how the biggest highlight of her career has been bringing the YWCA organization back to Dutchess County. Getting emotional as she saw her grandmother stand during her remarks, Benitez further paid tribute to another pivotal female in her life.
“My mom is Wonder Woman; affirmed Benitez as she glanced over at her. “She is the one who inspired me to get into community work; I truly do what I do out of love and to give people without a voice one, and I’m 100 percent here to keep doing that and never giving up.”
Finding one’s purpose and relentlessly pursuing it were other topics that resonated in the honorees’ remarks. Stacey Nicole Bottoms, Deputy District Director (DDD) to the 39th District State Senator, Rob Rolison, as well as the creator of a non-profit youth reading program and involved in an array of leadership roles, challenged those in attendance.
“Everyone has a purpose; are you walking in yours?” asked Bottoms. “My joy comes from serving God; I will continue to do that and make my Church proud. Looking at Reverend Bottoms and Jacquette, she added, “They did that for me, and I want to continue following in my purpose, guiding young people.”
Other 2023 Black Achievers were; Ondie B. James and Myael Christopher Simpkins. James works as a Youth Development Professional at the Boys & Girls Club, New Hope Community Center, and YWCA as well as is the President/Founder of Majesty 6:33 Productions. Simpkins, dubbed the “Renaissance Artist of the Hudson Valley,” has dedicated his life to spreading “positive intentional creativity” in the community as well as contributed as an artist, musician, actor, poet, and photographer among a host of other creative endeavors that have uplifted and changed the framework of the Poughkeepsie community.