Sara Taite-Trail, a freshman at St. Ursula Academy, stared in amazement at the collection of mementos and a collage of photos of African-Americans, most of whom grew up in Toledo.
Some became famous athletes, groundbreaking educators, or successful entrepreneurs and leaders who fought tirelessly for social justice and integration.
“It’s pretty cool to have so many great people in one place,” said the 14-year-old from Toledo, who was attending an event Saturday to honor African-Americans who have achieved many noteworthy achievements and significant contributions to their community.
The Legends Luncheon, held inside the Perrysburg Hilton Garden Inn, was one of several events scheduled throughout the weekend to honor both longtime and up-and-coming leaders.
The program was hosted by Toledo’s African-American Legacy Project and sponsored by The Blade and Buckeye TeleSystem.
Those honored included Crystal Ellis, 80, the first black superintendent of Toledo Public Schools from 1991 to 1996.
A 1951 graduate of Springfield High School in Springfield, Ohio, he was the first African-American to play on the Bowling Green State University basketball team and became the team’s most valuable player in 1956 and team captain in 1957.
Despite the specter of racism at that time, he recalls a very supportive coach and team.
“In my first year, we played teams like Florida, Kentucky, and New Orleans,” said Mr. Ellis, noting those areas were still very segregated in the 1950s.
“I couldn’t go because I was black. My coach told me he would never schedule another game against a team where I wasn’t welcome to play. And he kept his word.”
He served in the Army from 1953 to 1955. After his discharge, he earned a bachelor of science in 1957 and a master of science in 1975 from Bowling Green State University. He taught at Libbey High School before serving as principal at several schools for many years. He eventually received an honorary doctorate of education in 1994 from BGSU.
Others honored included Lola Glover, the founder of the Coalition for Quality Education; Joseph Sommerville, Sr., professor emeritus at the University of Toledo; Samuel Price, a former football player who as a businessman has owned a fast-food franchise, restaurants, and a dental office, and Myra Waters, director of the counseling center and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Baltimore.
Honored posthumously were Daniel Mack, who owned and operated the Candlelight Café — also known as the Shrimp House — and Robert Powell, Sr., of Powell’s Beauty and Barber Supplies.
Wilma Brown was another pioneer in the Toledo community who was honored.
She was the first black woman to become president of Toledo City Council, but as she prefers to note, “I was the first woman president of Toledo City Council.”
That role is important for several reasons, said Ms. Brown, who was first elected to council in 1997 after having been on the Toledo Board of Education for 12 years, including three as president and five as vice president.
Ms. Brown admits she never set out to become a leader. For one thing, she didn’t always have a lot of confidence. But voters’ repeated re-elections strengthened her.
“The citizens of Toledo gave me my confidence,” she said. “They’ve given me so much; I’ve just always wanted to give back.”
The African-American Legacy Project also created an Emerging Leader program that places a more positive perspective on the value and importance of professional education and character development, regardless of one’s vocation or professional field of study.
Recognized as 2013 Emerging Leaders were Rodney Eason, Jr., Merida E. Allen, Kenyetta Jones, Keith Jordan, Sr., Alicia Smith, Joshua Peterson, Hope Bland, and William Pierce.
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.