Oct 24, 2013

A Night for Heroes

The 2013 100 Heroes honorees at the 3rd Annual Heroes Reception at the King Arts Center ballroom, Saturday  night, February 9, 2013.  The one hundred people recognized by my seventh and eighth grade students included a few world famous names such as Martin Luther King and Malala Yousafzai but also many lesser known, but perhaps even more influential local luminaries. Of the one hundred nominees we had 57 attend the reception--an excellent turn out.

Ever since 2009 when I first conceived the idea for 100 Heroes (modeled after Time Magazine's annual Time 100) I'd dream't of my students and I hosting a gala event to honor these heroes.  I looked at the pictures of Time's annual Time 100 Gala and imagined something just as glamorous and memorable for our own honorees.

A cross section of heroes: This segment of the group photo highlights the diverse group that made up this year's honorees.  In this photo are parents, grandparents, teachers, students, neighbors, pastors, public servants, and community activists (that's Marie Moreland in the upper center, a crucial figure in the revitalization of the historic American Addition neighborhood).  These are people who often go unrecognized by the world at large, even as they, through their everyday heroism, make it a better place.

For the first two years we gathered in the church gymnasium, and while we did our best to spruce it up with metal-looking plastic flatware, fancy paper plates, and heavy plastic tablecloths, it was still a gym. (Click here and here to read about our first two Heroes Receptions).  Our guests were still awed by the care and effort the students put in to creating a special evening, but we weren't satisfied.  We wanted to do more.

This past February we finally began to realize the dream.  This year for the first time we hosted our heroes in a real ballroom.  The tables were covered in real linen tablecloths, the professionally catered meal was served on real china and consumed with real silverware.  The heroes and their guests were waited on by uniformed waitstaff underneath shimmering lights.
Two former students from Columbus Adventist Academy enjoying their meal.  Both students, now high school sophomore, were 2012 honorees and now serve on the Heroes Board of Directors.  The Heroes Board serves to help my students realize their dreams for the Heroes Reception, and it's been great to have two  young people joining the team of adults on the Board.

The 7th and 8th grade class set a new bar in virtually every category.  The posters of the one hundred heroes were now displayed on standing easels rather than taped to the wall.
Reverend Bismark Akomeah, honored by one of my seventh grade students poses with his poster featuring his photo and the student's personal tribute to him.

The gift bags included smalls bottles of hand lotion donated by the Limited, Inc. as well commemorative pens and keychains in addition to the usual candies.  For the first time, we had soft music playing throughout the evening and several outstanding musical numbers from some of the heroes themselves.  Jonathan Nwabunike played a showstopping number on the saxophone, and Tamaria Kulemeka graced us with a beautiful vocal performance.
2013 honoree Jonathan Nwabunike

2013 Honoree Tamaria Kulemeka

  In addition several of the students shared their own musical talents.

This young man is actually a high school freshman but a graduate of Columbus Adventist Academy, and a 2013 Honoree nominated by his brother who is in the seventh grade.

This year we even had a professional photographer who took keepsake photos of the students with their heroes throughout the evening.

The highlight of the evening was the tributes.  This time with a good sound system and solid acoustics, each heartfelt tribute was heard with crystal clarity.  Particularly moving were El-ryck Kendrick's tribute to the Columbus Police department and Myia Ferguson's tribute to a former schoolmate who has battled through a number of crippling surgeries over the past few years.
El-Ryck with one of his heroes, a member of the Columbus Police Department

One of the students present her tribute to her heroes

We were honored by the presence of guests who traveled from out of state for the reception, including the founding principal  of Columbus Adventist Academy,Sharon Lewis who returned to Columbus for the event, and my own hero Mai-Rhea Odiyar who flew in all the way from Vancouver Canada.
My heroes, from left to right, master teacher Wayna Gray, resource teacher Pat Fountain, former student Benin Lee, my  mother-in-law Carol Leen, father-in-law Bill Leen, and friend and former colleague, Mai-Rhea Odiyar.  I've been recognizing the heroes in my life for the past seven years and each year I invite a handful of them to join my students and me in our annual celebration.

All in all it was a truly memorable night, one I know none of us will ever forget.  And yet as amazing as our third annual Heroes Reception, I have even bigger dreams for the fourth reception coming up in February 2014.  Even as we wrap up the first quarter of the school year, the students have already selected their heroes and written first drafts of their tributes.  Our goal is to be able to provide a truly special notification to each hero this fall of their nomination  to accompany the official invitation to the reception. We hope to be able to create a keepsake book featuring the tributes and accompanying photos of all 100 heroes that can be included in the gift bags.

The students have also chosen their planning committees too.  Some will be responsible for designing the invitations,others will take charge of planning the program, choosing the caterer and menu, determining the decorating scheme, and organizing every other aspect of the evening from gifts to music.  In the coming weeks we'll be scouting locations and sampling from caterers in effort to raise the high bar we've already set even higher.

And of course the students are working hard to raise funds to pay for this glamorous evening.  The 8th grade class will donate a good chunk of the funds that might otherwise go to their end of the year class trip (Last year's class spent almost everything they'd raised to pay for the Reception, and then started all over again to raise the money for their trip to Canada).  In addition the Heroes Board members and I will be looking for individuals and organizations interested in supporting the Heroes Reception.  If you are such an individual I encourage you to contact me at maycocksean@hotmail.com and let me know how you'd like to help.

The reality is most of the heroes that make this world a better place, who change the world one life at a time, will never grace the pages of a national news magazine.  They won't be feted by celebrities at diamond-studded celebrations. But our goal with the annual Heroes Reception is to let our heroes feel, if only for one night, as important, honored, and influential as they actually are.

A hero poses with her tribute

Dr. Donald Burden and the student who nominated him

The students presented their tributes in a variety of ways.  This student wrote a poem, entitled "Blossoming," and created an illustration to go with it, to express how her heroes have enabled her to blossom and grow.

I present a bouquet to my father-in-law, during my turn to pay tribute to my heroes