The ninth annual Black History Month Gala on Saturday evening closed a month-long observance of African-American success in Bloomington and beyond.
Community members gathered in black-tie attire — a wide variety of pastel pinks, royal blues and shimmery golds — at the Hilton Garden Inn for a celebration to honor the achievements of African-Americans in the city.
“How many of you have been a Hoosier for a minute now?” Gala Co-host Beverly Smith asked the 60 community members in attendance.
Many in the room raised their hands and laughed.
“I’m not a Hoosier by birth,” Smith said to the audience. “I’m a Garyite, but I’ve been a Bloomingtonian for 11, 12 years now. I think that qualifies me as vintage.”
At the gala, Greg Tourner, the chair of the Commission on the Status of Black Males, introduced the Outstanding Black Male Leaders of Tomorrow Awards.
Gabriel Jones, a senior at the Academy of Science & Entrepreneurship, was awarded the title of the 2014 Outstanding Black Male for the high school category. During his speech, he noted how much he changed because the community believed in him.
Bloomington resident Gene Shipp, 94 years old, received the Living Legend Award. Shipp served in the U.S. Army from 1942 through 1971 serving in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He received a bronze star from President Richard Nixon for his service in the Vietnam War.
After he retired from the military, he moved to Bloomington and spent a decade working as a mechanic. He also served as a deacon at Second Baptist Church.
Shipp said he loved every minute of the gala.
“I was honored tonight,” Shipp said. “I’m grateful that I moved to Bloomington. We have come a long way, and we have a long way to go.”
IU alumna Camisha Sims said she came to the event to support not only her dad — Jim Sims, the co-host of the gala — but to also support the successes of her community.
“I don’t think people realize that there is a black community in Bloomington outside of Indiana University,” Sims said.
Landon Jones, called a “21st Century Renaissance man” by Tourner, received the 2014 Outstanding Black Male award for the adult category.
Jones, a master’s graduate student at IU studying African studies, is active in connecting graduate students to young people in the community in a wide variety of activities.
“Black History Month is progression,” Jones said. “It’s physical and mental progression. Something that I find very important as we do events like these is that people are getting involved and understanding that it really does take people working together to bring about positive and peaceful results.”
Jones, who volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters, brought his “little” to the event with him.
“He’s a freshman at Bloomington North High School,” he said.
“The reason why we were matched together is because we’re both from Chicago. He’s been living here for about a year, and I definitely want to make sure his experience as a man of color is a positive one.
“I brought him here because he can win this award. It’s not a far-fetched idea for any young male, especially young black males. When you do good, you’re rewarded for it and also there is success to it.”
At the end of the event, Smith came back on stage and told the audience to not let another 365 days go by without contributing to each other’s lives and to enjoy the evening.
“I’m going to turn my shoes over to some Nike flip-flops and eat my strawberry cake, but I want you to enjoy dancing and having a great time fellowshipping with your friends and family,” Smith said. “Have a great evening.”
Follow reporter Aaricka Washington on Twitter @aarickawash.
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