Astronaut, entrepreneurs honored at 25th Greater Houston Black Chamber Awards

Dr. Bernard Harris Jr. was 13 years old when he watched the broadcast of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon. He wanted to be just like them — except he wasn’t.

Photo Credit: SAISD

2019 Community Award Winners:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr., Astronaut and President, The National Math and Science Initiative

  • Legend’s Award: Rev. William Lawson, Pastor Emeritus, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church

  • Excellence Award: S.H.A.P.E. Community Center

  • Larry V. Green Advocate of the Year Award: Carlecia Wright, Vice President of Business Development, BiasSync

  • Mickey Leland Entrepreneur Public Leadership Award: Karen Carter Richards, The Forward Times

  • Endurance Award: Algenita Scott Davis, Center for Civic and Public Policy Improvement

  • Young Entrepreneur Award: Tyla-Simone Crayton, CEO of Sienna Sauce

  • 2019 Pinnacle Award Winners

  • Myoshia Boykin-Anderson, AndTech Solutions, LLC -

  • Ron Jemison Jr., Frankline Institute

  • Qiana James, Friendly Faces Senior Care

  • Brenda Richardson, Healthco Pharmacy

  • Lynn and Nakia Price, Turkey Leg Hut

“Looking at the television, who were considered to be America’s crème de la crème? White guys,” he said. “You grow up with those biases.”

But Harris’ mother, a teacher, told him to think differently. “(I had) a mother who insisted that we could do anything that we wanted to do, and challenged us to work hard to accomplish that,” he said.

Harris went on to become the first African American astronaut to perform a spacewalk. Saturday night, he was honored — not just for his extraterrestrial achievements but for his earthly ones — by the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Coming from Houston, he said, the award was particularly special to him.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

“I've gotten a lot of awards from different organizations,” Harris said. “But to have this award from the black chamber is very special because it comes from my community.”

Harris was among six people honored with community awards at the Chamber’s 25th annual Pinnacle Awards ceremony hosted at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. In addition to the community awards, five local entrepreneurs were recognized by the Chamber with Pinnacle Awards, coveted honors in the Houston black business community that recognize excellence among local small business owners.

The Chamber also awarded two cash prizes. The Upstart Award winner, Tolu Opeloye Sr., owner and CEO of Amazon Health, an at-home medical care and rehabilitation treatment provider, received a $2,500 prize. The 2019 Rising Star award winner, Kyra Hardwick, managing consultant at her consulting firm, The Kyra Company, received $1,000. This was the first year that the Rising Star Award was presented.

Carol Guess, the chair Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes the funds will help these entrepreneurs gain exposure and credibility in the community. Experts say that the lack of access to capital and wealth for black entrepreneurs presents challenges to getting businesses off the ground and contributes to the racial wealth gap between black families and white families. That gap has implications for the U.S. economy, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Co. The consulting firm projects that closing the racial wealth gap could boost the U.S. economy between $1.1 trillion and $1.5 trillion by 2028.

Photo Credit: Houston Forward Times

“Access to capital is not just a minority problem, but the problem is acute in our community because of systematic racism,” said Guess. “Racism paints a picture of not being capable or trustworthy to know about business. That perception makes different communities afraid to work together.”

Harris said he believes education and exposure is key to addressing this division. Harris, a lifelong advocate for increasing diversity in the sciences, is president and chief executive officer of the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in Dallas that works to increase students’ access and achievement in math, science and English courses in the United States.

“Being able to do what I’m doing now, education was the key to that,” Harris said. “My mission is to make sure that students, particularly those students that come from a similar background to mine, have the opportunity to be whatever they want to be — to see themselves in the future.”

Increasing access to education will increase the representation of black business leaders in boardrooms and in the sciences, as well as empower all people to participate in the American dream, Harris said. He said the more exposure people have to those who are different, the more they will be able to come together to work toward a common goal.

That idea — bringing people together — was in the front of his mind when he walked in space nearly 25 years ago.

“It gives you a worldly perspective, I might even say a universal perspective,” Harris said. “I looked out there and I thought, ‘That is the way that God wants us to see ourselves, where there are no lines that divide us.’”

SOURCE: Houston Chronicle

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