MUSKEGON, Mich. — On a Friday night, West Western Avenue is alive with the sounds of music playing at local businesses, vehicles en route to their first weekend destination, and the voices of people talking after a long work week.
But this isn't a place where everyone has always felt like their voices were being heard.
"If you look at a lot of different organizations and businesses, they're not necessarily representative of the community that is Muskegon County," said Jocelyn Hines.
In 2017, Hines became the founder of a group that set out to change that. It's called the Muskegon Young Black Professionals.
"We were created to be the primary resource for Black professionals here in Muskegon County. We want to provide social and professional development opportunities, because we see that was much needed in Muskegon County," Hines said.
"We wanted to create opportunities where people were educated, trained, and also heard and valued here."
Hines says the Muskegon Young Black Professionals serve Black professionals ages 18 to 45. They try to be as inclusive as possible while serving and uplifting that specific population.
They also believe it's important to recognize young Black professionals for work they've done in the community. Over the last two years, they've accomplished that with the Shades of Excellence awards.
"Not only did we honor people that were excelling in health care, and business, entrepreneurship, but we also wanted to highlight some of our elders and pillars in our community that have been really important to our growth here in Muskegon County," Hines said.
"We also wanted to represent and honor people who have experienced hardship, and really practiced resilience in some of the things that they have tried to accomplish."
Shades of Excellence also serves as the organization's biggest fundraising event of the year. If you'd like to support the organization, you can learn more on their website and Facebook pages.
To celebrate Black History Month, 13 ON YOUR SIDE is featuring three Shades of Excellence award recipients from February 20-23.
Marquis Childers, Jr. - 2021 Black Magic Award recipient
Marquis Childers, Jr. was born and raised in Muskegon Heights. He is an entrepreneur, a coach and a father. Amongst other activities, he is the chairman of the Muskegon Heights Neighborhood Association Council, the vice president of the Neighborhood Associations of Michigan, and the president of the Muskegon Heights Business Association.
"I'm just here to support and bridge gaps between generations. Cross-sector work is what I do - bringing people in that have never talked to each other, or spoke to each other, and getting them to see things in a different light and respecting each other's perspective, because our residents are the professionals of their lives," Childers said.
"It's very rewarding for your peers to look at you as someone to highlight, and actually say, we want to reward you for the work that you've been doing."
A'Yonna Ray - 2022 Emerging Professional Award recipient
A'Yonna Ray is from downtown Muskegon. She grew up in the same house her whole life and got involved in the community about three years ago, working with Childers. She is the secretary of the Muskegon Heights Neighborhood Association Council. She's also a volunteer coordinator for the Coalition for Community Development.
"I didn't know anyone was paying attention to me. It came by surprise, and I was just really grateful that the Muskegon Young Black Professionals thought of me, and acknowledged my work. It meant a lot to me," Ray said of her recognition.
"It made me more confident, just knowing that people appreciate my work and are noticing what I'm doing for the community, and in the community. It makes me want to go harder. It makes me want to support the community even more."
Mickey Wallace - 2021 Social Impact Award Recipient
Mickey Wallace identifies himself as a bridge building. His involvement in the community includes a nonprofit called Kemetic Kings Mentoring which focuses on helping "boys become great men" through example and instruction. In addition to receiving the 2021 Social Impact Award, Wallace emceed Shades of Excellence in 2022.
"I love connecting the dots - resources, opportunities, ideas, are all for the success and the benefit of our oncoming generations. That's what I pretty much live for," he said.
"Helping people find their purpose through asking structured questions and giving them a system to move along by, that's part of my passion, That's part of my wheelhouse, because we operate within systems and so many times, we just find ourselves kind of failing forward. But if we can use some evidence-based practices that are consistent across the board, we can see ourselves showing up with the victory a lot more often than not."
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