WEST PALM BEACH —Two of Palm Beach County’s top public officials were among four people honored Wednesday during the Urban League of Palm Beach County’s 44th Equal Opportunity Day Awards Luncheon at the Kravis Center.
County Administrator Verdenia Baker was given the Lifetime Achievement Award, and School Superintendent Donald Fennoy II received the Trail Blazer Award. NFL Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson received the new Community Legend Award, while recent William T. Dwyer High School graduate Devyn Hill, who will attend Florida A&M University, was given the Youth Achievement Award.
Baker, the first woman and the first African American to serve as Palm Beach County administrator, began working for the county in 1987 as a budget analyst, and took over the top job in September 2015. She thanked her predecessor, Bob Weisman, for seeing something in her and mentoring her during 15 years as his deputy.
Baker also thanked her family and praised her staff, saying she shares the Urban League honor with them.
Fennoy, the district’s 26th superintendent and the first African American to fill that role, said he was happy to be the district staff member no one in the public knew.
That changed with his promotion to superintendent, Fennoy said, adding that his family and colleagues have been key to successes he’s enjoyed.
Jackson, a native of Pahokee, is the only NFL Hall of Famer born and raised in Palm Beach County. He played 15 years in the NFL, most of those with the New Orleans Saints.
Jackson, spoke briefly about his organization in New Orleans that provides support and care for at-risk and abused children and their families, and pledged that he would eventually return to Pahokee, because the Crescent City was not home.
Guest speaker Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, praised the award recipients and quickly turned to current events. He said on Tuesday he was on his way to discuss the decision by Starbucks to close all of its company-owned stores for sensitivity training after a racial incident at a Philadelphia store, when he was shown the racist tweet by actress Roseanne Barr, that led to ABC canceling her show. In the Starbucks case, police were called on two black men after one of them asked to use the bathroom while waiting for a colleague and they had not made a purchase.
Morial said America shouldn’t tolerate “the normalization of words of hate, religious bigotry, racism and misogyny.” He praised ABC for its swift response to Barr’s tweet and its willingness to put conscience above profits. He noted that the company has two women of color in leadership positions and wondered whether ABC would have taken the action it did 10 years ago.
He also praised the Starbucks training session, noting that it also decided to forgo revenues.
Business leaders, Morial said, must take decisive actions in the face of such incidents.
Turning to hate crimes, he said rates have spiked in the past 18 months, and stressed the need for vigilance to set the right tone at every level. There has to be a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not, he said.
Morial said America is being challenged but cited the suffrage movement, the Great Depression, wars and the civil rights movement as examples of challenges that the country has faced and dealt with. The burden is on Americans, he said, to determine the kind of country they want.