Atlanta’s Morehouse College celebrated 150 years of building men with an awards gala and banquet that raised more than $1 million for student scholarships.


ATLANTA – Morehouse College, America’s only historically Black, all-male college or university, climaxed its annual Founder’s Week on Feb. 18 with its 29th Annual “A Candle in the Dark” Gala, honoring some of the nation’s top Black achievers.

Master of ceremonies Dondré Whitfield, Morehouse College president Dr. John Silvanus Wilson Jr., Morehouse College student Michael Claudius Adyemi Saunders, and entertainer and philanthropist Usher Raymond enjoy a moment just before Raymond was presented with the college’s prestigious “Candle” award.

Most importantly, the event raised more than $1 million for student scholarships at the college.

“This is a special night,” President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. said to loud applause.  “I challenged our team this year to try to clear $1 million for the first time, and that’s exactly what has happened. That’s a lot of scholarship money that came in.”

Held in the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, more than 1,500 alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents and supporters of Morehouse College filled the main ballroom for one of Atlanta’s most popular annual events.

Five men were honored for their contributions and careers. Each was visibly moved to be honored after stirring introductions by student presenters.

Major fundraiser
The black-tie affair was instituted in 1989 and is designed to highlight Morehouse’s traditional mission of producing leaders, pay tribute to nationally acclaimed African-American leaders who are considered giants in their respective fields, and showcase the talents and oratorical skills of Morehouse students.

Honorees are presented with either a “Bennie” or a “Candle” award.

“Bennie” recipients, who must be Morehouse graduates, receive recognition in the categories of service, achievement, and trailblazing. The award is named in honor of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, who served as Morehouse president from 1940 to 1967, and is considered a legend among all alumni.

“Candle” recipients are honored for excellence in a variety of fields, including the arts, athletics, business, education, entertainment, government, law, medicine, the military, religion, and science and technology.

List of award winners
The 2017 award recipients are as follows:

•The Rev. Jonathan L. Walton, from Morehouse’s Class of 1996, is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at the Harvard Divinity School and the Pusey Minister in the Harvard Memorial Church. Walton has served on the faculty of Harvard University for nearly a decade. He received the Bennie Service Award for Excellence in Religion.

“In 1867, many knew Black lives mattered because of our free labor,” Walton said.  “But in 1867, someone came up with the radical idea that Black minds mattered. This was the focus of our past at Morehouse. This must remain and will remain the focus of our future. This, my friends, is Morehouse College – Black minds mattering for 150 years.”

•Theodore Colbert III, also from Morehouse’s Class of 1996, is the chief information officer and senior vice president of Information and Analytics for the Boeing Company. As such, he is responsible for the information technology strategy, operations and processes of the world’s largest aerospace company, and oversees 6,500 information technology and analytics employees. He previously worked in information technology for Citigroup and Ford Motor Company. 

Colbert completed the Dual Degree in Engineering program at Morehouse and Georgia Institute of Technology, earning degrees in industrial and systems engineering and interdisciplinary science.

He received the Bennie Service Award for Excellence in Business.

“This recognition, I hope, will inspire our young men, when they are in their dorm rooms at 2 a.m. trying to solve some complex differential equation, or trying to solve some hard program… to press on and fight their way through,” Colbert said as he accepted the award.

“We have got to participate in the changes that are being driven by technology. I am an example, the product of a village, a product of a school that builds leadership. And now I am in this field and I hope to inspire many others to do the same.”

•Jon Platt is the chairman and CEO of Warner/Chappell Music. After starting out as a teenaged DJ in his hometown of Denver, Colo., he navigated to the business side of music and helped to launch the recording careers of dozens of artists before they hit the big-time, including Jay-Z, Drake, Ludacris and Mary Mary. As CEO, Platt has signed diverse artists – Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Led Zeppelin, Kendrick Lamar, and others. He leads global operations of the company, which has offices in more than 40 countries. He received the Candle Award in Music, Business and Entertainment.

“I want to say this to the men who are in school right now,” Platt advised. “Keep striving, keep pushing forward because, as (his mentor) Vernon Slaughter once told me, ‘There are no losers in anything in life. There are only those who quit before their turn comes.’”

•Usher Raymond is a musician and actor who launched his first album at age 15 and has been on the music charts ever since. He is ranked as one of the best-selling artists in American music history, having sold more than 65 million albums worldwide. He has a vast collection of accolades, including eight Grammy Awards and 20 Billboard Music Awards. He launched his New Look Foundation in 1999 to empower youth from impoverished communities to become leaders. He received the Candle Award in Philanthropy, Arts and Entertainment.

“It’s everything to me to stand up here and be recognized as a Black man and be respected by other incredible Black men. I accept it. I accept the responsibility that comes with it. Not to rest on the accolade of it, but to use it as a reminder of the service still yet to come,” Raymond said.

•Tyler Perry is a director, writer, actor and philanthropist who is the comedic genius behind some of the most beloved characters on stage and screen, and the creative genius behind the brand that has become a major force in the entertainment industry. He received the Candle Award in Philanthropy, Arts and Entertainment.

“I understand how important Morehouse is,” Perry reflected. “This is really special and moving to me. To be honored by an organization that has that kind of history, that has put out those kinds of men in society, it inspires me on so many levels….

“Follow that voice inside that is leading you in the one direction that is the right way. If you believe and know, that is the voice of God,” he told the audience.

Millions for scholarships
Since the first gala 29 years ago, Morehouse has presented Bennie and Candle awards to 196 talented individuals from a wide variety of fields.

The event has grossed nearly $18 million since its inception, with net proceeds benefiting the Morehouse College general scholarship fund.

Add Seymour Jr. of Morehouse College contributed to this report.


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