From the Streets to the Skies: 32nd Ruby McKnight Williams Awards Dinner Honors the Community’s Best

NAACP celebrates ‘Moving from a Divided Community to Unity’

Published : Thursday, October 12, 2017 | 5:47 AM

This year’s 32nd Annual Ruby McKnight Williams Award Dinner on Thursday will look to the streets, the pews, the boardrooms, the classrooms, and the skies for its awardees.

Named after Ruby Williams McKnight, an African American school teacher who moved to Pasadena in 1930 and faced prejudice which she refused to let destroy her dreams, the annual banquet is the primary annual fundraising for the Pasadena branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The event has become a symbol of Pasadena’s diversity. It has for years attracted hundreds of guests and supporters of all ethnicities who commonly espouse justice, equality and fairness. This years theme is “Moving from a Divided Community to Unity.”

Delano Yarbrough, current Pasadena NAACP president, said the theme of “unity” for this year’s banquet aims to create an awareness that there is a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in America, which is causing political and economic turmoil.

“Our theme this year is centered around unity. When the theme was decided, we were not aware all of the turmoil that has since taken place. Things that are happening indicate that there’s a need,” he said.

“I think what’s amazing about the event is what’s amazing about Pasadena,” said Pasadena Weekly’s Deputy Editor, André Coleman, who is returning as master of ceremonies. “At the event, you see people on both sides of the argument. So, you see the head of NAACP and you see the police chief, you know, and you see people that have complained about City Hall, and you see the Mayor. So, for me, it’s a unifying event.”

Civil rights attorney Dale Gronemeier, a recipient of this year’s President’s Award along with his law firm partner, Elbie Hickambottom, Jr. , said that there are still some “residual effects” of race-associated stigmatization remaining in Pasadena.

Gronemeier said he is confident, however, that there are now a growing number of Pasadena residents of various races who oppose racism in the community.

“I think that the mobilizations that have occurred in support of immigrants and opposition to deportations represent important in large sectors of the [Pasadena] community,” Gronemeier said. “So it’s a mixed reality, we have racists in our community, we have racism in our community, but we also have many people of all races who are resisting it and fighting it and changing the realities on ground,” he said.

Darryl Dunn, Rose Bowl CEO/general manager, one of two honorary chairpersons of the annual event, said the banquet is an indication of unity for Pasadena which residents should be proud of.

“From my perspective, I think people work very hard together and I think this event at Thursday night is indicative of that,” said Dunn Wednesday. “It’s just a great defined theme of event of unity and I do think Pasadena is a great community, and certainly unity is something that all of us within Pasadena strive to attain and it’s something that we can always look at how we can get better at,” he said.

Yarbrough affirms that race relations in the community of Pasadena are improving. He, however, added that there is still the need for a sustained community effort to address the problem.

Yarbrough’s view is also shared by entrepreneur Ishmael Trone, recipient of this year’s Community Award.

“I believe we’re improving on race relations,” said Trone. “I think they’re stronger than they’ve ever been throughout the history of the city of Pasadena. I think everybody’s conscious of it. We’re trying to bring a better quality of life to everyone living in the city of Pasadena.”

At tonight’s event the prestigious Ruby McKnight Williams Awardee is Willis Meeks, who served as manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ulysses mission to study the Sun’s poles. Meeks retired on January 29, 1996 after 30 years at the JPL.

The awards dinner is also a scholarship fundraiser for Pasadena Unified students and other private institutions. Leaders in the fields of Community, Education, Youth, President’s, Corporate, Faith, Civic, Arts and Sports are also set to to be feted.

Dr. J. Morgan Kousser, a professor of History and Social Science at the Caltech Institute of Technology and this year’s awardee in the Education category, will be the keynote speaker of the evening.

Ruby Williams McKnight, for whom the evening is named, was a community organizer in Pasadena for more than 50 years. She served as NAACP Pasadena Branch president, first in 1959 and later in the 1970s. It was during the seventies that the NAACP Pasadena branch supported two national precedent-setting civil rights cases. In 1958, the NAACP created the award that bears her name, to honor those who demonstrate excellence in community service.

“She was a very strong woman, very articulate,” says civil rights attorney Dale Gronemeier, a recipient of this year’s President’s Award along with his law firm partner, Elbie Hickambottom, Jr.

“She was widely respected in the community,” Gronemeier continued. “She’s probably, other than Jackie and Mack Robinson, Pasadena’s most widely known African-American, because she really fought the civil rights battle and led the NAACP for many many years.”

Yarbrough remembers Ruby McKnight Williams as an activist, an educator and a pioneer.

“She was a longtime president and was one of the early members, and kept the branch going during the days when things were in a turmoil,” said Yarborough. “I think she was one of the first African-American city employees. She was also involved in getting the first [black] doctor to be able to practice at Huntington Hospital back in the day, so she had a long history of involvement with NAACP and within the city. She was really kind of a bridge builder.”

The NAACP Pasadena Branch is a part of a network of more than 2,200 affiliates covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Japan and Germany with a membership of over 500,000. The California State NAACP boasts 72 branches and youth units mobilized across the state to help ensure racial justice and equality, according to the NAACP website.

The 32nd Annual Ruby McKnight Williams Award Dinner is at 6 p.m. at the International Ballroom of the Pasadena Hilton Hotel, located at 168 South Los Robles. For more information, call (626) 793-1293.