Tournament of Roses' First African American President Will Receive Top Award at NAACP Pasadena Ceremony

Published : Tuesday, August 14, 2018 | 5:35 AM

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Pasadena Branch announced it will bestow its top recognition, the Ruby McKnight Williams Award, on Gerald Freeny, the first African American President of the Tournament of Roses Association.

Freeny heads the roll of local honorees slated for tributes at the Pasadena Branch’s 33rd Ruby McKnight Williams Awards Dinner on September 27 at the Hilton Pasadena.

The award is named after Pasadenan Ruby McKnight Williams, who was a leader of the civil rights movement in Southern California, petitioning for municipal and school employment, home ownership and access to public swimming pools for African Americans. She was NAACP Pasadena President twice and remained active as President Emeritus of the Executive Board until her death in 1999.

“It’s such a great community event,” said Darryl Dunn, the Rose Bowl’s General Manager, who is Honorary Chairpersons of the event. “Typically, we get approximately 300 people to attend the event and people are so proud. They feel so good because the NAACP is such an important organization. There are some tremendous people who get honored for what they’ve done within their lives and in their jobs.”

The event’s co-chairs are Juanita West Tillman and Tommy McMullins.

Freeny was elected President of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses for the 2018-2019 year and will provide leadership for the 130th Rose Parade presented by Honda and the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on Tuesday, January 1, 2019.

“I’m so thrilled and that is such a great honor to receive that award also,” Freeny said. Freeny will receive another honor Thursday, August 16, from the Pasadena Community Coalition and the Armenian Community Coalition, among others, in recognition of his accomplishment being the first African American Tournament of Roses president.

“It’s truly an honor to get the Ruby McKnight [award],” he said. “I had met her on several occasions and she’s just a very outstanding lady. Her award is just totally humbling to me.”

Freeny said he had no inkling that he would ever be president of the organization when he first joined the Tournament of Roses Association as a volunteer in 1988.

“This is something that my mom and dad always taught me,” he recalls. “‘You surround yourself around positive people, you’re going to be positive and you’re going to succeed. If you’re around negative people, you’re going to get yourself in the shoes that you don’t need to be in, it’s going to hurt you.’ That’s what I tell the young people this day, always being around positive people or people that are doing that are successful, that are doing things. You’re going to be successful!. You’re going to see what they’re doing, You’re going to learn from them, you’re going to learn from their experiences and it’s going to help you.”

Another awardee, Juliana Serrano, Senior Associate for Peace and Justice at Pasadena’s All Saints Church, will receive the Pasadena NAACP’s Community Award.

“I’m thrilled and incredibly honored to have been selected by the nominating committee,” Serrano said. “The NAACP has always had significant national attention because they are one of the most important civil rights organizations of our nation and our local chapter’s no exception.”

“After more than eight years of being a guest at this event to now being a recipient of one of the awards is sort of surreal,” Serrano said Monday. “I’m surprised and pleased.”

At All Saints Church, Serrano also works at the Office for Creative Connections. She shared how she decides to choose what causes to join as she continues her civic duty and advocacy work.

“It’s really about making sure that whatever we do, it’s an alignment with our values and our moral values,” she said. “And I will say that that’s true for me on a personal level as well. Whenever there is anyone who is marginalized or oppressed by our systems and by our culture, that’s an invitation for us to stand up, to speak out and to do something.”

The other honorees, and their award categories, for the NAACP event have been announced:

Arts Award – Larry Mizell

Civic Award – William “Bill” Bogaard

Corporate Award – Wescom Credit Union, Darren Williams

Education Award – Michelle Bailey

Faith Award – Rev. Larry Campbell

President’s Award – Emerson Terry

Sports Award – Tim Tucker

Youth/Young Adult Awards Sports – Kori Carter

Actso Gold Medalist, Poetry Written – Phalaen Chang

Actso Bronze Medalist, Original Essay – Imani Finkley

The event on September 27 begins at 6 p.m. and concludes at about 9:30 p.m. For tickets, call (626) 793-1293 or email

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