Giving honor where honor is due, members of the Central Florida Association of Black Journalists (CFABJ) on Dec. 1 named six esteemed journalists, media personalities, philanthropists and reporters to their Hall of Fame. They are: Dr. Florence Alexander and her husband, Dr. Stanley Alexander, Kena Lewis, Monica May Ashford, Mark McEwen and Gail Paschall-Brown.
They joined a group of 25 people named to the group’s Hall of Fame. This group, according to CFABJ President LaFontaine E. Oliver, “have all represented us well and left their indelible marks on our community and this organization.”
The honor was bestowed during the organization’s 35th anniversary celebration held at the World Showcase at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center.
After two tables of hearty appetizers and an open bar, the Hall of Fame ceremony, pictures with Disney’s Princess Tiana and a table full of scrumptious desserts, more than a hundred CFABJ members and guests walked to a special seating area around the Epcot showcase lagoon and watched the IllumiNations laser and fireworks show.
“I had an awesome time!,” said Willie Clark, CFABJ Hall of Fame member and longtime media professional/radio personality. “The folks at Disney really know how to host a party!”
During the Hall of Fame ceremony, recipients talked about their journey and experience in their prospective fields and how the organization often played a part in their success.
Dr. Alexander, who was honored alongside his wife, basically said Black Americans own and run operations in fields such as entertainment and professional sports (like the NFL), but not in the media. He said we have to work together, to help each other in order to change that. Dr. Alexander and his wife have provided thousands of dollars in scholarships to youth attending historically Black colleges and universities through their National HBCU Scholarship Foundation, Inc. (Founded in 2005). She has served many years as President and Director at the Ebon Productions Studio where they recently produced a film about Harry T. Moore. She said the film is due to be released in January 2019.
Kena Lewis, who started her career as an on air radio announcer and morning reporter, switched gears after covering the 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion. She moved into Public Relations and is currently the Director of Public Affairs and Media Relations for Orlando Health. Her efforts in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting were recognized nationally.
Monica May, well-known for her work with on the Tom Joyner Morning Show on Star 94.5 FM radio, has been in the radio and television field for 40 years. She started a non-profit organization and a series of workshops called Let’s Spill the Tea, to help improve communication between mothers and their teenage daughters. During the ceremony, May talked about leaving the Orlando market several years ago to focus on helping people, especially the homeless. May said the award that she received from the CFABJ was noticed in her Houston office and shortly after that she was offered another opportunity in radio broadcasting.
Mark McEwen, upon receiving his award, said he started his TV career with a national network (CBS in 1987). “They said can you do weather,” he said and he jumped on the opportunity even though he had not done weather. His advice to anyone interested in television: “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Keep asking. Do your research. Be prepared.” Over the years, he served in a variety of high-profile positions including anchoring “CBS This Morning,” corresponding for “48 Hours” and doing entertainment news for “The Early Show.” In 2004, McEwen, became the anchor for the morning and noon news for WKMG in Orlando. Him just being at the event was a miracle because shortly after taking the job at the Orlando TV station, he suffered a stroke. He’s since written a book and has worked as an ambassador for the American Heart Association.
“This is such an honor, being a part of this,” McEwen said. “I thank God, especially for my mom and dad” for stressing the importance of getting a good education.
Gail Paschall-Brown said she loves what she does. With four decades of TV reporting and anchoring experience under her belt, she talked about her humble beginnings – raised by her grandparents in rural North Carolina. (She even mentioned working in tobacco fields as a young girl.) Some of her most memorable stories were the first Gulf War, the Grenada Invasion and Susan Smith who drowned her two sons in Union, South Carolina. Brown is celebrating 21 years at WESH-Channel 2 News, where she has worked in several different positions including anchor. She currently works as a general assignment reporter.
Other treats from the event: two powerful and uplifting songs by Sisaundra Lewis and a moment of silence for members who have passed in this life, including a NABJ Founder, Vince Sanders, who spent 40 years in the broadcast industry with ties to Chicago and New York City. Sanders retired and moved back to the Orlando area in the late 1990s. (Courtesy of the National Association of Black Journalists – NABJ, website)
Hats off to CFABJ leaders, organizers and volunteers, as well as WDW officers and cast members on hand for an amazing evening to celebrate the work of the organization over the years and to honor some well deserving media/broadcast/public relations professionals. Kudos also on your announcement of “full commitment to grow and engage with Disney’s Dreamers Academy.” (-CFABJ president LaFontaine Oliver.)
(Random photos from the event by: Trish Martin)
Orlando Community News, 2018