Each year we honor citizens who have made outstanding civic accomplishments and significant contributions to the Las Vegas community in the following categories:
- Business and Economic Advancement
- Community Activism and Politics
- Emerging Leader
- Spiritual Community
Due to the pandemic, we were not able to present the awards at the African-American Trailblazer Breakfast. We hosted an intimate a ceremony that was also streamed online on January 26.
Here are this year’s winners:
Business and Economic Advancement Award: Classic Jewel – Ryan Brown, Selina Brown, Jerome Harry and Sherri Lewis
This award recognizes local business professionals who have displayed entrepreneurial character, high standards, innovative professional practice, and a committed support of their local community.
Classic Jewel is the first live-and-work bar/lounge concept in Downtown Las Vegas, located off Third Street on the bottom floor of the Juhl loft-style community. Husband and wife Jerome Harry and Sherri Lewis, with sisters Ryan and Selina Brown, founded the business as a part of their investment in the revitalization of the downtown Las Vegas community. The partners have vast experience in an array of industries including, but not limited to, food and beverage, advertising and marketing, real estate and business management, entertainment and law enforcement, and are now proud owners of multiple residential units and commercial spaces at Juhl.
Since opening in 2015, the 1950s inspired “Cheers” style bar has evolved into an elegant cocktail lounge and a cultural community hub. Classic Jewel showcases local art, hosts pop-up shops with local designers and chefs, and features weekly live music, entertainment, small bites, and classic Vegas glamour. Due to the loyal support from the community, the team says the business has “managed to grow organically” year over year, becoming the anchor of The Promenade at Juhl, the community’s ground-floor retail area, and a staple cocktail lounge of downtown’s thriving nightlife scene.
The Classic Jewel partners, proud members of the Urban Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Vegas Alliance, were recognized as Business Partner of the year in 2019 by Battle Born Progress. The team has collaborated with such organizations as Color of Change, Battle Born Progress, The Quiet Storm Foundation, and other non-profit groups to push social issues that are important to both them and the community. The team has also worked with both local and national political campaigns to encourage voter turnout for local, state and national elections.
Through the years, Classic Jewel has been a magnet for celebrities, athletes, and political figures -- even receiving an appearance from President-elect Joe Biden. The lounge has been featured in local publications such as Las Vegas Weekly, Vegas Rated, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas Sun, as well as making appearances on KTNV and KSNV. Most recently, Classic Jewel was featured in American Way inflight magazine.
The Classic Jewel team looks forward to continuing their efforts to support and advocate for their community and to be known as “a great place to grab a cocktail where everybody knows your name.”
Community Activism & Politics Award - Leslie Ann Turner
This award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated through their achievements the ability to advocate, organize and engage citizens, and inform public policy on issues that improve the quality of life for the community.
Leslie Ann Turner grew up in Pasadena and Fontana, California, born to parents Robert and Linda Turner. Her father was the sergeant-at-arms of the Pensacola, Florida, chapter of the Black Panther Party, so she has always been surrounded by the spirit of revolution.
This very spirit lead her to study criminal justice and sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas starting in 1999. Living in Las Vegas continuously since 2013, Turner began grassroots community organizing locally after the police homicide of Michael Brown, organizing a community response in solidarity with what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri.
In 2017, she began working at Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and built the Mass Liberation Project. The Project is a community-based program, led by formerly incarcerated people, fighting against mass incarceration and the injustices of the criminal legal system. Since its inception, the Mass Liberation Project has centered the voices of those most impacted by creating a platform for those closest to the problem to be at the table in crafting solutions. The Mass Liberation Project has participated in grassroots electoral work, voter engagement, policy creation, and resource development for people most impacted by the criminal justice system.
Turner has not only led numerous community initiatives for liberation, but she is the co-founder of the Vegas Freedom Fund, which was established in 2018 in an effort to combat mass incarceration in Clark County. The goal of the Vegas Freedom Fund is to raise money to post bail for people who are being forced to stay in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bail themselves.
Turner was a 2019 fellow with Law 4 Black Lives and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., Eta Chi chapter at UNLV. She has received such accolades as the 2019 Community Advocate Award from the American Civil Liberties Union and she was named the 2020 Rising Progressive Leader of the Year by Battle Born Progress.
She is an avid writer and reader – especially of history written from the Black perspective – and enjoys spending time with beloved family and friends. In 2015, she became a mother to a now 5-year-old and very curious son, Nasir.
Education Award - Dr. Zachary Scott Robbins
This award honors those who, as a teacher, instructor or school administrator, have demonstrated excellence in mentoring, guiding and preparing students to achieve their full potential.
Dr. Zachary Scott Robbins is an experienced high school principal who has a passion for mobilizing faculty, families, students and key community partners to create a school culture that supports and elevates student success. He has used research-based interventions and organizational change principles to “turn around” three secondary schools in Boston and Las Vegas.
Hailing from Hampton, Virginia, his early years as an educator were spent teaching sophomore English for District of Colombia, Montgomery County and Boston public schools. He was a writer/researcher for the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, and after earning a master’s degree in secondary education in 2000 from Howard University, he became Professor Robbins, teaching courses for the Massachusetts Bay Community College and subsequently for Master of Arts students at Lesley University School of Education.
After opening the Noonan Business Academy High School as assistant principal in 2003, Robbins was promoted in 2005 to principal of the Academy of Public Service High School (APS), arguably Boston’s most challenging school. Robbins and his staff dramatically increased achievement and in his first year of leadership, they became the fourth most improved school in the state of Massachusetts. With Robbins at the helm, APS was designated a distinguished practice school by the Boston College Lynch School of Education.
Armed with a 2007 Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Boston College, Dr. Robbins moved to Las Vegas and began as a Clark County School District dean of students before eventually accepting the principal position at Marvin Sedway Middle School. Sedway, designated a "turn around school," improved from a one-star to a three-star school in just one year under his leadership.
Dr. Robbins currently serves as principal at Cheyenne High School, where for the past seven years he has had an undeniable and profound impact. Again accomplished in his first year of leadership, Cheyenne High School earned (and maintained) the highest graduation rate in its history, increasing from 63% to over 90%.
Dr. Robbins and his Cheyenne team established the first restorative justice program in Nevada, which has successfully reduced the school's suspension and expulsion rates. Now his school functions as a training hub in restorative practices for Nevada educators. Dr. Robbins’s team continued its innovative practices by launching the first cyber defense program in the Clark County School District as well as incorporating “Fathers and Father Figures Night” and “Noche de Empoderamiento” to encourage men and Hispanic families to take an active role in their children’s education. The resulting level of parent engagement is unprecedented in the school's history.
Dr. Robbins is the 2017 Clark County Black Caucus Educator of the Year, has served on the Governors’ School Safety Committee, and is a seven-time presenter at the National Elementary and Secondary Education Act Conference. He obtained his master’s degree in Business Administration in 2014 from the University of Phoenix, for which he then taught courses for more than eight years. He is also author of the book "Restorative Justice Tribunal and ways to Derail Jim Crow Discipline in Schools," published by Routledge Education Press, and is available for pre-order now.
Dr. Robbins would ultimately like to serve students and their families as superintendent of an urban school district, with the vision to give the nation a model of a school district that graduates students who are leaders and caretakers of diverse communities with diverse needs.
Tyrone Thompson Emerging Leader Award- Larmaya “CeCe” Kilgore
This award celebrates an up-and-coming individual who demonstrates a commitment to leadership and substantial potential for innovation, creativity, vision, and positive influence.
Larmaya “CeCe” Kilgore is a Chicago native and the youngest of six children. Raised with “an abundance of love – tough, pure, warm, and raw,” Ms. Kilgore’s parents instilled in her that “hustle and heart will set you apart.” With her parents’ encouragement and her own steadfast determination and focus, Kilgore became a first-generation college student on the Dean’s List since her freshman year, and was recognized by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as an Outstanding UNLV Graduate (2016). She also was featured in the UNLV Alumni Spotlight in January 2021.
Kilgore has worked with many official government agencies, such as the Nevada U.S. Senate Office under the direction of Senator Harry Reid, the Department of Juvenile Justice Services, city of Las Vegas Municipal Courts, and the Clark County Department of Family Services. Her tenure at each of these agencies focused on developing programs as well as recruiting and training community leaders to serve at-risk and incarcerated youth through outreach initiatives, and participatory arts-based methodologies. In 2016, she received the city of Las Vegas Mayor’s Initiative Recognition Award.
Currently the project manager over both the Youth Development & Education as well as the Civic Participation & Social Justice pillars at Nevada Partners, Inc., Kilgore was honored as its 2019 Employee of the Year. She works closely with multiple levels of government and policy experts to dismantle discriminatory systems of education, mass incarceration, voter suppression, and public health. She is adamant about establishing partnerships with businesses and community stakeholders to develop programs, events, and policies that educate marginalized communities and combat unjust systems.
Kilgore is co-founder of Poetically Correct, a local production company that produces open mics with an emphasis on poetry throughout the Las Vegas valley. She is also an investor in a successful event management and consulting company called Spaced Events Management & Consulting, specializing in developing and delivering customized and unparalleled social functions.
Kilgore is an alumnus of the Nevada Youth Legislature, a mentee for the Eagles Organization and proud member of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Spiritual Community Award - Pastor Bill McDonnell Jr.
This award will be presented to a spiritual leader who has transcended organizational boundaries to promote spiritual and religious growth, partnership, and engagement through inspired action and visionary leadership.
Pastor Bill McDonnell Jr. is a man with a heart for the people of God; his Ministry is highlighted by his service to people. Pastor Bill, as he is affectionately called, assumed the reins as pastor of Ebenezer (now “The Wealthy Place”) in 1995. He is a visionary leader, not only for The Wealthy Place, but the entire community.
Pastor McDonnell accepted Christ in 1971 and rose steadily through the ranks, accepting the call to ministry in 1978. If there is a phrase that would characterize McDonnell, “born leader” would be the phrase. In 1988, his leadership qualities facilitated his promotion to youth pastor for Vegas View Church of God in Christ, a position he held until 1995. His enthusiasm, commitment, and dedication to leadership have permeated his pastoral endeavors, and the pattern of promotion so typical in the early years continues to manifest itself.
Pastor McDonnell was elevated to president of the Nevada State Ways and Means Committee in 1998, superintendent of the Nehemiah District in 2003, and administrative assistant to Bishop Carruth Hall, Nevada First Jurisdiction Church of God in Christ in 2008. In 2011, he became president of Churches of Southern Nevada. In 2012, during his tenure as superintendent, Pastor McDonnell inspired the development of Kingdom Builders Bible Seminary, a fully accredited Institution, in Las Vegas.
Pastor McDonnell's leadership inspired and expanded the Nehemiah District, which consisted of approximately eight ministries. In 2015, he received his doctor of Divinity degree.
Pastor McDonnell is happily married to a dynamic woman in her own right, Lady Alma Faye McDonnell, who served as the supervisor of Women for the Nevada First Jurisdiction. Pastor and Lady McDonnell are the parents of three children, Charity, Victor, and Victoria, who, along with their families, are also working and committed to the vision of The Wealthy Place.