Lucille Boswell didn't like the image of the black family she saw portrayed in the media. "I got so tired of the negativism," she said. "Somehow the positive image of the black family was not being shown."
So she decided to show it.
Boswell, manager of consumer relations for Coca-Cola in Los Angeles, proposed to the higher-ups at Coca-Cola a "Salute to the Black Family," and they bought the idea and underwrote the event. Wednesday it came together at the Sheraton Grande downtown, where 350 people turned out for a reception to see two local black families honored.
"This is a much-needed thing in the community," Boswell said. "It's important that black youngsters see a positive family role model. There are so many things that black Americans have contributed to this community."
Boswell termed the honorees "grass-roots families," saying "these are the ones who never get recognition. They are hard-working black families. They are not on welfare, and they are in all fields of endeavors."
Word about the program went out to the black community, and 100 applications came back. The field was narrowed to 23 families, and eventually two were selected by a committee headed by Ann Shaw, a community activist who is on the board of directors of the L.A. Urban League and is involved in a number of philanthropic organizations, and the Rev. Thomas Kilgore Jr., pastor emeritus of the Second Baptist Church.
The committee looked for families with strong community involvement, "good hard-working people," Boswell said, "who raised their children to be part of the American society. They are contributors, not takers."
One family was chosen to represent the dual-parent family, and one a single-parent family. LaVerne and Ellis Wilson and their 10 children were selected because of their sense of family unity and contributions to the community; he is an RTD bus driver and a free-lance photographer, and she manages the family business, Wilson Streamline Photos.
Nine of their 10 children, ranging in age from 16 to 30, attended the event (the eldest, Ronnie, is in the Army and stationed in Alabama). Before the presentation the family posed for pictures and talked about the award. "We always thought we were special," said Estella Blakely, one of the Wilsons' daughters. "We feel we're role models for the black community."
"We knew that if we could make it," added Regina Wilson, another daughter, "anyone could."
Ellis Wilson chalked up the success of his family to "keeping them busy, taking them to church, teaching them right from wrong, positive thinking, to respect people . . . "
"And themselves," added LaVerne Wilson. "We go places with them. And we always had one meal together. No matter how busy we were, we always took out time for the kids. They also know the value of work. We don't believe in letting the kids think they can sit home. If they want special things they work for them."
Yvonne Stine and her four children were honored as the outstanding single-parent family (only two of the four, Michael and Edith, could attend the event). Stine, an assistant director and teacher coordinator for the Assistance League, said, "I've always worked and taken care of four children by myself. I kept good relationships with my friends, and these people didn't discard me. I tried to use myself as an example for other single parents. And by telling them they could do it by themselves, it gave me more confidence that I could do it by myself."
Edith Stine added, "Over the years I've listened to friends say they were so proud of my mother and the family, the fact that my mother raised us by herself. We are role models. And to be recognized by people we \o7 haven't\f7 grown up with is wonderful."
Attending the salute were assemblywoman Maxine Waters, city councilman Robert Farrell, L.A. Urban League president John Mack, Cal State L.A. president James Rosser, Albert Hudson, president of Broadway Federal Savings & Loan, and Judge Billy G. Mills.
"These families represent the finest and the best in our race," Mayor Tom Bradley, honorary chairman of the event, told the audience. "Those who have struggled against all odds . . . and have set an example for all to follow. So we can say, yes, there is something about this black family that we can be proud of. Tonight we thank them for the inspiration they have given to their children and the community they serve so well. We're not giving them anything--they've earned every bit of it, the old-fashioned way."
But the families were given something: $1,000 cash, a $500 gift certificate to Boys Market (another sponsor of the event), a year's supply of Coca-Cola products, an etched-glass award and proclamations from the city government. This is Coca-Cola's first "Salute to the Black Family," but there has been talk of continuing it next year, perhaps going nationwide, Boswell said.
Assemblywoman Waters lauded the Coca-Cola company for its involvement in the salute, and also for divesting in South Africa (the company pulled out in September). "That's an indication," she said, "that they want to see the black families there strong and independent."
Kilgore, while acknowledging that 49% of black families are headed by one parent, added that the other 51% still constitutes a majority. "And in that 49%," he added, "there are a lot of excellent families. Let's put down a lot of the negative things that are being said about black families."
Said Ann Shaw earlier in the evening, "These are stories that are never told."