Courier shines light on local legends and shooting stars

At the New Pittsburgh Courier’s 50 Men of Excellence Awards reception, former, future and current honorees gathered with family and friends to celebrate their achievements. Adding to this year’s festivities, the Courier selected three local legends to honor with Legacy Awards.

“The Legacy honorees have been leading this city for a very long time and it’s great to be following in their footsteps,” said John Wallace, one of this year’s 50 Men of Excellence. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be recognized with all of these men. It’s a great opportunity to recognize men who don’t get recognized.”

LEGACY AWARDS—From left: Robert M. Lavelle, who accepted an award on behalf of his father, Robert R. Lavelle, with Legacy honorees Robert Pitts and Wendell Freeland. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Legacy honorees Wendell Freeland, Robert Pitts and Robert Lavelle have been civil rights icons in Pittsburgh for several decades. Their efforts to fight for equality and to improve living conditions in African-American communities can still be felt in the city today.

“I’m very pleased because I was honored with the people I’ve worked with over the years,” Freeland said. “The community needs people who other people look up to and will recognize. I’m sure young people and others will gain some sense of accomplishment in themselves.”

“I’m overwhelmed and I thank the Courier for recognizing what I’ve done. It was something I wanted to do. It was never easy,” Pitts said. “I owe everything to my wife. When I ran for mayor of Wilkinsburg, I could’ve never done it without her help and I want everyone to know it.”

Accepting the award on behalf of Lavelle, who passed away in early July was his son, Robert M. Lavelle. The Legacy honoree’s grandson, District 6 City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, was also on this year’s list of honorees.

“One of the things that has happened is when my dad died, his many accomplishment were showcased and one of the things is that my dad worked for the Pittsburgh Courier for many years,” Robert Lavelle said. “One of the things he told me is about the influence the New Pittsburgh Courier had on his life as a pioneering Black business.”

Many honorees also illustrated the impact the Courier has had on their lives and the important significance of being honored by this newspaper.

“Obviously, after honoring my colleagues, I’m glad you guys got around to me,” said Tony Norman, associate editor of the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, who wrote a column last year about his absence from the 50 Men of Excellence list. “It’s always good to be a part of these Courier events. My prediction is that the Black press is going to be as important as it was in the 1940s very soon. It’s already starting to happen again.”

In keeping with tradition, most of the honorees were humble in acknowledging their recognition, instead choosing to highlight the accomplishments of others on the list. Among them was Thomas Motley, a retired 42-year employee of the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education who raised more than $300,000 in college scholarships last year alone.

“It’s certainly a list of people you know have been doing different things. You have such a variety of different people,” Motley said. “I’m so glad we’re doing so much for the kids and the community.”

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