The first-ever Black Excellence Awards and Gala took place at the Retro Suites in Chatham on Saturday. From left are award winners Blake Handsor (Male of the Year); Christopher Prince of Kaiya Farms (Agriculturalist of the Year; not shown is Aimee Prince); Camryn Dudley (Youth of the Year); Kevry and Connie Piggott-Wilson of Yardie Vibez (Black-Owned Business of the Year); Tammy Lucas (Female of the Year); and Mike “Bear” Rhan (Citizen of the Year.) Photo credit: David Gough.

The theme of the first inaugural Black Excellence Gala and Awards held Saturday night at the Retro Suites, was to elevate and celebrate.

A sold-out crowd celebrated the achievements and community contributions of Chatham-Kent’s Black community.

Doug Robbins, event co-chair and emcee, said the night was a success.

“It is so great to see so many people come together to support this event and  support the initiative to help us rise up and celebrate and elevate our community,” Robbins said.

Citizen of the Year winner Mike ‘Bear’ Rahn is a great example of someone who has made it his life mission to help others and be a community advocate.

Known for his grassroots selfless work in Chatham’s east side, Rhan has a generous heart and influence on everyone he meets, especially those who are struggling.

He’s heavily involved in the neighbourhood, whether it’s cooking at soup kitchens and volunteering with numerous causes, including ComeTogetherCK.

Rahn figures he has been involved in the community for decades, helping out wherever he can. He said he does what he does because he “likes to give back to his community.”

Rahn said although he always tries to take a backseat and is more of a behind-the-scenes person, he said he enjoyed the recognition at the gala.

“A lot of people should be recognized for what they have done,” Rahn said.

Following a nomination period, the categories were voted upon by the public online, with the winners announced at the gala.

Artist Artis Lane, who was unable to attend, was announced as the winner of the Trailblazer Award, which wasn’t voted on by the public. Lane’s sculpture of Rosa Parks is on display in the Oval Office of President Joe Biden. In 1999, she designed Rosa Parks’ Congressional Medal of Honor.

The 2024 Black Excellence Award winners included:

– Female of the Year: Tammy Lucas
– Male of the Year: Blake Handsor
– Black-Owned Business of the Year: Yardie Vibez (Kevry and Connie Piggott-Wilson)
– Agriculturalist of the Year: Kaiya Farms (Christopher and Aimee Prince)
– Youth of the Year: Camryn Dudley
– Citizen of the Year: Mike “Bear” Rhan