Eight Monmouth County volunteers, community leaders and social justice advocates were honored March 13 during the 30th annual Wilbur Ray Scholarship Dinner at Branches in West Long Branch.
The event, sponsored by Brookdale and the Brookdale Community College Foundation, has recognized the “unsung” activism of more than 200 local heroes and raised tens of thousands of dollars for minority student scholarships since its inception in 1986.
This year’s honorees included Craig Bogard, cofounder of Aslan Youth Ministries; Phyllis Ledbetter, retired director of THE SPOT youth services program; Tyrone Laws, founder of Kwest for Truth; Olivia Sparks, member of the Old Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Englishtown; Franklyn Rother, dean of social sciences at Brookdale; Pauline Smith, member of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank; Daniel Harris III, member of Second Baptist Church of Asbury Park; and Dr. Webster Trammell, retired vice president of development, community and government relations at Brookdale.
Full bios for each honoree are available here.
Mary Scott, chair of the Wilbur Ray Scholarship Dinner Committee and emcee for the dinner, began the event by reading the poem “Because of You” by Jacqueline Burciaga.
“To our heroes and she-roes who are being honored tonight, I dedicate this poem to you,” Scott said. “You continue to bring joy, hope and encouragement and laughter to many, because of the God in you. Everyone to be honored this evening is an unsung hero of our community.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy, we said the annual dinner is one of her favorite events on the school calendar.
“I look forward to this every year,” Murphy said. “Every year I get to meet new honorees who exemplify that spirit of Wilbur Ray in so many ways. This is a special event, and we are blessed to be here together.”
The dinner, and the scholarships that are funded each year by its proceeds, are carried out in honor of the late Wilbur Ray, a former Brookdale police sergeant and long-time community activist in Long Branch. Ray’s daughter, Catherine Hamlin, and other extended family members took time out during the dinner to thank the honorees and the supporters of the dinner for working to keep Wilbur Ray’s legacy alive.
“My dad was a kind and unpretentious person who put family first. He loved young people and he loved working in his community,” Hamlin said. “On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank you all.”
The honorees were presented by their friends and family members, who often quoted poetry or sang songs to convey their appreciation for their loved ones’ work.
Dean Rother, who was honored with a rendition of Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would Have Made it Without You,” recounted how he became involved in the struggle for civil rights as a young boy in St. Louis.
Since then, he said, he has dedicated his life to ensuring all people are afforded the same opportunities for advancement and happiness.
“We have to help our youth get a college education, so they can have a good career and a good paying job,” he said. “I promise you that I will make my job at Brookdale that access point for underserved and underrepresented populations in Monmouth County.
Dr. Trammell, who was introduced by his son Ian, joined Rother in calling the Wilbur Ray awards one of the highest honors Brookdale has to give. In addition to serving on a wide range of volunteer boards and Monmouth County community groups throughout his life, Trammell was also a cofounder and a 29-year member of the Wilbur Ray committee.
“When we first started this, I don’t think we ever thought it would end up here,” he said, addressing a crowd of more than 200. “This dinner is about bringing community together, and recognizing people not for the big things, but for the small consistent things that they do. Wilbur Ray is probably looking down on us now, saying you guys did good.”
Other honorees spoke poetically about the work they had done, the people they had helped and the differences they had made in communities across Monmouth County. From at-risk teens in Asbury Park to families without food or heat in Red Bank, the honorees were also adamant that their work was not yet finished.
Pauline Smith, who was honored as a Senior Trailblazer for her years of service in Red Bank, thanked the Wilbur Ray committee and its supporters for allowing countless disadvantaged youths the opportunity to pursue a college education. That support, she said, is just as vital now as it was 30 years ago.
“Somebody has to take care of them. Somebody has to be concerned,” she said. “Let’s get together and take care of our children.”
The Wilbur Ray Memorial Scholarship will award $500 to four Brookdale students and $1,000 to one local high school graduate this year. For more information or to learn how to get involved with the scholarship fund, click here.
To see more photos of the scholarship dinner, click here.