Heritage organization honors Living Legends

06/04/2014 4:25 PM

06/04/2014 4:26 PM

After being a guest at the Dr. Marion J. Brooks Living Legends Awards ceremonies for several years, Erma Bonner Platte was surprised to find her name on the program.

“I never thought I would get one,” said Platte, 80. “I didn’t think I was that important.”

But the former teacher is an ideal example of the kind of folks who deserve such recognition from the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum, said Jim Austin, 63, the museum’s co-founder, who helped develop the annual award 21 years ago.

Platte is one of five women and men who are being recognized Thursday for leadership in and contributions to Fort Worth’s arts, education, business, community service and government. They join about 110 people who have been recognized over the past two decades for putting their community above themselves, Austin said.

“They’re people who have made a difference in the Fort Worth community,” Austin said. “These Living Legends are African-American. But the people in the audience will be very diverse.”

The audience will also include some of the previous recipients, Austin said.

“We’ve lost about 30 of them, and we’ll recognize them in the souvenir book,” Austin said. “Those we’re honoring Thursday are receiving their flowers while they’re still alive.”

Platte, who will get the art-and-culture award, is a self-taught artist who planned to use degrees in chemistry, biology, botany and physics just about anywhere but a classroom. Turned out, she fought for the chance to do just that during the infancy of Fort Worth’s desegregation.

“I came to Fort Worth ISD in 1956-57, teaching first grade at East Van Zandt School,” Platte said. “My mother, Ruth Weisner Bonner, and I circulated a petition to open the school for Negroes. We got more than 500 signatures, walking the streets for three days.”

The rest of the honorees include:

Alene Washington

Washington, 68, the community-service award recipient, said she is awed by the prospect.

“I never would have imagined I would receive such a prestigious award,” Washington said.

A Fort Worth native, Washington has been director at Fellowship Corner Senior Center for 40 years.

Devoyd Jennings

Jennings, 67, has taken a leadership role in such community and civic issues as energy policies and small businesses, and is president of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce.

He said that if someone perceived the Living Legend Award as a lifetime achievement-type honor after which the recipient would rest on his laurels, well, that just didn’t apply to him.

“I know what season it is,” Jennings said. “I’m not as young as I was. But sometimes the opportunities are still out there to do more and I still have some juice left.”

However, Jennings also realizes that his legacy should include the young leadership that he trains to take his place, and “that’s kind of what I’m doing now.”

Johnnie L. Young

Young, 62, has been a leader in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Fort Worth, and helped develop HUD-approved counseling agencies here, in Dallas and Midland. He served on the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Handbook/Guideline team.

“This award means that you never know who’s watching you and when somebody will appreciate what you’ve done,” Young said.

Dennis L. Dunkins

Dunkins, 73, another Cowtown native, was a product of and a leader in the Fort Worth school district. After retiring as the district’s EEOC officer, Dunkins started his own educational consulting company.

“I have attended these [awards ceremonies] and I’ve chaired a couple of them,” Dunkins said. “It’s interesting to be on the other side. I don’t look for accolades, yet I appreciate them when they come. Anytime the community feels you’ve done something to be recognized for it’s a big deal to me.”

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

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