The National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum will honor five community leaders with the Dr. Marion J. Brooks Living Legends Award at a ceremony Thursday in Fort Worth.
“Every year we try to bring five ‘Living Legends’ to light in the Fort Worth community and to give them their flowers while they’re on earth,” museum founder Jim Austin said in an interview.
This year’s recipients include Sherry Branch-Breed for education, Alcee Chriss, Sr. for public service, Dr. Gwendolyn Morrison for community service, Deborah Whitlock-Peoples for government/politics and Ray Reed for entertainment.
The award is given to area citizens who stand out in their community and who have dedicated their lives and careers to community service. They all come from different backgrounds and areas of expertise.
“Having people like this who have contributed to the betterment of Fort Worth makes our community great,” Austin said.
The first award was given to Dr. Brooks in 1994. He practiced medicine for about 50 years and was a community activist.
“This year is unique in that the Western Heritage Museum has partnered with the Fort Worth Library,” Austin said. “They have taken our 22 years of artifacts on the Living Legends and are databasing them.”
He added, “We invite the community to come out and pay tribute to these living legends that have given back so much to our community. They have each contributed to the betterment of Fort Worth.”
The Dr. Marion J. Brooks Living Legends Award ceremony is free and open to the public, 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Fort Worth Central Library, 500 W. 3rd St., Fort Worth. Information: www.cowboysofcolor.org or call 817-922-9999.
Here are brief bios of each recipient, provided by the museum:
Branch-Breed, a lifelong Fort Worth resident, grew up watching both her mother and grandmother dedicate much of their time to their students and knew she wanted to do the same. She received her bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M Commerce and master’s from Texas Christian University. She taught pre-kindergarten and first grade before being named the instructional specialist at Como Elementary School in Fort Worth, which she attended as a child and where her grandmother taught. Most recently, she was assigned to create a new division of Equity and Excellence for the Fort Worth Independent School District.
Chriss, a New Orleans native born in 1920, has been serving his country and community since he was drafted into the military in 1942. He served for four years as a member of the Montfort Point Marines, the first African-Americans inducted into the Marine Corps. He eventually moved back to Lousiana, where he opened a tailor shop and finished his bachelor’s degree at Southern University in Baton Rouge. He taught tailoring for several years before going to work for the U.S. Postal Service. He worked there for 29 years before retiring in 1984. He also worked with the Boy Scouts of America for 44 years. Chriss is an active member of his church and consistently volunteers with the Tarrant Area Food Bank. In 2012, he received the Congressional Gold Medal for serving as a Montford Point Marine.
Morrison taught in the Fort Worth school district from 1987 to 1989 before becoming director of employee staffing. She developed a team to recruit and hire professional employees for the district and played an integral part in expanding a program to help teacher aides and school secretaries become certified teachers. Most recently, she has positions on the board of trustees for the Tarrant County College District, board of directors for the Community Hospice of Texas and the Community Food Bank.
Deborah Whitlock Peoples
She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Women’s University, where she is president of the Black Alumni Association. In 2012, she retired as vice president of a major telecommunications company and went on to run and win the position of chairwoman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party. She also has positions on the American Red Cross board North Texas Region, the North Texas board for the United Negro College Fund and is a member of many organizations.
Reed, from Maypearl, was born the son of sharecroppers in 1940. As a young boy he loved listening to records on his grandmother’s Victrola. Reed bought his first guitar as a 16-year-old at a Fort Worth pawn shop. He has played all over the United States and was a bass player for Freddie King.
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Azia Branson: 817-390-7547, @aziabranson