Members of the meetings and hospitality community gathered virtually on March 25 for the Events Industry Council’s annual Global Awards ceremony, honoring Hall of Leaders inductees and, new this year, Social Impact Award recipients.
The celebration was warm and thoughtful throughout, with tributes to and reflections from the new HOL inductees—John H. Graham IV, CAE, the long-time president and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives, honored posthumously; Anita Pires, president of Pires Destinations & Events Intelligence based in Coqueiros, Brazil; and Jonathan Howe Esq., president & senior partner at Howe & Hutton, Ltd.
However, it was the Social Impact Award recipients who most deeply embraced the theme of the event, “A Moment of Hope and Reflection,” with their comments. Here are excerpts from their acceptance speeches.
Latoya Lewis (pictured) was given the individual Social Impact Award for her work over the past six years as founder and executive director of EnventU, a pipeline to professions in the live-events industry for youth living in marginalized communities:
“I want to thank Amy Calvert and the entire EIC team for creating this award, especially during a time when, as an industry, we are being extremely tested, and honestly, it would be easy to not pay attention to social impact and social issues. But this has been a year that has really demanded all of us to look at our history and to have a racial awakening as it relates to diversity, inclusion, equity, and society. … We've all been doing our own reflection this year, and I am no different, reflecting on why I continue this work and why I continue this journey. What it boils down to is our young people. Our students have made me so hopeful. I am able to have a front-row seat on their development. I'm able to experience the industry for the first time over and over through their eyes, and it has been an amazing experience. As they remain hopeful for who they can become, and who they can envision themselves to be, and what is now available to them through these experiences, it makes me hopeful for us as an industry and what we have to offer the next generation.”
For the Social Impact Award that went to an organization, Mary Jo Blythe, president of Masterplan, accepted on behalf of The Above and Beyond Foundation. The organization recognizes and rewards outstanding front-line hospitality industry workers, and over the past year has been providing $500 “urgent aid” grants to those workers affected by the Covid-19 crisis:
“I would like to thank everyone who has donated to our cause and helped to spread the word about the foundation. Their generosity helped to provide over 800 urgent aid grants to Covid-affected workers in this past year, and our work still continues. And I would like to thank the ones we honor—the front lines of our industry who work tirelessly to support our events. These individuals are truly the backbone of hospitality, and without them, the events industry would simply not exist. We honor them for all they have done, their commitment to our success, and their future endeavors.”
The third Social Impact Award, Leading in Times of Crisis, was presented to Black tourism and destination marketing executives, 20 in all, for their leadership during a year of racial reckoning for the U.S. These leaders penned an open letter last June, reflecting on the experience of being Black in the meetings and hospitality industry. Jason Dunn, group vice president, diversity sales & inclusion, Cincinnati USA CVB, was one of those who EIC recognized and also was among the hosts for the virtual event:
“Our work is not complete. We must continue to be bold and courageous. It must be a collective effort. And we all must take a stand to raise these issues, to encourage commitment, collaboration, and real change. Our industry has the ability to lead the nation by proving that our collective actions are bigger than ourselves.”
Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, and Melvin Tennant, president and CEO, Meet Minneapolis, were two other signatories to the letter who were recognized and who spoke during the Global Awards ceremony. Ferguson reflected on that letter:
“It was an opportunity to look within ourselves, to make sure that we are the messenger, listening, engaging, learning, and unlearning. Because for all of us, it's about doing better. It's about Melvin's 30-plus years in the industry as well as mine, and so many others who have been at the table and recognized that few opportunities continue to exist for people that look like us. It's about talking to our colleagues who we know so well, but who perhaps know so little about what it was like for us to grow up in this industry, to excel to where we are. It's about the fact that when you see me on stage dressed a certain way, you say “that's a great guy,” but walking down your street at night when it's dark, perhaps you see me as a threat. … So, for us it's about Black Lives Matter. … On behalf of myself, my team, and my colleagues who played a huge role in writing this, I say, humbly, thank you to the EIC for this recognition, and also for the opportunity for us to continue to focus on doing better.”