June 18, 2008

Living Legends Awards Will Honor Five in Fort Worth

By Chris Vaughn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Jun. 18--FORT WORTH -- Five leading African-Americans with deep Fort Worth ties, including one of the world's pre-eminent jazz composers and one of the Tuskegee Airmen, will be honored Friday with Living Legends Awards by the Renaissance Cultural Center.

The 2008 class marks the 15th year that the cultural center has bestowed the awards, which are named for prominent Fort Worth physician and civil-rights activist Marion J. Brooks.

This year's keynote speaker is Tommie Smith, who won a gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and became internationally famous by raising his arm in a black power salute during the playing of the national anthem.

Smith, a Texan who holds a master's degree in sociology, is now a motivational speaker.

"Each year we try to select someone who can bring motivation to young people and encourage them to reach for higher education," said Gloria Reed Austin, the cultural center's executive director. "He's a part of American history. He was willing to stand up for the civil rights of all individuals, and it cost him a great deal personally."

The banquet is also an opportunity for the cultural center to award with scholarships of $2,500 to 10 high school graduates.

The honorees this year:


Roosevelt Burrell Jr., 81, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade to help his family financially, is an entrepreneur who started two companies in Fort Worth.

A native of Palestine and a Navy veteran, Burrell moved to Fort Worth in the late 1940s and began a career in the construction business. After working his way up at another company, he used his know-how to launch a residential and commercial construction company in 1967.

In 1983, he created another company, Cowtown Traffic Control, which has more than 30 maintenance projects, including in downtown Fort Worth.


Dollie Gentry, 68, spent decades in the healthcare field as a nurse and eventually became a leading voice on the need for more blacks to donate organs.

Gentry became one of the first African-Americans to enter the Harris Hospital School of Nursing in 1963 and emerged as a licensed vocational nurse. After her children finished high school, she went back to school and earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1986.

She served as the renal transplant coordinator at Harris Methodist hospital, and in the early 1990s, joined the staff of LifeGift, which procures organs for transplant patients. She helped educate the community about organ donations and emerged as a major voice locally and nationally about increasing the number of black organ donors.

Community Service

Claude R. Platte, 89, one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen from World War II, has dedicated his life to aviation. A Denison native, Platte was sent to the Tuskegee Institute after graduating from I.M. Terrell High School.

He received a degree in mechanical engineering, and while at Tuskegee, he earned a flight instructor rating. He trained cadets and flew dignitaries around the country. He is proud of having trained a number of men who distinguished themselves in combat over Europe.

He is believed to have been the first black officer to be trained and commissioned in the Air Force pilot training program at Randolph Field in San Antonio after World War II.

He is active in the Knights of St. Peter Claver Court 89, Guardianship Services and Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church. He is a founder of the DFW chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, and he established the Claude R. Platte Future Pilots Flight School this year.


Ornette Coleman, 78, is as well-known outside his hometown, perhaps even more so, as he is in Cowtown.

Coleman, an alto saxophonist who has lived in New York City since the 1950s, is considered one of the most important jazz artists in American history, rivaling Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane in influence and esteem.

A self-taught musician who as a youngster was a familiar sight at "juke joints" on the city's north and south sides, Coleman helped usher in a new style of jazz that blew up the standard jazz format and allowed each musician to take the melody where they wanted. Hugely controversial early in his career, Coleman was eventually regarded as far ahead of his time in jazz composition.

In 2007, Coleman received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Pulitzer Prize for music and a Texas Medal of Arts, sending a signal that Coleman is far from finished with musical accomplishments.


William T. Slater is a former broadcast journalist who most recently served as the dean of the College of Communication at Texas Christian University.

Slater earned his bachelor's degree at Tufts University and master's and doctor of philosophy degree at Stanford University.

He worked as a journalist in Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York, Cleveland and San Francisco, including a stint covering the White House. He was also a press aide to the governor of Massachusetts.

He then embarked on an academic career, working and teaching at the University of Washington, University of Arizona, West Virginia University and the University of Nevada at Reno. He moved to Fort Worth for the TCU post in 2002, but just recently stepped down to return to teaching.

If you go What: Dr. Marion J. Brooks Living Legends Awards

When: Friday with reception at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m.

Where: Fort Worth Club, 306 W. Seventh St.

Information: For tickets, call 817-922-9999 or www.renaissanceculturalcenter.org


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