GRCC honors Michael B. Johnson, Sr. as Giant Among Giants

Feb. 18, 2019 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Michael B. Johnson, Sr. was named the 2019 Giant Among Giants at a ceremony Saturday, saluting a lifetime of servant leadership.

Since 1983, Grand Rapids Community College has presented the annual awards recognizing African-American individuals or organizations for their exceptional contributions shaping the history and quality of life of the Grand Rapids area. Each award is named after a local person who has demonstrated excellence and serves as a perpetual memorial to those notable contributions.

"The Giants Award celebrate people who have contributed to the Grand Rapids community in monumental ways," said B. Afeni McNeely Cobham, GRCC's chief equity and inclusion officer. 

"Award honorees are recognized for impacting the quality of life for Grand Rapid community members. The legacy of 'lifting as we climb,' as noted by Mary Church Terrell, lives on in the recipients of the Junior Giants scholarship. The award ceremony serves as a public affirmation of the event’s core mission: to honor the service leadership of people who relentlessly serve others."

Proceeds from the event benefit the Grand Rapids Community College Foundation’s Milo M. Brown Memorial Scholarship and the Junior Giants Fund. 

A Grand Rapids native, Johnson has been active in faith-based and civic service organizations for most of his life. He is still active in several, including North Star Lodge #5 Prince Hall, Life and Golden Heritage NAACP membership, the Southeast Community Association, American Legion Post #59, Kent County Children’s and Family Council, Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Tour Experience. He also is a member of St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church.

Johnson has always valued education and a commitment to lifelong learning. He was instrumental in the installation of the Milo M. Brown Scholarship.

And for decades, Johnson has brought comfort to families during difficult times in his leadership of Brown’s Funeral Home, the oldest black-owned funeral parlor in Grand Rapids.

Johnson was previously awarded the Raymond K. Tardy Community Service Giants Award in 1990.

The Junior Giants Award, named in honor of Giants founders Dr. Patricia Pulliam and Cedric Ward, go to students of African-American heritage who have demonstrated leadership, community involvement and impact. City High School student Jmyrea White and Hope College student Maya Smith received this year's awards and their attached scholarships.

Victoria Ann Upton, who passed in September, will receive the William Glenn Trailblazer Award. Upton founded her magazine in 1998 as a platform for women to engage, connect and learn. She was also a founding member of Local First and served on committees connected with ArtPrize, Gilda Club, GRandJazzFest, the American Heart Association, Laughfest, Gazelle Girls, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, the Hispanic Festival and the Kent County Parks Foundation.

Other Giants Award recipients are:

  • Walter Coe Public Service Award -- Attorney Mari Beth Johnson-Jelks, who recently retired as Grand Rapids' managing director of Administrative Services after serving 30 years with the city.
  • Eugene Browning Medical Service Award -- Vascular surgeon Jason D. Slaikeu, who also serves as chair of the Spectrum Health Medical Group's board of directors and a member of the Spectrum Health Hospital board of directors.
  • W.W. Plummer Humanitarian Award -- LaSandra “Sandra” A. Gaddy, the first African-American female private banking executive with National City Bank (now PNC) in West Michigan, now serves as CEO of the Women's Resource Center.
  • Ethel Coe Humanities Award -- Lisa M. Knight, director of Health, Wellness and Youth at the Grand Rapids Urban League.
  • Milo Brown Business Award -- Troy Yarbrough, founder and CEO of Preferred Construction Group.
  • Phyllis Scott Activist Award -- Cole Williams, life skills facilitator at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center and founder and CEO of Son to a Father and ColeSpeaks LLC. 
  • Raymond Tardy Community Service Award -- Community activist India Manns, who has campaigned for funding to support the YWCA Helen Claytor Recognition Society, scholarships to fund visits to historically black colleges, and other causes.
  • H.C. Toliver Religious Life Award -- Bishop Dennis J. McMurray and Dr. E. Jean Lackey-McMurray, who founded Renaissance Church of God in Christ and the Victory in the Word ministry.
  • Martha Reynolds Labor Award -- Carrie L. Jackson, the Special Assigned Benefit representative for UAW/GM.

Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for more than 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.

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