HARRISBURG - In celebration of Black History Month, Governor Tom Corbett and First Lady Susan Corbett today joined the Governor's Advisory Commission on African American Affairs to recognize African American leaders from across Pennsylvania for their commitment and dedication to their community at an event at the Governor’s Residence.
“When we commemorate Black History Month, we do so by honoring iconic figures, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Justice Thurgood Marshall and many other well-known heroes,” said Corbett. “Today, we are honoring their legacy by recognizing six Pennsylvania ‘everyday heroes’ – leaders whose lives and good works this month, and always, serve as an inspiration to us all.”
Those recognized by Governor Corbett include:
- Samuel Black (Pittsburgh) - Director of African American Programs at the Senator John Heinz History Center.
- Marques Colston (Harrisburg) - Professional football player for New Orleans Saints, who has partnered with PinnacleHealth, the Salvation Army and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to promote healthy lifestyles for children and young adults.
- William Neal (Pittsburgh) - Founder, Champion Enterprises, a 39 year non-profit (all volunteer) organization that provides programs for disadvantaged and low-income members of the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Counties.
- Valerie Pritchett (Harrisburg) - Anchor, abc27 News, and sponsor of “Val’s Kids” which features children in foster care who are looking for adoptive homes.
- Peggy Sims (Philadelphia) - Executive Director, Sisters Returning Home, a faith-based initiative for women re-entering society after imprisonment.
- John Wetzel (Harrisburg) - Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
“What we are recognizing is that the quiet heroism - the hard work, optimism and faith in the goodness of human-kind - is an everyday aspect of these individuals’ character,” said Corbett.
The honorees were nominated by members of the Governor's Advisory Commission on African American Affairs.
For more information, visit www.pa.gov.
The biographies of the Black History Month honorees are listed below:
Director of African American Programs, Senator John Heinz History Center
Samuel has over 20 years experience in museum and historical society institutions. At the Heinz History Center he has curated: “Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era” that travelled to seven cities and was the recipient of four awards, including the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Award of Merit and the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Cultural Organizations, S.K.Stevens Memorial Award. Samuel serves as the President of the Association of African American Museums and has been a member since 1992.
Wide Receiver, New Orleans Saints
Marques Colston is a native of Harrisburg (a graduate of Susquehanna Township High School) and a Super Bowl-winning wide receiver with the New Orleans Saints. He has established himself as an NFL star, but remains close to the midstate community where his career began. Colston owns the Harrisburg Stampede, a Professional Indoor Football League team that won a league championship last season. He’s called his stake in the franchise “more of a community impact investment” while partnering with PinnacleHealth to promote healthy lifestyles among children and young adults. Colston and the Stampede have also worked with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and the Salvation Army in Harrisburg.
William R. Neal, Jr.
Founder, Champion Enterprises
Nearly 40 years ago, Neal created Champion Enterprises, an all-volunteer community service agency that annually provides programs at no cost to low-income residents in the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Counties. Champion Enterprises’ programs have served over 50,000 residents – with over 10,000 of them being children. It has assisted over 500 student-athletes attend college; has fed more than 4,000 senior citizens at Thanksgiving; and has honored more than 2,000 individuals at the Willie Stargell MVP Awards banquets. In addition, Neal’s organization annually gives away toys and clothing at it Toys for Champions event.
Anchor, abc27 News, and sponsor of “Val’s Kids”
Valerie Pritchett is a local reporter and anchors abc27 News "Live at Five" and abc27 News at 7 p.m. Valerie helped her station earn a Service to Community Award from the National Association of Broadcasters, one of the highest honors a broadcast television station can receive for Operation Safe Kids, which she produced and reported in October 2010 to promote fire safety and the importance of installing smoke alarms. This was after the fire-related deaths of four children and an adult. A project close to her heart is “Val’s Kids,” a television segment that features children in foster care who, through the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network, are looking for adoptive homes.
Executive Director, Sisters Returning Home
In 2009 Sims founded, and serves as the executive director of, Sisters Returning Home -- a faith-based initiative that provides services to female ex-offenders upon their release from prison. By providing assistance with housing, job training, education and other services, the organization supports women as they become productive citizens of their community. She has partnered with Villanova University to further these efforts.
John E. Wetzel
Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Gov. Tom Corbett nominated John E. Wetzel as secretary of the Department of Corrections on December 17, 2010, and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on May 3, 2011. Secretary Wetzel is responsible for the management and operations of the Corrections Department which houses more than 51,000 inmates, has approximately 15,000 employees, and a nearly $2 billion budget. During his tenure in corrections, Wetzel has presented statewide and nationally on various topics from inmate labor issues, the mentally ill in corrections to jail staffing and conducting vulnerability assessments, as well as, having several articles published nationally, and books on jail staffing and vulnerability assessments. Additionally, he has been part of several efforts which have reduced jail population, to include leading a process in Franklin County where the jail population was reduced by 20%.
Courtesy: Office of the Governor