Manatee NAACP honors history makers, trailblazers at inaugural Heritage Ball

jdeleon@bradenton.comJune 29, 2014 

PALMETTO -- They call them the history makers and trailblazers of Manatee County.

They have left their mark on the community through their service, dedication and hard work.

On Saturday night, members and officers of the Manatee County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gathered at the Palmetto Youth Center to pay tribute to honorees of the first ever Heritage Ball.

The Manatee County NAACP created the ball to salute those individuals who went above and beyond the norm to accomplish great work and service in Manatee County in the areas of healthcare, politics, military, athletics and business.

The 2014 Heritage Ball History Makers and Trailblazers:

• Dr. Clifford Ward : Healthcare

• Clarence Love Sr.: Politics

• Steve Lewis: Military (Buffalo Soldier)

• Leon Harris: Athletics (Negro Baseball League)

• Westside Funeral Home: Business

Steve Lewis, a Buffalo Soldier, was among those history makers honored for his military service.

"If you are looking for the history of Manatee County, he'll tell it to you," presenter Henry Blyden said.

Lewis, 92, later went on to serve the community as a teacher for Manatee County schools for more than 30 years. His students were among those present and even those being honored on Saturday.

"I'm probably one of the last group of Buffalo Soldiers," Lewis said.

Clarence Love Sr., the first black elected official in Bradenton or Manatee County, was honored for his service in politics.

Palmetto Commissioner Charles Smith spoke on how Love stood the test when he presented him the award.

"When they told him 'Don't do, don't run', he did it," Smith said. "This individual paved the way for us."

Love humbly recalled those times.

"I'm real glad to have had the experience," Love said.

Westside Funeral Home, a family-run business in Palmetto, was honored for serving the community for three generations. George Woodie Sr. thanked their grandparents for the legacy they created.

"We pray that we can continue to plant seeds that the next generation will serve with integrity and compassion as well," he said.

Dr. Clifford "Billy" Ward was presented his award by his children.

"His lifelong dream was to give back to the community and help others," daughter Dr. Tasha Ward said. "He has achieved that."

He was able to do that by working with the State of Florida Dental Public Health Department in addition to his private practice.

Daughter Adrienne Ward Paramore choked up as she handed him the award, saying, "He is the greatest inspiration of our lives."

Ward was grateful as he stood by his daughters and son Stefan Ward.

"In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be standing here and receiving such an honor," he said.

In the area of athletics, Leon Harris Sr. was honored for his participation in the Negro Baseball League.

His son Michael Harris presented him with the award and shared some of the lessons he learned from his father.

"Competition is what makes everyone relevant," Michael Harris said. "If you don't want to compete, don't allow yourself to be bullied."

His father spoke of the African-American community based on his experience traveling with the league.

"Integration was the downfall of our African-American society," he said. "When I traveled to the towns in the United States and Canada, I saw the African-American community and how self-sufficient it was. We should have fought for assimilation."

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can reach her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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