Spotlighting The Cliff: Saluting a few of Oak Cliff’s notable contributors

The Dallas Examiner

A celebration of local success and engagement to “recognize the best Oak Cliff businesses, organizations and individuals in 2016 for their achievements, community contributions and milestones…” was held Jan. 26 at The Kessler Theater on West Davis Street. State Rep. Rafael Anchia, District 103, served as master of ceremonies for the yearly Spotlighting the Cliff awards presented by the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber recognized Taylor Toynes, the winner of the 2016 Community Advocate of the Year, for his service to the children of the area.

“Taylor is a young man with a vision and a passion for our youth in Oak Cliff, so much so he founded a nonprofit, For Oak Cliff,” said presenter Edwin Cabaniss, owner of The Kessler Theater. “His back to school events have supplied thousands of children with backpacks and school supplies.”

While Toynes appeared appreciative of the recognition, he informed the audience that the attention of the win should not be just focused on him.

“Advocacy is something that I’ve done for a while. I’m a third generation individual who lived in Oak Cliff. My whole family is from here, where I was born and raised,” he said. “Thank you guys for giving this opportunity but I just want to speak for advocacy. It’s something that’s very important that we all speak out and we talk about those less fortunate and those who don’t have everything that they need to get done what’s necessary for their everyday lives.

“We all know that Dallas is a tale of two cities and so is Oak Cliff, and right now, more than ever, is a time that we come together and we work as a team. Community is a very special thing to me. I believe that if we come together as one we’ll be able to do a lot more and advocate for a lot more people.”

He spoke on how his grandmother came from North Oak Cliff and how the experiences that she lived through helped direct his drive to aid others.

“She grew up in The Bottoms, in the 10th Street historic district, which is a Freedmans Town, and the stories that she told me were mind-blowing and life changing. Those are things I hold true and dear to my heart,” Toynes said.

“So I just want to continue to serve out the purpose of those who came before me, and those who come after me, like my daughter and my students, because those are the people who inspire me to do this work – and it’s all about someone else. It’s the most selfless work that I could possibly do,” he added.

The Commemorative Air Force was the winner of the 2016 New Business/Development of the Year. The CAF, based out of Dallas Executive Airport, acts as an education and preservation museum for original combat aircraft in flying condition. Founded in 1957, the CAF only recently moved from Midland to the Metroplex, staging its first airshow at its new home base in October of last year.

As Shirley Heitzman, director of support initiatives and community engagement of Faith Family Academy, introduced the CAF’s nomination, she mentioned the organization wanted to promote their efforts with a specific quote, saying, “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future,” to which she added, “Which seems particularly appropriate right now.”

When Adam Smith, executive vice president of strategic development at the CAF, stepped to the stage, he reminded those in attendance of the role that his group played in the community.

“What’s taken shape with the Commemorative Air Force is a vision for a world-class visitor attraction that we want to build at the airport,” Smith said.

He went on to disclose that, while the attendance for last year’s air show was predicted to be about 8,000 people, 19,000 was the final tally.

“Next month we’ll have 3,000 school kids coming through our hangar to learn about the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. This is what we’re about,” Smith said. “We’re the world’s largest flying museum. We fly our planes, we create excitement, we educate young people about the past so that they can apply the lessons and the accomplishments of the greatest generation to the challenges and problems that our society faces today.”

Another major honor of the evening was the 2016 Event of the Year Award. Anchia emphasized the concept behind the category, explaining, “The nominees have all created and executed events in the Oak Cliff area that focus on our community and bring visitors to a special oasis across the river in Dallas.”

The Concord Church took the prize for the Event award for their July program Together We Stand.

“It was an urgent call to prayer at the heels of a senseless and horrible murder of five police offers who were serving and protecting a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Dallas,” presenter Jorge Baldor of The Latino Center for Leadership Development remarked. “It was a coming together of people looking for something to hold on to after the staggering effects of the recent violence, not only in our nation but here in our home.

“This service included pastors of all races, leading the community in prayer, scripture reading and reflection,” he said.

Other awards presented during the evening included:

• Business of the Year: Jefferson Tower

• Public Servant of the Year: Judge Juan Jasso

• Chairman’s Award: Cienda Partners – Barry Hancock & Phil Weiss

• President’s Award: Winnie Neal – Methodist Dallas Hospital

• Chamber Staff Award: Rhonda Hutchinson – Techgizmo

The award program will be back with new nominees next year. More information on the the role of the Chamber within the community can be found online at http://www.oakcliff chamber.org.

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