Finally, some truly deserving “Academy Award” winners.

“Accolades,” known as the statewide “Academy Awards of Child Advocacy,” honored individuals from across Texas for their commitment to improving the lives of children. The awards were handed out recently during Children at Risk’s annual Accolades Luncheon.

The event’s featured honoree, however, was the illustrious Dr. Ruth Simmons, former president of Smith College, Brown University and most recently, Prairie View A&M University.

“I’m so humbled and really honored to be recognized in this way by Children at Risk, an organization that through collaboration with so many organizations, fights bravely for the betterment of children’s lives,” said Simmons. “Theirs is a mission that is deeply, deeply meaningful to me.”

Simmons didn’t stop there.

“I say this very often to people who are doing this work who perhaps don’t recognize how vital it is for those people who suffer to know that somebody’s working tirelessly on their behalf. Whether formulating evidence-based policy recommendations or catalyzing important changes in the quality of life for children through education and advocacy, Children at Risk is saving lives and assuring better futures for thousands of deserving young people.”

Simmons, who currently serves as the lone President’s Distinguished Fellow at Rice University and Adviser to the President of Harvard University on its HBCU initiative, is a proud Wheatley High School alum, and she let “Accolades” attendees gathered at Hotel Zaza know it.

“You should know right away that Fifth Ward is a lot better than Third Ward. Yes. And Wheatley is better than Yates,” she said to both laughter and contention.

But beyond her jovial remarks, Simmons was dead serious about her respect for the work done by all of the organizations who had nominees in line for various “Accolades” regional and statewide awards, sharing her personal testimony.

“Your hopes and ambitions for children, you must know, can work magic for them. Looking back, it’s hard for me even today to believe what their efforts brought. That a girl from Fifth Ward could, as part of the first generation to benefit from the full enfranchisement of Blacks, start in segregated schools in Houston, progress to college, and ultimately reach the heights of academic leadership by becoming the first African American to lead an Ivy League University is evidence of what efforts like those of this organization can bring to the world,” said Simmons.

The event, emceed by Fox 26 News anchor Rashi Vats, offered words that not only celebrated great work being done for youth across Texas, but expressed the urgency and need for more work to be done so that Black and Brown youth don’t have to be in a position to “beat the odds.”

“Every child should be able to grow up in our state and know that the odds are with them for success, but in fact they’re not,” said Dr. Bob Sanborn, president and CEO, Children at Risk. “And that is what Children at Risk is all about. How do we even out the odds? How do we change the system so that those 63% of our kids who are growing up in low-income families, those 70% of our kids that are children of color in our state, the third of our kids that are immigrants; how do we make sure that all of those kids, every single one of our children can be successful? And that’s what Children at Risk is all about. Our staff works tirelessly to make sure that we can even the odds and make sure the kids can be successful in our state.”

Organizations nominated or having workers nominated for awards included Boys & Girls Club of Greater Houston, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Collaborative for Children, Texas Association for the Education of Young Children, LifeWorks Austin, El Paso Guidance Center, Sacred Heart Church (El Paso), Bachman Lake Together, United Way of Tarrant County, Children’s Bereavement Center, Big Heros Inc., Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties, Coordinated Approach to Child Health, The Immunization Partnership, Texas Tech University Health Sciences El Paso, The Arc of Texas, KNOWAutism, Latinos for Education, AVANCE, Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Big Thought, Head Start of Greater Dallas, Big Brothers Big Sisters – Lone Star, FunkyTownFridge, ImmSchools, Our Turn, College of Juvenile Justice and Psychology at Prairie View A&M University, Environmental Defense Fund, Texas Partnership for Out of School Time, Texas Girls Collaborative Project and the Texas Collaborative for Healthy Mothers and Babies.

“Those who stand on the margins of society deserve to know that there are people working tirelessly to improve their prospects for useful and fulfilling lives,” Simmons said of those organizations and their members in attendance at the luncheon.

Sanborn closed the event reflecting on the work of the current Texas Legislature which he described as less than helpful to children and education.

“How do we make sure that we can move beyond that so that our state isn’t run by politicians with small minds when we live in times that demand big thinking? And in many ways Children at Risk is there to say, ‘What are the big thoughts? How do we ensure the bigger success of our children? How do we ensure that every single child has this opportunity to be successful?’ So, every day we are fighting for kids. Every day we’re fighting for families. And I’m so excited that everyone here and all the people in the room, all the nominees that do this wonderful work, that they’re out there with us… But we also need the group at Children Risk and the larger groups that work with us to change the system to make sure that kids are successful.”

Event co-chairs included Robert & Georgiana Ladd and Benjamin & Mary Patton.

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...