Award ceremony honors Aurora women who make a difference
By Linda Girardi For Sun-Times Media November 1, 2013 9:36AM
Clayton Muhammad, founder of Boys II Men, said the mentoring program will host its seventh annual Phenomenal Man Awards in 2014, and they saw a need to expand their efforts to include women. "When we looked at the balance of what we needed to bring our c
Updated: December 4, 2013 6:28AM
Four women recognized during a Boys II Men “Phenomenal Woman Awards” ceremony shared their stories with thoughts of the younger women in the room.
More than 1,000 people attended the recent ceremonies at the Gaslite Manor in Aurora to honor women for their academic achievement and selfless service in the community.
This year’s recipients were Kimberly Harris, Valarie Humphrey, Jalitza Martinez and Whitney Martino. Another 215 students were recognized for their high grade point averages in high school and college.
Although it was only the second annual awards ceremony, a surprise announcement drew applause from the audience.
Cynthia Latimer, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at West Aurora School District 129 and recipient of a Phenomenal Woman Award in 2012, was invited to speak to the students in attendance.
“This evening is not about anyone else but you,” she told the young women.
Latimer, who will retire from a career in education this year, clutched her hands when Boys II Men founder Clayton Muhammad announced the awards would be renamed in her honor.
Muhammad said Latimer is a role model for young women interested in pursuing excellence in both their professional life and community.
Latimer has been one of the chief supporters of the Boys II Men mentoring organization since it was founded in 2002.
“When you see the work she has done all of these years, you understand what it means to operate in excellence and grace,” Muhammad said. “We want to make certain this city knows what the standard is.”
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Aurora), also invited to speak, encouraged the young women not to let people discourage them from pursuing their goals.
“In order to be phenomenal, sometimes you have to rock the boat and chart a course that might not be traditional,” Kifowit said.
Kifowit, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former Aurora alderman, was presented with the Boys II Men “Achiever of the Year” award from the organization.
Muhammad introduced this year’s award honorees as role models who embody the essence of Maya Angelou’s classic poem, “Phenomenal Woman.”
Harris, a 2005 valedictorian of her senior class at East Aurora High school, is the special projects assistant for the City of Wheaton.
“Realize you are not alone in pursuing your journey to greatness,” Harris said.
Martino, who hails from Galesburg, is an assistant principal at West Aurora High School. Martino said the role model in her life is her mother.
“When faced with adversity, our mother encouraged us to always move forward,” Martino said.
Jalitza Martinez, a graduate of East Aurora High, is a social worker at Dieterich Elementary.
“I admire you for defying the statistical and societal expectations and for having the understanding that it takes more than a pretty face to succeed,” Martinez said.