Dionne Williamson has worked in sales for more than 20 years, currently as the national sales director for Visit Buffalo Niagara.
In that role, she encourages groups to look beyond Buffalo's weather reputation to bring their events here. "We're all about promoting Buffalo as a convention and tourism destination," she said.
But on Saturday night, Williamson was the one receiving some attention, as one of 32 Buffalo Black Achievers award winners.
"When someone acknowledges you, it is nice to be recognized for your small efforts that you do to help the community," she said.
The 45th awards gala at the Adam's Mark hotel drew a sold-out crowd of 800 people. It's an event that celebrates "inspiring stories" each year, said Herbert Bellamy Jr., CEO of Buffalo Black Achievers.
"We're looking for people from all walks of life," Bellamy said. "That's the unique part of Black Achievers. We're not just the doctor, the lawyer. There's many ways to achieve. So we show the community there's many inspiring stories in many different fields."
Another award winner, the Rev. Willie Pulliam, noted Bellamy is continuing an awards tradition started by Bellamy's father. "It's just a beautiful thing to see him carry out his father's vision, and we can't lose sight of that," Pulliam said.
"We've got to continue to uplift others, because we've got some young folks coming behind us that need to uplift so that one day, they'll become a Black Achiever," he said.
Pulliam said the event's co-chair, Sheila Brown, owner of the radio station WUFO, and Rhonda Ricks, who won an entrepreneurship award at the event, set examples for others to follow. "If our young folks can see it, they can believe it," he said.
Robert Mootry Jr., the event's other co-chair, said the awards were happening against the backdrop of a brightening economic picture for the city, and credited Mayor Byron Brown with leading those efforts.
"The growth that is going on in the city of Buffalo is just tremendous, the opportunity for jobs to come back to this particular area, where for years we saw the decline," Mootry said. He is also western region director of CSEA, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and vice president of the NAACP's Buffalo chapter.
The event's emcee was Petri Hawkins Byrd, the bailiff on the long-running TV courtroom show "Judge Judy." His mother, sister and brother live in Buffalo. "Buffalo's like a second home to me," he said.
The event was new to Hawkins Byrd, but it impressed him. "The 45-year history speaks for itself," he said.
The 32 award winners were: Andre Tucker, Anthony Johnson, Charlette Smith, Curtis Tony Grant, Darnell Barton, Darnell J. Haywood Jr., Dawn Marie Bracely, Deatra L. White-Paris, Dionne Williamson, Cleveland Southern, Drea Dnur, Janiah Patterson, Janique Curry, Jared Threat, Jessica L. Bryson, and Karen Stanley-Fleming.
Also: Karl Shallowhorn, La'Ree Hendricks, Landrum Beard, Lindsey Taylor, Marty McLaughlin, Misty Garrett, Nancy R. Crenshaw, Dwayne Jones, Patrick Colston, Ras Jomo Akono, Reggie Witherspoon, Renee D. Moody-Sims, Rev. Willie Pulliam, Stephan Lamar Perry, Tyrone F. Christopher Jr., and Vernon Duncan.
In addition to the 32 award winners, there were four special awards: Rev. Mark Blue, community service award; Rhonda A. Ricks, entrepreneur of the year award; Nekla Kemp, mayor's youth award; and Rona Drinkard, homecoming award. City Honors and the International Preparatory School were also recognized.