Howard University honors its own Bison stars

“Howard University gives you a certain strength with your cultural identity, and if you have that you can face anything in the world.” –Actress and choreographer Debbie Allen

LOS ANGELES-Executive Preparatory Academy of Finance CEO Omar McGee encourages his students to attend historically black colleges and universities. For McGee, a Howard University alum, HBCU’s provide a cultural and academic lifeline that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.

McGee knows this firsthand. Before he came to Howard, McGee struggled with who he was. Being at Howard University helped the Michigan native cultivate his niche in life. McGee is doing the same for other students, pushing and prodding them into the HBCU pipeline.

“I push all my students to HBCUs,” McGee said. “I’m very unapologetic about that, because it’s us. It’s our jobs to make our schools and colleges stronger. That’s a goal of mine, and that is to make sure…there’s nobody better than educating our kids than us. We know we’ve got their backs and we know we can put them in position to succeed and put them around a healthy environment where they can feel confident.”

That environment means surrounding young HBCU prospects with like-minded individuals who have already reached professional, business and philanthropic success.

Several of McGee’s students got a taste of this when they recently accompanied their school’s co-founder to the LA Bison Honors gala dinner sponsored by the Howard University Alumni Club of Los Angeles County. The inaugural event, which was held at the Museum of African Art within the Crenshaw Baldwin Hills Plaza, served as an awards presentation to outstanding Howard University alum.

Actress and noted choreographer Debbie Allen was one of the honorees at the inaugural LA Bison Honors event that took place at the Museum of African American Art on Saturday, May 20, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

The dinner, commemorating the 150th anniversary of Howard University, also operated as a fundraiser with all proceeds slotted to go students entering the Washington, D.C. school in the fall. Executive Preparatory Academy of Finance student Savanah Caylor made her decision of attending Howard University based on the diversity of the university.

“I love meeting successful black people,” Caylor said. “I feel like Howard is a breeding ground for successful black people, and I would like to be part of that one day.”

Caylor, like her peers at Executive Preparatory Academy of Finance, got a head start towards that goal at the LA Bison Honors celebration.

Howard University, which has produced the likes of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the nation’s highest court, literary master Toni Morrison, and revolutionary activist Stokely Carmichael, has had and continues to have a litany of power brokers making things happen and changing the world on its face.

“Empire” star Taraji P. Henson, music mogul Sean “P. Diddy,” the great Donny Hathaway, CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield, songstress Roberta Flack, civil rights icon Andrew Young, Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, and actress Phylicia Rashad are among its many noted alumni. And the list continues to grow.

Howard University alum Singer Sy Smith (left) pays homage to her fellow Bison members attorney Kevin Mahoney and Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i at the LA Bison Honors dinner. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

Rashad’s sister-famed dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, along with several other Howard University alumnus, were being feted for their contributions in their respective professions.

The Howard University Alumni Club of Los Angeles County feted Allen, California Senator Kamala Harris, attorney Kevin Mahoney, Esq., and Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i at the first LA Bison Honors gala dinner.

Harris, the first African American and first black woman to serve in the capacity of Attorney General for the state of California, did not attend the black-tie event. Harris is only the second African American woman to be elected to the United States Senate.

Though Harris was not able to attend the event, Allen, dressed in a stunning white outfit, talked about the invaluable impression of self-worth that Howard University gives to its to student-body. The school most definitely left that kind of impression on her, Allen said.

“Howard University has defined and strengthened my cultural identity, with that I have made a real impression on hundreds of thousands of young people,” said Allen. “Howard University gives you a certain strength with your cultural identity, and if you have that you can face anything in the world.”

Dallas Jackson, an executive director of “Rebel” and his wife, Amani Walker, who is the creator of the Black Entertainment Television (BET) original series, attend the LA Bison Honors gala at the Museum of African American Art on Saturday, May 20, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

For Smith-Anoa’i, executive vice president of Entertainment Diversity, Inclusion, and Communications at CBS Entertainment, Howard University is all about representation. She should know. In her current position, Smith-Anoa’i is responsible for ensuring diversity when it comes to talent-in front of the camera-and behind the scenes.

“I think that Howard University, since its inception, has always been about higher learning, as well as showcasing that representation matters. It is also something I follow in my own career right now.”

Smith-Anoa’i, who was given the “Global Visionary Award” for outstanding leadership in diversity and communications by the university in 2013, said she was excited to be on the receiving end of another award from Howard.

“It’s very surreal to think that your university deems you worthy of an honor,” Smith-Anoa’i said. “It’s a university that is near and dear to my heart. I am thrilled to be here. I still can’t believe that it is real.”

Mahoney, the founding principal of Mahoney Law Group, APC, in Long Beach, specializes in labor and employment litigation. Mahoney called the evening a special night and one he really wasn’t expecting.

Attorney Kevin Mahoney, Esq., actress Debbie Allen and diversity guru Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i were recognized, along with Sen. Kamala Harris, at the LA Bison Honors dinner gala at the Museum of African American Art on Saturday, May 20, 2017. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

“I consider this this to be a special event,” Mahoney said. “It’s an honor to be honored with such prestigious honorees. Never would I have thought that I would ever be honored amongst these greats. Howard is a great institution. I enjoyed my time there.  My time at Howard was a period of intellectual expansion and I thank my lucky stars that I had the opportunity to attend the same law school as my mentor, Hon. Marcus Tucker.”

Singer Sy Smith said Howard University is an institution she is proud of.

“Howard introduced me to other black and brown people who are always pursuing excellence, and introduced me to a generation of the best thinkers, the best writers, intellectuals,” Smith said.

For Rebel executive producer Dallas Jackson, attending Howard University meant more than just celebrating school pride. It was a cultural transformation for him. Howard, like other historically black colleges and universities, shapes and molds students well beyond their academia profile, Jackson said.

“It’s the ‘Mecca’ of higher black education, it’s a place where you can go to transform,” said Jackson, whose wife, Amani Walker, is the creator of Rebel. “It has meant so much to me that I always say that there are two things that I got right, and that’s going to Howard and move to LA. That’s where I met my wife. It’s a personal thing for me…Howard is. It means more than I can probably say in words because it changed me so much. It’s also helped me so much in my life. I always feel like if there is something I can do for it (Howard) or if there is anything that they need from me, I’m always there. I always feel like I owe back from everything that’s been given to me.”

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