MAPO gives hope and honors members of the local community throughout the metropolitan area

The Metropolitan Area Professional Organization (MAPO) hosted the 12th Annual Honors Celebration Dinner at SIUE’s Meridian Ballroom on Saturday, May 21 at 4 p.m.

It is the first event of the year for the organization with hundreds of participants. The Granite City Swing Band provided musical entertainment under the direction of MAPO Vice President Butch Mestemacher.

The event honored local people who make “great contributions to church, government, community, personal profession and family.” It also awarded six scholarships and named four young “Rising Stars” who have made significant contributions to communities in the St. Louis area.

“We honor the people who, quite simply, make this world a better place to live,” said MAPO President Dr. Henrietta Young, “We want to show love to those who serve others – the unsung heroes of our communities.”

The winners ranged from Mayor Mike Parkinson of Granite City to KTVI Fox 2 News anchor Ms. Kelley Hoskins, business owners like Bill Gates Scholar Tamika Mitchell and many more.

The most applause was reserved for the Rising Stars awards. Keenon Leflore-Hamburg, Tonnie Kamkwalala Jr, Dhiya Prasanna and Sejal Sekhar all received the Rising Star award.

Leflore-Hamburg is a 17-year-old dancer from East St. Louis who hopes to attend the Juliard School of Music.

“I love dancing because it gives me a chance to express myself,” said Leflore-Hamburg, who has been dancing since kindergarten.

Kamkwalala, 14, of Florissant, Missouri, entertained guests with saxophone and drum solos over dinner.

“I’ve only been playing saxophone for a year, but I’ve been playing drums since I was a year old,” Kamkwalala said. “It helps me connect with others and show them how I feel.”

Kamkwalala often plays at the Jazz Bistro in St. Louis and he hopes to be a touring musician one day.

Prasanna was awarded for her paintings, which were displayed in the ballroom, and Sekhar for her co-founding of a non-profit organization.

MAPO was founded by the Reverend Dr. John Q. Owens and Dr. Dorothy Owens. Reverend Dr. Owens is a retired minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a World War II veteran who served in Okinawa. Dr. Dorothy Owens is a retired counselor at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.

“My husband retired from ministry and I could see he was having depression,” said Dr Dorothy Owens, “I spoke to colleagues about what to do and we decided to to launch a massive support system for those less fortunate than us professionally. Our first event was held at the Notre-Dame des Neiges Shrine in Belleville in 2010 and we have grown in this area.”

Dr. Dorothy Owens explained that the purpose of the organization is to bring hope to others.

“You work hard in your life and we just want you to know you are appreciated,” she said, “Especially for our rising stars. These young people are excelling academically and in their craft. We want you to know that we support you in following your dreams.”