Ohio State President Michael Drake addresses the crowd Wednesday night at the Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom as part of an event celebrating the publication of the 15th edition of “Who’s Who in Black Columbus.” Credit: Abigail Rice | Lantern Reporter

Distinguished leaders in the black community were honored in the 15th edition of “Who’s Who in Black Columbus” Wednesday evening, a celebration of the publication by Who’s Who Publishing highlighting achievements of local African-Americans.

“Among those things I think [this publication] does best is it gives our young people a chance to see those who have had careers in front of them, [to see] people who have blazed trails in front of them and to give them an idea of what they can do in their lives,” Ohio State University President Michael Drake said in a speech at the event.

Located in the Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom in the Ohio Union, the event was attended by entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, educators, athletes and other community leaders and began with a reception to honor the publication’s inductees — outstanding individuals who have made an impact on the city of Columbus.

Following the reception, local business owner and gospel rapper Yaves Ellis, and WBNS-10TV’s Tracy Townsend spoke briefly to introduce Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin.

Hardin said he keeps a past year’s copy of “Who’s Who in Black Columbus” on his desk to remind him where he came from.

“I’ve always thought that it was less important who graces the pages of these books than who opens the pages of these books,” Hardin said.

He went on to describe his younger self flipping through the publications and seeing figures like then-councilwoman Charleta Tavares, an Ohio senator in attendance at the event.

“That’s the importance of Who’s Who in Black Columbus,” Hardin said. “That little girls and little boys can see black faces of folks that are doing things that they want to do when they grow up.”

Drake touched on a similar note in his address.

“We know that the intelligence and drive and innovation that we find in our young people occurs across all ZIP codes in communities around our state, but opportunity does not routinely find itself as equally balanced. Opportunity sometimes finds itself more in privileged places,” he said.

To offset that privilege,  Drake discussed steps the university is taking to better serve economically disadvantaged students, such as expanded aid for Pell Grant recipients to cover their full tuition cost, an initiative announced in September.

Drake’s words were applauded enthusiastically by those in the crowded ballroom.

“We know that there is a particular need to make opportunity available to African-American men and women across our state — to be able to go and do the things, that really you in this room, are doing in the world,” Drake said.

Executive Vice President of Who’s Who Publishing, Ernie Sullivan, took to the stage after singing along to Bruno Mars’ “24k Magic,” which he called a favorite. He went on to thank those in attendance for representing Columbus’ vibrant African-American community.

Touching on the importance of the evening’s honorees, many of whom were present at the event, he also thanked those in attendance for serving future generations of African-Americans.

“We have created value for our children by helping them to know their history and also providing them many positive role models to follow,” Sullivan said.

The night concluded with the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to Alex Shumate, managing partner of Columbus-based law firm Squire Patton Boggs and an Ohio State Board of Trustees member.

Shumate ended his acceptance speech with a word of advice from his parents — advice he hopes will resonate with future generations of leaders.

“It’s nice that you have a good education. It’s nice that some may consider you smart but combine that education with hard work – that’s what will make the difference,” Shumate said.