WEST PALM BEACH — Community leaders and entrepreneurs were recognized for excellence in the black business community at the 3rd Annual Ascension Awards sponsored by the Black Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County.

Hundreds of businessmen and women, elected officials, civic leaders and community members were in attendance to support the nominees for their outstanding contributions during the Nov. 30 luncheon event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

Noting that small businesses and large businesses have suffered during the current economic decline, keynote speaker A. Wayne Gill, CEO of Gill Dion & Forsyth, said sometimes adversity creates opportunities, and it is important to realize that choices are available. Gill, the author of Tales My Grandma Told Me – A Business Diversity Fable, founded his successful law firm when his previous employer went out of business.

Business Legend nominee Randolph K. Johnson Sr. said innovative ideas have been the key to his success.

“In January, we’ll be in business for 30 years. We’re in the cutting edge of business, telephone communications,” he said. “All business is good so I don’t want to knock any business, but somehow people have always thought of us in black business as being lawn service or janitorial.” Johnson said those are very valued and needed services but he would like people in the community to know that black people are very innovative in all fields.

Shirley G. Arline, founder of CoWorks International, a human resources management consulting firm, was very excited to see several women as honorees. Six women were nominated for Ascension Awards this year.

“There are more challenges for women in business but you have to be that much more focused and persevering,” she said. “Provide exceptional customer service and customer care. And make sure you have a professional staff. Once you do that, it doesn’t matter what gender you are.”

Support from the African-American private sector has kept many businesses across the board afloat during the recent recession. Small Business of the Year nominee Attorney Bryan Boysaw said it is paramount to give back to the black community.

“Black attorneys are non-existent without the black community. Our life’s blood, in terms of what we do, primarily is the black community,” Boysaw said. “My practice is probably 90 percent African-American representation. So, whatever your druthers are, you’ve just got to get involved with something.” He said it is important to focus available resources on academics or economics.

Brother’s Protective Services CEO and founder Robert Best III said creating his armed and unarmed security firm has been somewhat of a boon for the local economy. “We’ve hired over 100 people just this year alone.  We’re a very aggressive, up and coming young company,” he said. “I was running another security company and then I realized I could better and more effectively serve my community by starting up my own (business).”

Best said 97 percent of his workforce is black and 3 percent is Latin and he thanks God for his success. He said being an entrepreneur is his greatest achievement because he can be a role model for youth, especially those lacking direction.

Edith Bush, the executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coordinating Committee, a nominee for Nonprofit of the Year, credited her organization’s officers, board members and volunteers for being honored by the Chamber. Bush has led the committee, which currently focuses on a weeklong birthday celebration for King, for more than 30 years.

“Our goal is to empower the youth in our community through artistic, cultural and educational experiences,” she said. “The Martin Luther King celebration begins Jan. 6, 2012. We have six competitions that students can enter — art, essay, oratorical, performing arts, photography and poetry.”

Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said it is always important to recognize individuals in the community for what they are doing to make a difference. “By focusing on them, that will obviously give others in the community an incentive to do more,” she said.

WPBF 25 News anchor and master of ceremonies Victor Blackwell said it is important to give the best in business in Palm Beach County the attention that they deserve.

Blackwell said the efforts of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County will not only help boost the local economy, but will also increase the morale of the business community. “The chamber has a focus on growth for businesses and the community.  When you have those two goals running parallel, you can’t help but help the community.”

The 2011 Ascension Award nominees:

Executive of the Year

Ken Binger, president of BankAtlantic’s Business Banking; Dennis P. Gallon, Ph.D., president of Palm Beach State College; William M. Nix, vice president for marketing and governmental affairs for the Palm Beach County Cultural Council

Small Business of the Year
Attorney Brian Boysaw, of the Law Office of Bryan Boysaw & Associates; Shirley G. Arline, founder of CoWorks International, Inc.; Salesia Smith-Gordon, of the Law Offices of Salesia Smith-Gordon; Juan Williams, State Farm Insurance agent, owner, proprietor

Large Business of the Year
Robert Best III, founder and CEO of Brother’s Protective Services and business partner Percell R. Porter III; Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler, owner and CEO of Shuler’s Memorial Chapel; United Parcel Service Store in Delray Beach, Calvin Chandler, store manager

Nonprofit of the Year
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, West Palm Beach Alumnae Chapter, Angela Marshall, president; Hospice of Palm Beach County, David Fielding, president and CEO; Martin Luther King Jr. Coordinating Committee, Edith Bush, executive director

Business Legend
Ralph S. Tyler, chairman of the board of R.C.T. Engineering, Inc.; F. Malcolm Cunningham Jr., managing partner of the Cunningham Law Firm, PA; Randolph K. Johnson Sr., founder of Communications by Johnson

Zenith Award

Tarra L. Pressey, president and CEO of Tarra Enterprises, Inc.

**Pictured above is Palm Beach State College President Dennis Gallon receives the award from Verdenia Baker, Palm Beach County deputy administrator and the chamber’s awards committee chairperson.