Icons Among Us awards for 2023 went to, from left: Angela Wellman, Aminah Robinson and Antoine Hunter. With them, at right, is Velena Jones of NBC Bay Area. Courtesy of Comcast.

On Sunday, Feb. 26, the 6th annual Black Joy Parade gathered the community and its allies in Downtown Oakland.  The day’s celebration included awards to “The Icons Among Us.” 

Launched in 2021, the awards recognize local activists and leaders dedicated to being a warrior for racial equality. The community nominates individuals who work, day in and day out, for the greater good. The three “icons” ride on the Comcast float in the Black Joy Parade and they each receive a $5,000 contribution from Comcast to donate to a charity of their choice. 

This year’s honorees were musician and educator Angela Wellman; chef and entrepreneur Aminah Robinson; and dancer, choreographer and Deaf advocate Antoine Hunter.

“We often wait until our heroes are gone to honor and celebrate them, but these heroes are here, and they are incredible. We don’t have to wait, we can have dinner with them right now,” said Elisha Greenwell, the Black Joy Parade founder and CEO.

Angela Wellman

Angela Wellman has been playing, teaching and advocating for music education in Oakland for 35 years. Credit: Don Feria/AP Images for Comcast

Wellman is an award-winning trombonist, as well as a scholar, educator and activist. A third-generation musician, she has performed with a multitude of noted musicians, such as the McCoy Tyner Big Band, Joe Williams, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. 

In 2005, Wellman co-founded the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, which provides affordable and culturally relevant music education for people of all ages, from violin classes for children to a banjo and fiddle fellowship for experienced adult string musicians — and much, much more. OPC is a vanguard institution that centers Blackness in the development of American musical culture and identity. 

As a music education activist, she creates access to music education for African American students. As a scholar, her research explores the impact of racism and white supremacy on access to music education for Black students. Wellman’s passion for and commitment to creating culturally sustaining music education has kept her forging pathways to meaningful experiences in music for the people of Oakland and beyond for the past 35 years. 

She is a recipient of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Study Fellowship, as well as the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Beacon Award from the International Women’s Brass Conference, a 2018 Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalists Association, a 2018 Arhoolie Award, and the 2021 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award. She also received the City of Oakland “Cultural Key to the City” in 2016. 

Aminah Robinson

Jacob Mitchell of Comcast introduces Aminah Robinson, known as Chef Mimi, at the Icons Among Us awards. Credit: Don Feria/AP Images for Comcast

Robinson, aka Chef Mimi, is the owner of The Black Food & Wine Experience, which puts on events including an annual tasting. She is passionate about bringing Black culture and food together for amazing culinary experiences. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, she believes that food is a universal experience that brings people together. 

For more than a decade, Robinson has focused on the often-overlooked intersection of food, social justice and entertainment. Through Chef Mimi LLC, she has brought to life three distinct brands: The Black Food & Wine Experience; “Bringing It to the Table,” the first culinary competition show highlighting Black chefs; and Chef Mimi Catering, a boutique catering company that services Bay Area tech companies, such as Facebook, Slack, Twilio and Lyft, as well as nonprofits and cultural events like the Coalition of Black Excellence and the Essence Festival. 

Most recently, Robinson was recognized on the list of 2021 Forbes Next 1000, which highlights entrepreneurial heroes who are redefining what it means to build and run a business today.

Antoine Hunter

Antoine Hunter, a dancer and choreographer, has created opportunities in dance and the arts for Deaf and Disabled communities. Credit: Don Feria/AP Images for Comcast

Hunter, also known as Purple Fire Crow, is a choreographer, dancer, actor, instructor, speaker, and producer. His work has been performed globally, and he has lectured across the U.S., including at Kennedy Center’s VSA, Harvard and Duke universities, and the National Assembly of State Arts as an ambassador for social change. 

Hunter is Deaf and a Deaf advocate; he creates opportunities for Disabled, Deaf and hearing artists and produces Deaf-friendly events. 

He  has founded many organizations and programs driven to expand diversity and inclusion within the arts. He founded the Urban Jazz Dance Company in 2007 and the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival in 2013. In response to COVID-19 in July 2020, he founded #DeafWoke, an online talk show that amplifies BIPOC Deaf and Disabled stories as a force for cultural change. 

Hunter curated 2021 Bay Area Deaf Arts at SOMArts, is a 2021 YBCA 100 honoree, and is on the production team of Signing Animation, actively working on inclusive films. He serves on the boards of Dance/USA, Bay Area Black Deaf Advocates, and the Museum of Dance. 

His awards and recognitions include the 2023 USA Artists Fellowship Award, the 2022 Disability Futures Fellowship, the 2021 Dance Teacher Award, the 2019 National Dance/USA fellowship recognized by the Mayor of Oakland, and the 2018 inaugural Jeanette Lomujo Bremond Humanity Arts Award.

Black Joy Parade

Comcast has proudly supported the Black Joy Parade since its inception in 2017, and the event’s mission to honor the Black community’s contribution to history, celebrate bold Blackness, and amplify creative expression. This year, Comcast powered the “Black Cultural Zone,” a dedicated area within the celebration site, featuring a DJ station, a roller skating rink and a Black-owned small-business marketplace. 

“I can’t believe we are on year six of the parade,” said Greenwell, the parade’s founder and CEO. “Comcast took a gamble on us before the first parade when we didn’t know if anyone would come. I know we have a love-hate relationship with corporations, but Comcast has shown up authentically.”

Comcast employees and members of the Black Employee Network Employee Resource Group joined the Black Joy parade on Feb. 26., walking next to the company’s float.  Credit: Don Feria/AP Images for Comcast