Awards and Recognition - Stratford Diversity Award

It is appropriate that the first recipient of the Willie J. Stratford Sr. Diversity Award in 1999 was Willie himself. An artist, poet, author and activist, he pointed the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and all of Charlotte-Mecklenburg toward the path to inclusion.

Willie worked to make the Y open and accessible to everyone in the community. He was a leader at the McCrorey YMCA on Beatties Ford Road. He’s remembered with affection, too, at the Stratford Richardson YMCA on West Boulevard. Indeed, Willie’s impact resonates throughout the Y and beyond. The Urban League and Habitat for Humanity were among the other organizations with which he was involved. A graduate of Johnson C. Smith University, he was a Golden Bull to the core. He served his country in the U.S. Army during World War II, and was devoted to his family and strong Christian faith.

The Y’s Diversity, Inclusion & Global Committee oversees this award, named for a dear man who meant so much to so many. Willie passed away in 2002 at age 78. His legacy lives on.

2019 AWARD WINNER - Dee O'Dell & Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown

Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown and Dee O’Dell helped launch a movement to give every family in Charlotte a fair chance to realize their potential and reach their dreams. When they talk about changing the “tale of two cities” (Ophelia’s words) that tarnishes our city’s storyline, we embrace the challenge. For that, Ophelia and Dee are the 2019 recipients of the Willie J. Stratford Sr. Diversity Award.

Ophelia and Dee agree that this honor belongs not just to them but to all who helped craft the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force Report in response to these now-familiar findings: Charlotte ranks last among the nation’s 50 largest cities and Mecklenburg 99 out of 100 N.C. counties in upward mobility. Access to economic opportunity, in other words, is too often defined by the zip code where you start out.

Dee believes the Opportunity Task Force (read the full report at has given us a common language, and a common set of challenges, to rally around.

Ophelia believes it has sparked a more honest conversation on race and segregation. “We can be with each other in corporate America – be with each other and smile at each other,” she says, “but we don’t get to the essence of what’s underneath.”

Progress is already taking place.

The Leading on Opportunity Council was formed in 2017 to bring to life the report’s recommendations in early childcare and education, college and career readiness, child and family stability and other key areas. Among the achievements so far: Expanding free pre-kindergarten for eligible four-year-olds in Mecklenburg, and increasing the city’s pool of money for affordable housing to $50 million.

Dee and Ophelia have been overwhelmed by the response from all corners of the community. Corporations, congregations, most everyone wants to be part of fostering change. Dee describes it as an “organic response,” unforced and spontaneous. The Y, they say, has played a leading role in engaging with children and youth. One of many examples: The Y’s Level UP program, in partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, welcomes teens to four Y branches on many weekend nights to enjoy fun and fellowship at no charge.  

There is a beautiful lesson in Ophelia and Dee being the first joint winners of this Y honor. Ophelia is black. Dee is white. She’s a family physician, a Senior Vice President with Novant Health, and an ordained Baptist pastor. He’s an Executive Vice President with U.S. Bank. She grew up in Detroit. He was raised in Oxford, Mississippi. And yet, here they are, friends (“She’s the sister I never had,” Dee says) and allies in the cause of a community’s lifetime.

Better together. No wonder the Y’s Diversity, Inclusion & Global (DIG) Committee chose them for this honor.

“It’s the impact of the work they’ve done,” says DIG Chair and Y Trustee Ken Burton. “It sets a foundation for what the future of Charlotte can look like.”

Awards & Recognition
For The Y Mission

George Williams

In recognition of our founder, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte honors outstanding volunteer leaders for their invaluable contributions of time and talent to help our Ys grow stronger in service to others.

John R. Mott

The YMCA of Greater Charlotte established the John R. Mott Award in 1996 to honor its top volunteer who exemplifies Mott's ideals through longtime service to the YMCA.

Willie J. Stratford, Sr.

The Willie J. Stratford, Sr. Diversity Award is given annually to an individual who recognizes, leads and inspires others to help create a stronger community through valuing diversity.