On Saturday, Louis Wolfson III will be among five recipients honored by MCCJ (formerly Miami Coalition of Christians and Jews) for going above and beyond in advancing understanding of diversity. For Wolfson though, the award has extra historical significance, as he is continuing a family legacy — his grandfather won it in 1962.
The fourth-generation Floridian is a founding partner of Pinnacle Housing Group and PHG Builders. His work improving the lives of the people in our community by building low-income housing is why MCCJ will present him with the Silver Medallion, a coveted honor given to outstanding community leaders since 1946.
“I heard about this award for many years, and it is very important to me and my family,” said Wolfson, also a board member of the Miami Dade College Foundation. “Our family from generation to generation has been taught about inclusion, folks in our community, that everyone is equal, that we have a very diverse community. It always has been and always will be.”
There are many family ties when it comes to receiving the Silver Medallion for the 63-year-old, whose grandfather, Col. Mitchell Wolfson, founded Wometco Enterprises. His wife Ellen’s grandfather, Max Orovitz, also won the award in 1950. The Wolfsons learned early in life the importance of community.
“They were inclusionary folks and groomed us to do the same,” Louis Wolfson said. “[We need] more people teaching the next generation of the importance of our city. We can’t say it enough, we have to work together and teach America that our diversity is a viable model of working together.”
The annual humanitarian awards dinner has been a staple event of the MCCJ that honors those who closely reflect their mission of promoting inclusivity and racial tolerance. The dinner is held at the Four Seasons Hotel this weekend. MCCJ Executive Director Roberta Shevin said the awards have gone to many notable Miamians of the past, including University of Miami President Henry King Stanford, U.S. Sen. George Smathers, U.S. District Court Judge Clyde Atkins, philanthropist Sue Miller, and many others.
“This has always been a prestigious event as these silver medallions are very coveted,” Shevin said. “If you look at this list of the people who received them, it’s almost like reading the history of Miami as you see the names of people who are so important in the history of the city.”
This year’s Silver Medallion award goes to Wolfson and attorneys Marilyn J. Holifield and Khurrum Wahid; retired Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan will receive a lifetime achievement award; and Imam Khalid Salahuddin will receive a clergy medallion award.
Wahid will be the second Muslim to receive the silver medallion award, the first being Dr. Doured Daghistani, a pediatric oncologist at Baptist Hospital. Wahid, a criminal defense lawyer who has devoted his life to expanding political opportunities for minority communities, is “humbled” to join the ranks of many of Miami’s civic leaders and hopes this sets an example for his community.
“There is definitely an understanding that the Muslim community is under siege and there is a need to highlight leaders in our community,” Wahid said. “The award means a lot to me because it shows that Miami is definitely a welcome place for diversity and people of diverse background such as myself.”
Holifield, the only female honoree of the night’s event, is an attorney who seeks fairness and opportunities for minorities. To her, helping others has never been a job but a calling.
“I don’t consider it a job, I consider it more or less part of my DNA, no matter whether I was working or not working in this job or another job, I don’t see myself not being involved in some civic-oriented endeavor,” Holifield said.
One of her most recent memorable experiences was persuading the president of Harvard University, Drew Faust, to visit Miami Northwestern Senior High in mid-February of this year and speak to the students about the importance of college and not giving up.
“It was one of the most inspirational activities that I have been involved with,” she said. “To know that I made a recommendation that the president of Harvard visit the high school, and in fact she did visit, and made it a meaningful visit by spending quality time.”
Lifetime achievement winner Kogan, who served on Florida’s Supreme Court from 1987 to 1998, has already collected many awards from other organizations, but not MCCJ. Turning 84 in a couple of months, he said that awards are a byproduct of excelling in work.
“The story of my life along the way, you work as hard as you can and come what may at least you know that you did the best you could, and if these awards are part of that along the way, that’s very very fine,” Kogan said.
The honorees come from different walks of life, Sherry Tropin, chair of MCCJ, said, which reflects the organization’s mission of diversity.
“The people that we honor are always really inspiring from different walks of life,” Tropin said. “Law, medicine and politics, it makes me realize how impressive the community is and the participators, all are truly an inspiring story.”