The Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce starts 2017 off with the third annual Diamonds in Diversity

By : Jeremy Williams
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TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce returns with the annual Diamond Awards Jan. 21, however branded under the new name.

“The awards have a new name this year, the Diamonds in Diversity,” says Ashley Brundage, the Diversity Chamber’s president. “But we are still honoring and celebrating the best in business and community.”

The Diamond in Diversity Awards will be held at the Hilton Bayfront in St. Petersburg, and Brundage says it will carry the same style and elegance of the previous year’s ceremonies.

“The event will be attended by many of the most respected people of Tampa Bay; politicians, dignitaries and local celebrities,” she says.

The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce will have representatives in attendance for the first time; NGLCC Senior Vice President Sam McClure will also be a presenter. Board members from the Metropolitan Business Association from Orlando will be in attendance.

Also in attendance will be the nominees, all hoping to take home a Diamond Award, although we all know it is just an honor to even be nominated.

The Business of the Year award is sure drum up a little friendly competition as two of the Bay area’s favorite restaurants compete against each other. Hamburger Mary’s and Punky’s Bar and Grill will go up against Tech Data and PNC Financial Service Groups.

Business Person of the Year nominees are Craig Beckinger from ABC Event Planning, Licensed Mental Health Counselor Anthony Quaglieri, Ph.D., Joey Romanik from The Hotchkiss Group and Julian Sanchez, MD of the Moffitt Cancer Center.

Nominees for the Non-Profit of the Year are Equality Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center, St. Pete Pride and the TampaBay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

The Community Champion of the Year Award, which will be presented by St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, will be awarded to either Advanced Recovery Systems’ Associate Chief Medical Officer Jason Fields, Sonny Hotchkiss of The Hotchkiss Group, Cathy James of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative or the City of St. Petersburg’s Deputy Mayor Kineka Tomalin.

“I think this year’s nominees really showcase the diversity of our community and I think it’s important that we recognize their work,” Brundage says. “The Diamonds were built on recognition of those who sometimes do get the recognized.”

The event will be entertained by the musical stylings of Jennifer Real, who performed last year. Real will be returning this year with a live band. The Diamonds will also feature an official after party at Enigma St. Pete.

Along with awarding Diamond Awards, the Diversity Chamber will contune on a tradition started last year by awarding a scholarship to an LGBTQ student from the Tampa Baya rea.

“We will actually be doing two scholarships this year,” Brundage says. “This year we will be giving away $2,500 to local LGBTQ student, that’s up from where we were last year when we gave away $1,500.”

Students become eligible for the scholarship by attending events through the Diversity Chambers and Balance Tampa Bay’s mentorship program; which includes community involvement, volunteering and personal/academic mentoring.

A second scholarship of $1,500 will also be awarded that night to a mentorship student thanks to a donation by Diversity Chamber friends George W. Kubat and Maureen A. Walsh.

To help carry on the tradition of LGBTQ mentoring scholarships, as the Diversity Chamber did last year, 100 percent of the proceeds raised from the live and silent auctions will go to the scholarship foundation which helps to fund next year’s scholarship.

“It’s exciting to see how much this event has grown and how it’s been able to stand on its own as a positive influence on our community,” Brundage says. “When we first started it we weren’t even sure we were going to be able to have the event and now we have hotels competing to hold the event. The amount of attendees has grown with each year.”

Brundage was president of the Diversity Chamber, then called Tampa Bay Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, when it started the Diamonds in 2015. Brundage will be stepping down as Chamber President to focus on other personal and professional endeavors, and this is her final Chamber event in the presidential role.

“We started this event to recognize our chamber members,” Brundage says. “Now it has grown into not just that but giving back to the community, awarding scholarships and recognizing the hard work and dedication of the students in our mentorship program, it’s got a lot of dynamic arms to it. It’s a bit bittersweet.”

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