Hundreds of admirers of Ed and Betty Gardner came out to praise them as entrepreneurs, humanitarians, political activists, arts advocates, anti-crime fighters and family role models during a ceremony where a street was named in their honor.Â The official unveiling, which was sponsored by the Black on Black Love Organization, was held on July 12.Â The street sign will be permanently placed at the corner of 87th and Dobson, former site of Soft Sheen Products, the multi-million dollar hair care firm that the couple founded.
According to Frances Wright, President and CEO, the celebration was an opportunity for a broad cross section of admirers to pay tribute to the Gardners in an event that was driven by the theme:Â â€œCelebrating the Gardner legacy.â€
Wright got the program underway by greeting the crowd and urging them to express self love, self respect and self discipline as a show of love to the Gardners, who practice this in their daily lives.
Following the special greeting, emcees Merri Dee and Reginald Mitchell, former Soft Sheen employee, praised the Gardners.
One by one, admirers offered words of love. The Rev. T.L. Barrett of Life Center Church called the couple his â€œgod parentsâ€ and recalled their generosity.
Wright gave special acknowledgement to Alderman Michelle Harris for her hard work in making the event a success. In addressing the crowd, Harris held the couple up as the â€œepitome of what an African American entrepreneur isâ€ and hailed them for being â€œleaders and examples of how we should lead our lives.â€
Wright also recognized Melody Spann-Cooper of WVON for graciously donating studio time so fans could tape messages of invitation.
The tribute included a procession of praise.
oFormer Chicago Bulls player Sidney Green credited the Gardners for helping to secure his contract.
oLonnie Chambers, a student at Vanderpoel Elementary School, read his winning essay on the importance of promoting black on black love, a concept that the Gardners promote and live by daily.
oFather Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church hailed the couple as a â€œnational treasureâ€ and praised them for using their success â€œas a platform to make transformative change in America.â€
Others who praised the Gardners were Spencer Leak, Sr., chairman of the board of Black on Black Love who asked the audience â€œWhere’s the outrageâ€ regarding the rampant killings.
Also speaking were Cook County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Evans who said the couple â€œsymbolize compassion, integrity and love.â€
Historian Dr. Timuel Black characterized them as â€œordinary people doing extraordinary things.â€
Speaking on behalf of the family, Gary Gardner, eldest son, said the Gardners’ approach to parenting was basic:Â â€œThey made us work, we had to be in the house before dark, and we ate together.Â And, we always knew we were loved.â€
In a special nod to Mrs. Gardner, daughter Terri declared that â€œshe is the smartest woman I know who has her own swagger.â€Â Terri added that Betty created the structure for the company that allowed Soft Sheen to be successful.â€
The grandchildren gave the ultimate tribute when they said their grandparents â€œhave always been there for us.â€
After the sign was unveiled, Mr. Gardner spoke to the admiring crowd.Â He thanked Betty’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gueno, for raising such a beautiful woman who became his wife.Â He praised his beautiful children and those who came into his life, including educators and hair stylists.
He said that the family’s purpose was never to make money but was to â€œmake life better for all human beingsâ€¦especially African Americans â€“ especially for those less fortunate than others.â€
â€œWe are the tools that God used to try to make life better for the African American family.â€
On that note the ceremony ended and the crowd gathered around the Gardners as they continued to show love for this iconic couple.
The event was sponsored by Black on Black Love, which is devoted to promoting self-love, self-discipline and self-respect through a variety of programs.
For information, call Black on Black Love at 773-978-0868 or access the web site at www.bobl.org.
Photo Caption:Â Ed and Betty Gardner (seated) display the street sign named after them as friends and family surround them. Seated (far left) is daughter Terri and at far right is eighth ward Alderman Michelle Harris. Standing (l-r) are: Frances Wright, president/CEO Black on Black Love, children Tracy, Guy and Gary Gardner and grandchildren Kyle, Sara and Brandon Gardner.