Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: November/December 2020


              The COVID-19 pandemic may have put meetings and conferences on temporary hold, but that by no means negates the need to acknowledge the work and accomplishments of industry leaders who have positively impacted travel and tourism.  So the 2020 Apex Awards for Distinguished Service, sponsored annually by Black Meetings & Tourism Media, were nonetheless presented to seven outstanding recipients.

              Normally given in July during an evening gala as part of the International Multicultural & Heritage Tourism Summit & Trade Show, this year both the conference and the Apex Awards ceremony were moved to September 18-20, when they were presented virtually.

Kudos go to Andy Ingraham and his team (which includes his daughter PJ Douglas Sands) for producing a spectacular conference and awards show!  And thanks also go to our illustrious awardees, whose exemplary work demanded our recognition and made the event possible.

The 2020 Apex Awardees are:

SHERRI T. BROWN presently serves as Vice-President of Multicultural Sales & Development with Visit Tampa Bay in Tampa, Florida for the past 12 years. Sherri has been in the Hospitality Industry for 36 years. She entered the work force after graduating from high school working as a Telephone Operator with Omni Hotels Union Station St. Louis, MO. During this time, Sherri decided to pursue a life-long career in the hospitality industry. Meanwhile, her next career move was with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau for 7 years, Opening Sales Executive with Renaissance Hotel Downtown St. Louis, where she achieved Marriott's Golden Circle Sales Award for 6 consecutive years. She served with Hyatt Regency Management Training for 8 years where she achieved Management Trainee of the Year. Based on her strong customer service, problem solving, issue resolution and communication skills, Sherri worked with Adams Mark Hotels with successfully bringing in major Multicultural Conventions and Meetings for groups such as Filipino Nurses, National Bar Association, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Blacks In Government and the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice.

Brown, who also served a stint with the Little Rock CVB, received a call from the Vice-President of Sales for Tampa Bay in September of 2008 asking if she would be interested in an opportunity working as National Sales Manager for the Multicultural Markets. She accepted the offer and made an impact by bringing National and International Conventions to Tampa, Florida. Sherri's success over the past 12 years has successfully made a strong impact at Visit Tampa Bay with an instrumental role in bringing the largest events, conventions, and meetings to Tampa. In 2013 she traveled to Macau China to bring the International India Film Academy (Bollywood) to Tampa, Florida, which had over 30,000 attendees at the Raymond James Stadium.  In the last 12 years, Sherri has confirmed over $200 million dollars in new Multicultural Conventions and Meetings for Tampa.

TIMOTHY BUSH has served as Chief Tourism Development Officer at OneSpartanburg, Inc. since October of 2020.   This collaborative organization was formed by merging the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Spartanburg Economic Futures Group in order to build a vibrant Spartanburg through business, economic and tourism development.

Previously, Bush served for five years as the President and CEO of Louisiana's Cajun Bayou Tourism, the official destination marketing organization for Lafourche Parish.

A 16-year veteran of the travel and hospitality industry, Bush lead Louisiana's Cajun Bayou Tourism's sales and marketing efforts to drive economic growth for the parish through leisure, groups, and meetings sales.

Prior to this role, he served as the Marketing Manager for the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau's. He has also served as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Ruston Lincoln Convention & Visitors Bureau and was the Executive Director of the Beauregard Tourist Commission.

Bush is a graduate of the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations.  He also has two professional certifications, a Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) from the Southeast Tourism Society and a Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) from Destinations International.

JO ANN HADEN-MILLER serves as director of partner activation and engagement and ACVB Foundation for Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB). She is responsible for overseeing partner collaborations, programs, co-op fundraising as well as annual initiatives of ACVB's Foundation.

Joining ACVB in 1989, Haden-Miller led several cultural and heritage tourism programs and campaigns to market Atlanta as a top travel destination, focusing on the city's appeal to diverse and creative audiences.

Haden-Miller has received numerous accolades throughout her career including the Richard M. Stormont Tourism Award. WPBA-TV/WABE-FM Public Broadcasting honored her as an Atlanta Lexus Leader of the Arts, and she received the Pioneer Awardfrom Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University. Haden-Miller is an alumna of Leadership Atlanta, Leadership Midtown and Outstanding Atlanta.

Active within the national and local hospitality communities, Haden-Miller serves on the advisory board of U.S. Travel's Destination Council, Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University, Concierge Society of Atlanta and also sits on the board of directors for Atlanta Film Society, Atlanta Metro Travel Association and BronzeLens Film Festival.

Prior to joining ACVB, Haden-Miller was involved in a variety of non-profit, civic and cultural organizations. She served as staff to several statewide and congressional campaigns and as a legislative aide in the Georgia General Assembly. Haden-Miller managed the grand opening event of Atlanta Apparel Mart, one of the world's largest permanent wholesale trade centers and co-authored Atlanta Bar Association's centennial history "Atlanta and Its Lawyers: A Century of Vision 1888-1988."

A native of Charlottesville, Virginia, Haden-Miller attended University of Virginia and Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, graduating with honors in music. She resides in Atlanta with her family.

MIKE (MJ) JACKSON is currently the Senior Director of Sales with Discover the Palm Beaches (CVB) in West Palm Beach, Fl. In his capacity he oversees the strategies and development of The Corporate and Association Markets in Florida and the Affinity Market in the United States. Before joining Discover the Palm Beaches in 2018, MJ had successful CVB tenures with Destination DC (14) Years and the Atlanta Convention and Visitor Bureau (4) years. MJ's background also includes Hotel Sales and Operations as he worked with hotels in Atlanta and New Orleans. Mike worked closely with hotel partners, convention centers and other industry partners to successfully secure conventions and meetings to all destinations he worked. He has built a vast account base with all market segments from Corporate, Associations, Religious and Multicultural Accounts. Mike has membership affiliation with the following industry organizations; MPI, ASAE, RCMA, NCBMP, PCMA and IEEE. Mike values his relationships with hotel partners, customers and colleagues from all over the country. He believes that we should all count our blessings, be grateful, humble and continue to give back to someone less fortunate.  

JOHNSON JOHNROSE is communications specialist at the Caribbean Tourism Organization, where he began in 2002 as a consultant before joining the organization full time in January 2003. Part of his responsibilities include managing the organizations international and external communications, media relations and crisis communications.

Johnson's career as a public relations practitioner, journalist, broadcaster and media trainer, spans nearly 30 years. He has written extensively on issues of interest and concern to the Caribbean region, including tourism, and social and economic matters.

             A multiple journalism award winner, Johnson's work has been lauded and held as example by industry officials and media alike. His pieces have been used as bases for discussion on matters affecting the tourism industry and media in the Caribbean. He has also presented at major conferences and events, both within and outside the Caribbean region.

            Johnson has guest lectured in journalism, delivers training for journalists and helps train public figures on how to speak to the press, and in crisis communication. Among those who seek his expertise are heads of government and senior public servants. To him, training is a passion and crisis communication is like a religion.  

MARIE SUEING is the Senior Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation (NCVC). In this role, her efforts include increasing convention and tourism sales for the city and enhancing community relations and perception by promoting Nashville's diverse offerings through product development and events. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Marie moved south in 1986 to attend college in Atlanta, GA. Since then, she has served in a variety of hospitality roles over the last thirty years in Atlanta, Memphis and Nashville. Prior to joining the NCVC in 2006, she gained invaluable industry experience in hotel sales and operations with Marriott International, Gaylord Opryland, and Starwood Hotels Worldwide, respectively. In recent years, Nashville's hospitality community has grown to a $7 billion dollar industry. Diversity in all areas is critical to the city's continued success as a welcoming destination for all. Marie's features in several news articles and news media programs (including The TN Tribune and StyleBlueprint) speak to the importance of the NCVC's role in promotion of Nashville's rich history, cultural and entertainment offerings.

Marie is a member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals and Religious Conference Manager Association, is a member of the Equality in Tourism Group and serves on the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for Destinations International. Locally, she serves on the boards of the National Museum of African American Music (including committee work), the Nashville Children's Theatre, the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and From the Heart International Education Foundation.

RICKEY THIGPEN joined Visit Jackson (formally the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau) in 1987 as the Manager of Information Systems.  For the past 33 years, Thigpen has served in multiple management positions within the administrative and marketing disciplines. In October of 2018, the Visit Jackson Board of Directors named Thigpen as the Interim President of Visit Jackson.   Before being named the Interim President, Thigpen served as the official destination marketing organization's Executive Vice President, where he was responsible for governmental & community engagement, stakeholder relationships, signature event management, and new & untraditional market initiatives.   On February 1, 2019, the Visit Jackson Board voted to remove "Interim" from Thigpen's title and to make him the official President & CEO.

Thigpen is a member of numerous professional organizations, including Destination International, where he serves a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Mississippi Tourism Association Board of Directors, the Mississippi Tourism PAC, where he serves as Chairman, and the Downtown Jackson Partners Advisory Board.  Thigpen is also engaged civically, including 100 Black Men of Jackson, Inc., Mississippi Valley State University National Alumni Association (Life Member), Greater Leadership Jackson Alumni Association, Alpha Foundation, Inc. (Vice-Chairman), and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., National Chairman of the Committee on Life Membership and the 10 th Mississippi District Director.

A native of Jackson, Mississippi, he holds a baccalaureate degree in Computer Science from Mississippi Valley State University - '87 and a master's degree in Leadership from Belhaven University.  Thigpen is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, finalizing degree requirements in Psychology/Organizational Leadership.   Additionally, Thigpen has earned professional certifications from the University of Southern Mississippi, the Mississippi Tourism Association, and Destination International. Thigpen has appeared in Black Meetings & Tourism magazine as one of the most influential African-Americans in the tourism industry multiple times.   In 2019 Thigpen was named Mississippi Tourism Association's Member of the Year.

Thigpen is a member of Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, where he serves as a member of the Music Staff and Public Relations Ministry.