Begay, Witherill inspire youth at UNITY benefit
PHOENIX—Dreams can come true, Navajo professional golfer Notah Begay III told a thrilled audience at the 5th Annual Bill Denney Memorial Dinner and Golf Classic. This year’s event, “Honoring Tribal Leaders of the New Millennium,” brought together 320 people on December 7 from tribal government, youth groups, private business and the sports world to raise funds for United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY), and to honor the event's late cofounder, Bill Denney.
The event concluded December 8 with a golf tournament at Talking Stick Golf Course, in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
Begay encouraged the audience to keep family and friendships in the fore. “Encourage students to look to the future, and don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve,” Begay said. Referring to his recent brush with the law, Begay added, “The sole responsibility [for your actions] lies on your shoulders, whether good or bad.”
Bringing his brother with him on tour this year helped heal the spiritual wounds left over from serving time in jail for his DUI conviction, said Begay. “You can recover from your mistakes,” Begay told the audience.
Denney, beloved late sportscaster at Phoenix television station KPNX, and fellow KPNX reporter Mary Kim Titla, San Carlos Apache, began the event to aid UNITY, which has provided leadership and training programs for Native youth since 1976.
Philip Becerra, Tohono O'Odham, organizing committee chairman, said: “It has been a spiritual experience for me that I can give back to the community for the past four years, and to work with Bill [Denney]. He had a heart as big as he was.”
Begay's appearance capped an evening sprinkled with noted Indian leaders, sports figures and youth leaders. Guest speaker Robert Geronimo, Mescalero Apache and the great-grandson of legendary Apache leader Geronimo, said, “Our late president Wendell Chino was a member of the UNITY Council. [UNITY] is definitely worthwhile, something that’s needed and encouraged.”
Begay and Geronimo were presented with Pendleton blanket robes while Philip and Charlotte Titla, San Carlos Apaches; Elmer Atlookan, Objibwe from Canada; and Navajo musician Eric Manuelito performed honor songs.
Former Miss Navajo Nation Radmilla Cody and hoop dancer Tony Duncan, San Carlos Apache/Mandan, entertained the audience.
Also lending their support to UNITY were Navajo auto racer Cory Witherill and Ross Anderson, Cheyenne/Arapaho/Mescalero Apache professional skier, who bills himself as the “Fastest Native American on the Face of Mother Earth.” Anderson said, “It’s inspirational seeing students here with Notah and Robert. These are role models we all look up to. I’ve noticed [the kids’] eyes shining as they listen to them speak.”
Indian youths who have benefited from UNITY programs spoke of their commitment to the program. Brandon James of the Gila River Indian Community stated, “UNITY creates a voice and training program for youth. It’s very heartening to see how many youth have benefited. You learn to keep the people at heart, to serve them instead of yourself.” James now serves on GRIC's health and social standing committee and as a member of the Casa Blanca School Board.
Darrin Pedro, 23, Pima/Cherokee, vice president of the UNITY executive committee, said, “There’s so much about being able to help youth self-esteem. We’re not only teaching but training youth to be our next leaders.”
Program organizers noted that the dinner, auctions and golf classic have raised over $150,000 for UNITY over the last four years. Titla and Becerra hope this year’s event tops the $47,000 raised at the 1999 fundraiser.
For more details on UNITY's programs, visit the Web at www.unityinc.org, or write:
United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY)
P.O. Box 25042
Oklahoma City, OK 73125
Tel: (405) 236-2800
Fax : (405) 971-1071