By Sandy Merilan
Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation’s Great Street Business Leadership Council (GSBLC) held its 3rd annual Great Street Honors event on Saturday January 19, 2013. This year the event fell on the weekend of President Obama’s 44th Inauguration and the national celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The awards brunch brought out Ward 8’s finest merchants, entrepreneurs and political heavy weights. The Great Streets Business Leadership council was created to provide technical assistance to small businesses along the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue “great street”. Services include fiscal management, proposal writing, fundraising, corporate structure, micro lending, education, procurement and workshops on leveraging resources.
The Greats Streets honors program was designed to honor individuals and organizations who strive to improve the communities along “Great Streets” across the city. Formerly a black tie evening event, this year’s jazz brunch format of Great Street Honors gave residents a chance to come out and celebrate the pillars of growth in this neighborhood. As a Brooklyn-ite, I couldn’t ignore the economic disparities of this neighborhood but my first Great Street event showed how much of a diamond in the rough this great street (MLK, Jr. Ave.) really is. The potential of this neighborhood and development in this area was challenged and celebrated.
With music from the great Lonnie Liston Smith and an art exhibit by Ted Ellis and local artist, Malia Salaam, the mood of the event was reflective and inspiring with the theme “Moving our Communities FORWARD – Family, Culture, & Technology”. Executive Director and President of Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation (CHCTDC), Monica Ray was pleased with the event. She said, “We continue to hold this event in honor of the significant accomplishments of those who live, work and do business along this key corridor.” The Martin Luther King Ave Jr. “great street” is full of potential for urban development and this event sheds light by bringing out development mavericks, civil rights leaders, community leaders and local politicians.
A selfless commitment to the District of Columbia, Ward 8 and its people transcended each guest at this Great Street Honors event. The room was filled with DC’s pioneers of entrepreneurship, urban development, civic activism, and the faith community. The leadership and the vision of the honorees of this event, according to keynote speaker Donald Temple were “timeless for change for a city that desperately needed it”. The small businesses honorees included: Donte Lee of Stanton View Development, Roy Baptiste of DC Dental Service and Alberto Gomez of Prince Construction Company. Other honorees included development giant, Robert Moore who with the Community Development Corporation of Columbia Heights rebuilt the Columbia Heights neighborhood bringing affordable housing, economic development, and job opportunities to the neighborhood. The program also honored late urban development greats, Albert “Butch” Hopkins, CEO of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation; Lloyd Smith of Marshall Heights Community Development Corporation; and W. Retta Gilliam of East of the River Community Development Corporation. Lloyd Smith and Retta Gilliam, whose family were present to accept awards on their behalf, each fought for development in the DC area and specifically for Gilliam, the East of River Community. Providing jobs and opportunities, these organizations brought a resurgence of life to this neighborhood. Civic activism recipient Theresa Jones’s daughter was present to receive her award for her work in the area.
Keynote speaker Donald Temple, practicing civil and commercial litigator of the District of Columbia area used his experience in police misconduct and race misconduct to connect with the culture and history that is deep seeded in the District’s culture. Donald who received his LL.M in international and constitutional law from Georgetown University Law School in 1982 has been dedicated to the progress and movement that is Black Advancement since his early child hood in the streets of Northern Philly.
While quoting from the Negro National Anthem (Lift Every Voice and Sing) as anopening to his speech and honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Obama, Mr. Temple pointed out the giants of the room and challenged Great Street event guests to use their influence to create development based on the needs of the many rather than the individual. “In our community one of the issues we face is the lack of the ability to self-actualize, said Donald Temple. This idea of self-actualization is better explained with Donald’s quote from psychologist, Abraham Maslow “What a man can be, he must be.” Mr. Temple challenged the residents of ward 8 and the rest of the city to take the personal responsibility for the youth and future of this city. He reminded us that education cannot only provide for our future, but can create an environment of growth, creativity and economic stability that this neighborhood needs.
“Marion Barry is DC!” shouted one of the attendants at the event. Thisis the perfect statement to explain the role, former school board member, four-term mayor, and current councilmember of Ward 8 and one of the longest serving elected officials presently in government has played in the evolution of Ward 8 and District of Columbia. During this event, former D.C. Mayor and current Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry was awarded with the Lifetime Achievement Award. “Marion Barry gave me my first job” buzzed the room because since entering office in 1978 Barry has tirelessly worked to fix the institutionalized disadvantages that crippled the residents of DC, including unemployment, crime and housing. Councilmember Barry said, “Achievements of the quality individuals and organizations throughout our city, such as CHCTDC, creator of GSBLC and others to be recognized during this esteemed event should be highlighted.” Barry was introduced by Alexis Roberson, director of OIC, who highlighted his legacy in government by speaking about Marion Barry, the “Mayor” and Marion Barry, the “Boss”, his acceptance speech highlighted his role as Marion Barry, “the overcomer”, to great applause and a standing ovation from the crowd gathered. Great Street Honors was a beautifully executed celebration of the Ward 8 community and combined with inauguration weekend festivities echoed the capped and uncapped potential of the District of Columbia and, specifically Ward 8. The event next year is scheduled for January 18, 2014 at 11:30 am. Nominations for outstanding work in community development and civic activism will be accepted beginning June 1, 2013. For questions on this event or the upcoming event, please call 202-563-5201 or visit www.chctdc.org.