Washington Informer Publisher Honored
It was a crisp evening on September 15 as hundreds of visitors in flowing dresses, spiked heels and matching evening bags, and black tie attire graced the recently reopened Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Community Museum [ACM] at Fort Place, SE, for its 45th anniversary gala.
The mood was festive. A large white tent with plastic windows sat outside the museum, serving as a canopy over small tables covered with white tablecloths. Atop each chair was a white-and-blue-polka-dot gift bag, playing on the virtual water environment and theme for the museum's upcoming exhibit on urban waterways. Dimmed lights complemented the cozy atmosphere as waiters handled food at various stations featuring a cornucopia of southern comfort foods, Midwestern favorites, international flair from London and China, and a dessert buffet.
To Dorothy Browner-Hubler, the evening was "absolutely fantastic."
"This museum represents every man and what a people and culture can be," said Browner-Hubler, an educator on the Gullah-Geechee culture, and a member of the gala's honorary committee. "This is good for young people who can keep pride and respect within the community."
The dance floor – a virtual river bed – was in the center of the room, separating diners, making its purpose rather obvious. The evening culminated with guests grooving to the Exquisite Band, while others placed bids on silent auction items. Some guests noted that the usual District politicians didn't attend, even those up for reelection.
Nevertheless, the gala, hosted by the museum's advisory board and emceed by veteran television actors Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid, attracted Ward 8 power couple Eugene and Tanya Vidal Kinlow, the District's fire and emergency medical services chief Kenneth Ellerbe, artist BK Adams and his wife Donna, photographer Steven M. Cummings, and ANC 7B chair Yvonne Moore, who not only celebrated the museum's 45-year history but also recognized five individuals making significant contributions to the community or the museum.
"What an honor it is to be a recipient of the award in this museum in my neighborhood," said The Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, who received the John R. Kinard Leadership in Community Service Award. "I want to share this award with my father and stepmother who are no longer here but with us in spirit."
Rolark Barnes' father, Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr., and stepmother Wilhelmina J. Rolark both received awards posthumously. The Rolark family started the weekly Ward 8-based publication in 1964 to serve the District's African-American community. They founded the United Black Fund, a nonprofit that provides funding to community-based organizations. Wilhelmina Rolark also served as the Ward 8 council member for many years.
Philip Pannell, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council [ACC], received the Community Service Award. The ACC is a volunteer, membership consortium of organizations and individuals focused on revitalizing the Anacostia and neighboring east of the river communities.
"This award leaves me breathless," said Pannell, who added he never missed an exhibit since first discovering ACM in 1975. "This is one of my favorite places in D.C. It is an honor for me to receive this award." The final honoree was Anastasia Johnson, a long-time museum volunteer.
The ACM is the nation's first federally funded community museum that recently expanded its focus from an African-American emphasis to examining the impact of contemporary social issues on urban communities. According to the museum's website, ACM is dedicated to a mission centered upon contemporary urban communities, to research, documentation, and programming that are community-focused, and which maintains a sense of citizen ownership through active participation.
"We are celebrating the museum's work to promote community cultural engagement as we reach this important milestone and move forward in a new direction," said Camille Giraud Akeju, ACM's director.
In keeping with the evening's theme, "Reclaiming Our Edge: Launching a New Vision," she added that ACM is changing to a broader focus on contemporary urban issues. Later, she explained that the impetus for the shift was the establishment of the National Museum for African American History and Culture and that this new Smithsonian museum will assume the role as "primary vehicle for preserving, interpreting and presenting programs related to the African-American experience."
"We decided that ACM would return to its primary objective – to reflect the history, culture and issues facing urban communities," Akeju said. "This focus will keep the museum relevant and sustainable. It will also allow us to compare these issues, many of which affect the museum's geographic neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, to similar communities around the world and allow us to explore local neighborhoods as part of the global community."
At the gala, guests previewed this new focus through the museum's most recent exhibition, "Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement," which examines citizens' efforts to restore rivers in six urban communities worldwide. The exhibit opens October 15.
For more information on the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum at 1901 Fort Place, SE, visit the website at www.anacostia.si.edu.