Amtrak, Wizards and Washington Informer Partner to Honor Local Heroes

Norma Porter | 2/24/2010, 9:44 p.m.

Black History Tribute at Verizon Center, Salutes Community Leaders

Thousands of loyal fans filed through the doors of the Verizon Center to cheer on the Washington Wizards after the team traded three of its big men over the course of a week, however, that didn't dampen the Wizards spirit and the hometown team rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Denver 107-97.

But the Wizards weren't the only draw the evening of Fri., Feb. 20.

During halftime, with the score 60-52 and the Nuggets ahead, the Wizards organization and Amtrak acknowledged three unsung heroes in the Washington community with a first of its kind honor the Pioneer Award.

A crowd of 17,212 gave a rousing hand of applause to Terri Freeman, president of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, Rick Lee, owner of Lee's Flower & Card Shop and Gift and Peggy Cooper Cafritz, co-founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts for their philanthropic efforts.

"I think it's a wonderful thing to grab folks that might not ordinary get honored," Lee said.

You see the same people get honored all the time and there are other people out here --grassroots folks -- who are out here working hard and trying to make things happen in the community.

Lee called the Washington Wizards and Amtrak's decision to honor community leaders with the Pioneer Award fantastic.

Lee, the only child of Lee's Flower & Card Shop founders William and Winifred Lee, said that his parents success with opening a business on U Street in Northwest during the tumultuous 1940s inspires him to keep the family business going.

Today, his two daughters and granddaughter run the shop. The family owned-and-operated business is known as one of the first flower shops in the District. The flower shop is also known for standing the test of time, including the 1968 riots in D.C. after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Lee's hunkered down inside of their store, prepared to defend their business, with a shotgun within arm's reach during the riots. A sign, "Soul Brother" and a picture of King placed inside the storefront window stopped looters from destroying it.

Judy Holland, senior vice president of community relations for the Wizards, said that the honorees deserve to receive the accolades.

"The Washington Wizards are honored to partner with Amtrak in recognizing these outstanding community leaders."

"Their contributions to the metropolitan area have not gone unnoticed and we thank them for their service and dedication," she said.

Lorraine A. Greene, vice president of human resources and diversity for Amtrak, said that it was important for Amtrak and the Washington Wizards to celebrate D.C.'s unsung heroes during Black History Month.

"Here in Washington, D.C., you have a lot of celebrities. We thought that the unsung heroes would be the ones we want to honor," Greene said.

We had a number of candidates for this award and we had a panel that was established made up of Amtrak personnel and community persons. At the end of the day, these were the three that rose to the top.

Cafritz was honored to receive the award and to be included in a category with Lee and Freeman.

Her inspiration to provide young people with a solid academic and arts programs, Cafritz said, comes from her days growing up during the Jim Crow era in Mobile, Ala.

As a child it was cultivated in me that you could do anything but it didn't seem like that at the time [because of segregation], she said.

I'm drawn to kids who have not had the good fortune and you've got to fill their plate with as much as we have had on our plates. They need the same tools that we had to become successful and we've got to provide them.

Freeman's motivation comes from a sense of responsibility for community. A trait, she said her family instilled in her as a child.

As president of the Community Foundation, located in Northwest, Freeman helps nonprofit organizations in the region find funding sources as well as collaborate with organizations in the District to combat some of the region's most pressing issues like hunger and poverty.

"I am appreciative that people see the work of the Community Foundation," Freeman, said.

I have been leading the Community Foundation for 14 years. I love being in the midst of the community and also enjoy focusing on how we can make things better. The job is never done.