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An Evening in Recognition of Service

Catherine Carney | 5/19/2010, 10:27 a.m.

An evening of performance, fellowship, and recognition of service to the community kicked off the Harlem Renaissance Festival weekend in Prince George's County, Fri., April 30. The gathering attracted families and residents of all ages.

More than 100 guests attended the Prince George's County Harlem Remembrance Foundation's Sponsor's Gala and L.O.V.E. Awards at the Prince George's Ballroom in Landover, Md. The "classy-casual" event featured awards nominations and presentations punctuated by artistic performances.

The L.O.V.E. awards recognize area residents who have displayed leadership and excellence in service to the local community. The acronym "L.O.V.E." represents the qualities of leadership, outreach, vision, and excellence, and each quality has a corresponding award.

"The highlight of this event to me is the giving of these awards," said Gregory Robertson, 53, of Waldorf, Md., who represented the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) on the Harlem Renaissance Festival committee. He said that it was important to "acknowledge things people are doing in the community that sometimes everyone doesn't realize are going on."

This year's Leadership in Service award went to State Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-District 24) for his work advocating for local medical and mental health issues in government. The Outreach in Service award was given to Chelsea Mitchell, a Recreation Specialist at the M-NCPPC, for her work creating and promoting arts opportunities for local residents.

Eric Smith left the dinner with his Visionary in Service award. Smith also works as a Recreation Specialist at the M-NCPPC. He was acknowledged for organizing the annual Catwalk Classic and Communications Center where children can participate in TV production and journalism activities to prepare for careers in communications.

Local IHOP franchise owner Frank Coombs snagged the Excellence in Service Award. The businessman has garnered attention for hiring a large number of disabled workers. Coombs also spends a substantial amount of his time at local schools and as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

Lots of song, dance, and spoken word livened up the evening between awards presentations. Twenty-five student members of the Colours Arts in Education program performed six numbers for guests, including a rendition of Lionel Richie's All Night Long that required crowd participation along with a hard-hitting choreographed dance to Prince's Baby, I'm a Star. The High School Honors dance team and Lyrical Storm, a poetry performance group, were among the other displays of student talent.

"I really enjoyed the student performances," said Sandra Ingram, a senior citizen who lives in Upper Marlboro, Md.

"It was a very insightful and entertaining evening, and I'm glad I came."

The festival celebrates the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance era by remembering the accomplishments and cultural benchmarks of the past and encouraging future artistic accomplishments by today's generation. The Harlem Remembrance Foundation also hosts other exhibitions related to the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance and provides $1,000 dollar scholarships to area high school students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Currently, the Foundation is raising money to pay for a new community water well in Haiti.

"We celebrate the Harlem Renaissance as a way of understanding our past to get us to our future," said David Harrington, a member of the Harlem Remembrance Foundation's Board of Directors.

"If you don't understand your past, you're not going to be able to find the best way towards your future."

The poetic soft jazz sounds of music group Brown Baby Girl rounded out the evening as the crowd enjoyed pizza, salad, light desserts, and lively conversation.

By the end of the evening, everyone was abuzz about the next day's Harlem Renaissance Festival that featured Wale and Ginuwine. More importantly, there was a renewed sense of pride in the county and the local commitment to community service.