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UDC Stages Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

Stacy M. Brown | 4/2/2014, 3 p.m.
Residents and school officials said the National Cherry Blossom Festival has brought new found recognition to the University of the ...
The University of the District of Columbia (Courtesy photo)

Dr. James Lyons had little doubt about what the partnership between the University of the District of Columbia and the National Cherry Blossom Festival meant to the Northwest-based higher learning institution and its neighbors.

However, when Lyons, the university’s president, overheard a conversation between a father and his young son, the partnership’s meaning resonated all the more.

“When I walked to the gym to greet [festival goers], I walked behind a family and a young son turned to his father and said that this is the greatest place in the world,” Lyons said regarding a conversation that took place about a year ago.

“I said to the young person, ‘excuse me, young man, and would you like to work for [the University of the District of Columbia]?’ The father, who grew up not too far from here, said he’d never been to UDC before and he loved it. There’s no better testament than that,” Lyons said.

Residents and school officials said the National Cherry Blossom Festival has brought new found recognition to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and its participation has served to bolster its status inside the District, where universities such as Georgetown, George Washington, Howard and American command the bulk of attention.

UDC has continued to play an important role in the National Cherry Blossom Festival. In previous years, the university grew the trees at its farm in Beltsville, Md., and this year officials are using the campus as a staging ground for parade participants.

Two years ago, when the festival enjoyed its centennial, UDC celebrated its “160th year of scholarship and achievement.” Festival officials donated more than 40 cherry trees to the university’s new Dr. Cleveland Dennard Plaza on campus and along the Connecticut Avenue streetscape in Northwest.

Since the partnership’s inception, festival organizers have provided educational and internship opportunities to UDC students.

For the 2013 festival, UDC served as host to the annual parade by providing rehearsal space in the sports complex at the Van Ness Campus for an 800-member tap dance team and a 900-member parade youth choir.

“We’re seeking to expand that partnership as part of our outreach and community involvement,” said Lee Brian Reba, the executive director of corporate relations and special events at UDC. “This partnership is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the university to over 1,500 kids, plus their parents,” Reba said.

The showcase hasn’t been lost on local residents, either.

Nichelle Benton, who attends nearby Georgetown University, called UDC a hidden treasure that’s out in the open. Benton, 24, said the cherry trees will serve the landscape of the university all the more once the construction projects the school’s undergoing are completed.

“I think UDC finally has found appreciation in the District and I think its participation with the National Cherry Blossom Festival is working out to UDC’s advantage,” Benton said.

Benton’s friend, Roland Simpson, who works at a law firm near Georgetown, agreed with her assessment. “It’s lovely,” said Simpson, 28.

“As someone who lives in the District and not too far from UDC’s campus, it’s exciting to know that they are working hard to be a vital part of the community,” he said.