Seniors Recognized for Outstanding Service

Sam P.K. Collins | 3/5/2014, 3 p.m.
A community organization recently honored a group of seniors for their decades of service during a ceremony at a local ...
Cecilia Marshall, wife of the late Thurgood Marshall, chats with D.C. Council member Jim Graham, (D-Ward 1) during the Phenomenal Seniors Award Ceremony at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Northwest on Feb. 28. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

A community organization recently honored a group of seniors for their decades of service during a ceremony at a local historic landmark.

Cecilia Marshall, widow of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and eight other seniors, one from each ward in the District, accepted “Phenomenal Senior” awards on Friday, Feb. 28 at The Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage in Northwest.

“We sometimes forget the commitment that seniors make to their communities,” said Thomasina W. Yearwood, 66, executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust (TMCT), a Northwest-based organization dedicated to the restoration of the historic community center. “They pass on that legacy everyday by forging a path for us and not giving up. We have to remember how they serve us,” said Yearwood who lives in Northwest.

More than 70 guests toured the center and learned about its history as a local Youth Male Christian Association (YMCA), a facility that offered recreational activities for the District’s young men of color that opened in 1912. Photos on display throughout the building capture moments of Justice Marshall’s distinguished career. Videos described TMCT’s role in preserving the historic landmark and providing office space to 11 community organizations.

Upon receiving her award, Marshall thanked TMCT’s board of directors for preserving her late husband’s legacy and recounted her conversations with the late judge at periods during the civil rights movement.

“You made my day, my week and my year,” said Marshall. “I don't deserve this. This is for the people in the south who fought against segregation. Thurgood always said those were the real heroes of the civil rights movement.”

Martha Ford-Gladden won an award for her work as a volunteer for the Legal Counsel for the Elderly Program, a service of the American Association of Retired Persons that provides free legal services for the District’s seniors. She reflected on the happiness that helping her peers has brought her nearly 20 years after retiring from the federal government.

“It’s been a joy to serve seniors who come to me for help,” said Ford-Gladden. “There are many of us in need who do not realize it. We develop relationships when we receive love from those who live around us. Our needs are being met and things keep getting better for us,” said Ford-Gladden who lives in Northwest.

Billy Wright, 67, who maintains a friendly relationship between seniors living in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and The George Washington University in Northwest as a member of the university’s Friends Group, said that meeting Justice Marshall at a young age inspired him to dedicate his life to the service of others.

“I used to go to ANC meetings for Ward 2 and held a position as president of the residents association,” said Wright, 67. “This is an unbelievable honor. I had the pleasure of meeting Thurgood Marshall at the Supreme Court. We’re laying the foundation for the young people. It’s up to them to be available and use their time to help someone. The roots are there and we can’t let them die,” said Wright who lives in Northwest.

The ceremony followed other TMCT-sponsored events that recognized men, women, and youth in the community for their service. Guests included Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

Thelma Jones, curator of the Thurgood Marshall exhibit on display in the center, served as mistress of ceremonies and Graham read a letter from D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray that officially declared Feb. 28 as “Phenomenal Senior Day.”

John Thompson, executive director of the District of Columbia Office on Aging, chatted with the seniors before the program. He said the event provides an opportunity for young people to take pride in their elders’ accomplishments.

“We must honor our leaders and share their stories with the younger generation,” said Thompson. “This helps them understand the value of giving back to the community. This event shows them that there are young people who care about them.”