Before a packed crowd at Borough Hall last week, newly elected Borough President Melinda Katz held her first official African American Heritage event.
The evening, which featured numerous awards and a performance by a dance group, was highlighted by former Borough President Helen Marshall being honored with the lifetime achievement award.
After leading everyone in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the borough president spoke about the significance of the evening.
“I am honored to be here,” Katz said. “I don’t know if I can put it into words the culture and the traditions, socially, educationally and religiously, that the African American community has brought here to our borough.”
Marshall, the first African American woman to serve as Queens borough president, graciously accepted the award and said she is proud to live in Queens.
“Queens is the most multi-ethnic county in the United States,” Marshall said. “As I’ve always said, visit Queens, see the world.”
Other honorees included John Alexander for his work with the Langston Hughes Library, Dr. Andre McKenzie for his academic support services at St. John’s University, and, posthumously, John Watusi Branch, the founder of the Afrikan Poetry Theater.
Keynote speaker Reverend Henry Simmons of St. Albans Congregational Church said the program brought out the best of the African American community in Queens, before adding that celebrating African American culture should not just take place in February, which is African American History Month.
“Our history isn’t about what has happened,” Simmons said. “History is an ever-evolving saga that informs what happens in the present and is a way to reach a more profitable, productive tomorrow.”
Scholarship awards were also presented to students who wrote essays pertaining to African American culture.
They included Reya Adams of George Washington Carver High School for the Sciences, Ebone Andrea Blake of Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, Julia Hackle of Forest Hills High School, Asata Hendricks of Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School, Ayisha Jackson of Bard High School Early College, Garfield Maitland, Jr. of Aviation High School, and Fabien Paul of Hillcrest High School.
Hendricks, who hopes to study computer science at Syracuse University, wrote about the adversity he faced growing up with his mother’s drug abuse and how he persevered. He said he learned how to talk about what he went through and it made him a stronger person.
“I was kind of surprised, “he said. “I didn’t know I was going get the award.”