After two years of observing Black History Month virtually, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined The African American Heritage Committee for its annual celebration at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Residents from across the borough came together and enjoyed musical and dance performances, a tribute to honor Queens residents who have left a legacy — including former Borough President Helen Marshall, whom the building was named after — and recognizing Black leaders in the fields of business, spirit and community, among others.
Violinist Kareem Headley performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Devore Dance Center made a spotlight with a solo contemporary dance performance to the song, “Glory.” Established in 1990, they educate and cultivate their youth with performing arts and use it as an outlet to reawaken their sense of community.
Richards, Queens’ first Black male borough president, not only celebrated Black History Month, but acknowledged the success of Queens bouncing back from the rough years of COVID-19.
“It is an important time for us to pause and celebrate the accomplishments of individuals whose selflessness and determination have enabled them to strongly contribute to the advancement of our borough, city, nation and worldwide,” he said.
He presented the Borough President’s Award to NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks.
Nine Queens high school students were awarded with $1,000 as a part of the African American Heritage Scholarship Program, aiding them with college funds and helping Black students with higher education. Richards congratulated the students.
“People talk about our young people when they do the wrong thing,” he said. “We need to celebrate them when they are doing the right thing. And this is what our children do everyday despite what shows up in the media”.
Among the tributes during the event was one for former Borough President Helen Marshall. Prior to being Queens borough president, Marshall was City Councilwoman for the 21st District in 1991 and was also chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee Culture and council of the Black and Latino caucus. Elected in November 2001, Marshall was an advocate for equality, senior citizens and the environment throughout her political career.
Other tributes went out to Civil Rights Activist, Rev. Timothy Mitchell, former pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church since 1961. Mitchell expanded the church in many social service areas. Throughout his career, Mitchell was active in organizing communities against hate crimes and controversial issues involving police officers. He was a key catalyst in getting residents involved in causes.
Retired NYPD Sgt. Jeffrey Hunt was awarded the Business Award for his 24 year career at Jeff Hunt Traditional Shotokan Karate on Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton, where he teaches karate, kickboxing, and self defense to kids and adults. Hunt wanted his dojo “to be a dojo of strength, encouragement and enrichment”.
Other honors given out during the event were the Community Service Award to Sakinah Black, president of the Queens County Section National Council of Negro Women; the Spirit Award to Rev. Dr. Elaine Flake, senior pastor at Greater Allen AME Church; the Sports Award to Larry Woods, adult recreational specialist; and the Appreciation Award to Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako).