My wife Michele and I had the distinct pleasure of attending last Saturday night’s Richard Wright Public Charter School of Journalism and Media Art’s sixth annual Black Tie Gala Film Festival. What an elegant and inspiring evening. The event, as in previous years, was held at the historic Warner Theater where over 1,000 men and women in evening attire gathered to celebrate the Reaching Our Excellence in Education (ROXIE) student productions. The theme of the occasion was “Inspiring the Next Generation,” and I can attest that you could not walk out of that auditorium without wholeheartedly believing that the theme would be fulfilled.
Perhaps what makes this night so special has to do with the people who are honored. These individuals included Bern Nadette Stanis, actress known for her role in “Good Times” and author; John Gibson, advisor for inclusion and multicultural outreach of the Motion Picture Association of America; Jim Watkins, WHUR-FM general manager; Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer; U.S. (Shadow) Representative for the District of Columbia Franklin Garcia; Renee Nash, WHUR-FM news and public affairs director; Ezekiel “Zeke” Dennison, Jr., third district representative for the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; Melissa Macaya, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists D.C. Chapter; and Reverend Tony Lee, founder and senior pastor for the Community of Hope A.M.E. Church. In addition, a special Lifetime Legacy Award was presented to the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
I want to make a few observations about this portion of the program. First, the awards were not given out all at once but were interspersed among the viewing of student films, which I thought was a nice touch. Also, the two emcees, Mr. Joe Clair, host of the “Joe Clair Morning Show” on WPCG, and Dr. Renee Starlynn Allen, founder and chief executive officer of Star Entertainment Group, LLC, did an outstanding job of moving the agenda along at an upbeat pace, with Ms. Allen contributing the calming influence to Mr. Clair’s truly funny comedic antics. The reaction by those receiving recognition of their careers in the service of others was uniform delight, and had the impact of providing the charter school with added credibility toward the creation, as stated by the charter’s board of director’s chairman Gregory Adams, “of endless possibilities within our school’s community, enabling our students to have the power to decide their futures with confidence.”
Guests could read detailed descriptions of the outstanding achievements of these awardees in the 45-page highly professional glossy brochure that was provided to each guest. The booklet included declarations by U.S. House of Representative Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, At-Large Councilman and chairperson of the committee on education David Grosso, and six other members of the D.C. Council congratulating the school on reaching the milestone of its sixth annual ceremony.
There were nine student films. Last year my wife and I had a conflict and could not attend the gala so the last time we were in attendance was in 2015. In just those two years the quality of the movies has gone up exponentially. We were really blown away. Immediately from the start of “Because I Love Him,” a piece about a woman who is being physically abused by her male significant other, we sat riveted before the screen. Exceptionally moving and flawlessly written and produced was “The Perfect Child” which followed from her mother’s point of view the medical diagnosis, treatment, and recovery of her daughter, a Richard Wright student who had contracted stage four lymphoma. She nearly died from the disease. The young lady approached the podium at the end to speak to cheers and tears from the audience.
But I think the absolute highlight for us was the still-in-development documentary, “Reverend Jesse Jackson: Keeping Hope Alive. Mr. Jackson recently paid a visit to the charter and it is apparent he spent considerable time with the kids. This segment followed Mr. Jackson as he took the pupils through his front-seat involvement in this nation’s civil rights movement, including the day he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968 when Martin Luther King was shot and killed. Michele and I visited the hotel a year ago so the film was especially poignant to us. Mixing news reels in with Reverend Jackson’s passionate reflections made you feel you were standing right next to him at the time.
At the conclusion of the film presentations and before Team Familiar, a high energy band that included vocals and a full horn section, entertained the audience, the founder and C.E.O. of the school and my personal hero Dr. Marco Clark addressed the guests. But by this point there was little he had to say. The students had already definitively shown the packed house the superlative progress in academics and character development being made by those attending Richard Wright PCS.