As always at the Virginia Peninsula Chapter of the 100 Black Men’s annual Black Tie Gala, it was the kids — eight to 18, the boys dapper in their tuxes, the girls aglow in their long white dresses — who were the stars of the show.
Saturday’s celebration, capped by the presentation of some 15 scholarships to young men and women bound for college, marked Gala No. 26 for the group, whose members have been working to help children from across the Peninsula get off to a healthy, happy start to life.
“Mentoring is the core,” said chapter president Joe Fernandes, after running through the several programs — from scholarships to Secret Santa to men’s health screening — that the group tackles.
And it makes a difference. Diamond Hamock, 16, a student at Warwick High School, said her mentor convinced her to stretch her wings by exploring computer networking at New Horizons.
A recent field trip to Richmond opened eyes to the achievements of Maggie Walker, the African-American teacher who became the first woman bank president in the United States, Hamock said.
“We talk a lot about being black, and about black history,” she said.
That field trip also included a visit to the Holocaust Museum and a reminder of the horrors that hatred can unleash, said Jamari Highsmith, 13, a student at An Achievable Dream Middle School.
He meets with his mentor every other Saturday. They talk a lot about choices and consequences: the big ones, like college, and the little ones people make every day, he said.
During the gala, in addition to the scholarship presentations, the chapter honored as its role model of the year Tommie Smith, who won the 1968 Olympic gold medal for the 200-meter sprint, and whose Black Power salute on the awards podium became an iconic symbol of the struggle against injustice.
Joni Ivey, longtime chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News, won the group’s humanitarian award.
A community activist for more than four decades, she was the first woman elected president of the Newport News branch of the NAACP,
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Julius Green, the first African-American diver in the U.S. Army, was honored with the group’s Trailblazer award. His fellow Army divers say many owe their careers to his efforts and his support of them.
The Peninsula Chapter is one of the nation’s 100 Black Men association’s more than 116 branches.
Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.