By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, mgreen@afro.com

On Sunday, Feb. 10, audiences at the University of the District of Columbia Theater were reminded that while Black history is heralded in the month of February, African Americans have been rising, breaking barriers, setting trends and redefining excellence for ages, at the 2019 Black History Month Program held by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

Three historically African American institutions came together to contribute to the success of the 2019 Black History Month program that packed people into the theater and had people standing in the back for a glimpse of the talent and awardees, including: The University of the District of Columbia (UDC), where the event was held; Howard University, who’s Wind Ensemble performed musical selections throughout the evening and the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, the oldest fraternal organization for men of color in the United States.  With the District’s two Historically Black universities and the oldest fraternal organization, with participants both male and female, Black excellence was in full effect.

The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge held the 2019 Black History Month Program, “Celebrating the Great Migration” at the University of the District of Columbia, honoring several local heroes. (Photo by Micha Green)

Following the national theme chosen by Association for Studying African American Life and History (ASALH), the founders of Black History Month, the topic of this year’s program was “Celebrating the Great Migration.”

The event’s Master of Ceremonies was Michael Quander from CBS’s local affiliate WUSA 9, who constantly encouraged the audience of the prestige often forgotten about being Black in America and the importance of remembering the history.

The keynote speaker, Special Grand Historian Alonza Tehuti Evans, spoke on the history of Black migration, which he initially separated into two distinct periods, 1915-1930 and 1930-1960, and how that led all the way of the migration of the first Black family in the White House when Barack Obama served two terms as President of the United States.

Some of the honorees included architect Albert I. Cassell (posthumously); co-founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl Virginia Ali; President of the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust Thomasina Yearwood, the Rev. Johnsie Cogman, first African American woman to serve as pastor of the oldest Black church in D.C.; President of the D.C. Branch of the NAACP Akosua Ali; Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) and activist and comedian Dick Gregory (posthumously).

Some of the speakers shared the significance of being honored by Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

“Ben’s Chili Bowl has been there 60 years- through the Civil Rights Movement. And I remember the lodge having their parades- and back in those days the parades were not on Pennsylvania Avenue, they were on Black Broadway which was, of course U Street and right in front of Ben’s Chili Bowl,” Ali said.  “I remember opening the business to coincide with one of their conventions in 1958.  So it’s been a wonderful collection of memories, just being neighbors to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge and I’m deeply indebted to you for this recognition.”

The District’s representative to Congress discussed the importance of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge to the fabric of D.C. history and in relation to the actions she is taking to give the nation’s capital official statehood.

“This Prince Hall Grand Lodge has seen this city- which for more than years not, was a segregated city- through good times and bad, so it is a wonderful honor to receive from the wonderful Prince Hall Grand Lodge this honor as this year, we get a vote that at least in the House we will win, to make the District of Columbia the 51st state of the United States.”

Christian Gregory, Dick Gregory’s son, accepted the award on his father’s behalf and shared wonderful news.  He announced that his father’s autobiography, “Nigger” is returning to bookstore shelves, this time with a foreword by D.C’s own Dave Chappelle and an audiobook read by Samuel L. Jackson.

“I’ve received quite a few of these awards on behalf of my father, but none of them have been quite as powerful and beautiful, as what I’m seeing here tonight,” he told the audience.

“I’ll just say if my father was here right now, he’d hear all of the oral history and he’d hear everyone speaking and hear all this talk about the Great Migration, and he’d say, ‘Wait these brothers are giving me the Great Migration Award, they must think I’m going somewhere.’ And he would probably try to ease out.  But the truth of the matter is, there is no finer migration than migrating to the after-life,” Gregory said.

The younger Gregory further explained he hears  from his father since he migrated to the after-life, and encouraged others to open their ears for the activist-comedian’s lessons.

“I hear from my father regularly, because migration patterns, as we all know, you can come and go.  He comes quite frequently.  He’s still teaching regularly.  If we slow down and listen, I still hear him telling us to eat better, drink more water, walk daily, exercise, take care of our bodies, and specifically for Black and Brown communities- it’s profoundly important we become more proactive instead of reactive.”

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor