Despite the frigid temperatures on Feb. 28, visitors poured into the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore for Verizon’s free Black History Month celebration. This was the sixth consecutive year Verizon welcomed guests from across Maryland to visit the museum.

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Tony Lewis of Verizon

The museum is a leading resource for information and inspiration about the lives of African-American Marylanders– from the state’s earliest history to the present and future. During the open house, visitors explored the museum, visited vendor tables and participated in a full day of activities. Attendees enjoyed food, door prizes, historical presentations, and arts and crafts, and the first 200 children received educational gifts.

Four youth also won tablets during Verizon’s special program at noon. The program included entertainment, speakers, and a special recognition of community leaders, innovators, and essay contest winners from elementary, middle, and high schools across Maryland.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin brought greetings from the federal team for Baltimore – Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Rep. John Sarbanes and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. “We are here to help celebrate Black History Month,” Cardin stressed. “Thank you Verizon and the partners for bringing us together today. This is a celebration.”

Verizon’s 2015 Community Innovator Award Winners

Maryland Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D, District 40) – president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and state senate majority leader – said to the standing-room-only crowd, “We celebrate Black history because of all the trials and tribulations that African Americans have gone through, not just for their accomplishments. We must remember what our ancestors went through. We must remember the struggle.” Pugh also thanked Verizon for all it does in the community.

Anthony A. Lewis, Verizon’s mid-Atlantic region vice president of state government affairs, said a longstanding commitment to diversity and giving back to the community are key reasons the company continues to host its Black History Month open house. “We are here today because Verizon is vested in the community,” he added. “We have a responsibility to our customers, the community, this fabulous city and this wonderful state. It’s an absolute necessity that we celebrate this historic month and the community partnerships we’ve formed with some wonderful organizations.”

Some of this year’s event partners included the Afro-American Newspapers; Associated Black Charities; Baltimore City Branch NAACP; Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development; Collective Empowerment Group, Inc.; Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland; Maryland State Conference NAACP; Radio One; Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Alpha Alpha Sigma Chapter; and The Baltimore Times.

Also participating in the black history celebration were Del. Barbara A. Robinson (D, District 40); Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D, District 41); Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D, District 41); Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett; Bruce Adams, director of Montgomery County’s Office of Community Partnerships; Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young; Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes (D, District 12); Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference NAACP; and J. Howard Henderson, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Urban League.

During the noon program, Verizon announced the following winners of its 2015 Community Innovator awards:

* Joy Bramble, owner/publisher of The Baltimore Times

* Vince Canales, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police

* Wanda Draper, director of programming/public affairs, WBAL-TV 11

* Solomon Graham, founder of Quality Biological Incorporated

* Rev. Dr. Cleveland Mason II, president of the United Baptist Missionary Convention

* Glenard S. Middleton Sr., executive director of AFSCME Council 67 and president of Maryland Public Employees, Local 44

* Wannetta Thompson, executive director of GVCA Outreach, Inc.

* Rev. Dr. Jonathan Weaver, founder of The Collective Empowerment Group

* Dr. David Wilson, president of Morgan State University

* Janice Wilson, president of the Charles County Branch NAACP

Vendors speak to attendees

A surprise award was presented to Dr. A. Skipp Sanders, executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. He praised the partnership with Verizon and noted that the company’s free open house draws record-breaking numbers of guests to the museum each year, including many first-time visitors. “Black History Month is a great opportunity for us to celebrate and honor those individuals who made a significant contribution and commitment in the past and those who continue to make a difference today,” Lewis said.

Hundreds of youth also visited the museum courtesy of Verizon. When six-year-old Zoe Lashley arrived, she was drawn to the children’s arts and crafts room, where a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority helped Zoe write her first autobiography and publish her first newspaper called the Baltimore Black History News with articles on John Henry Murphy Sr., and Vivien Theodore Thomas. Murphy was an African-American newspaper publisher, best known as founder of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. Thomas was an African-American surgical technician who developed the procedures used to treat blue baby syndrome in the 1940s.

Zoe, a kindergarten student at The H.O.P.E. Academy, left the arts and crafts room with her newspaper proudly tucked under her arm. “By educating our youth on their history, we help ensure that the future remains strong,” Lewis said.