D.C. resident Samuela Griffiths dances in front of a small audience during a back-to-school festival at the Thurgood Marshall Center in northwest D.C. on Aug. 19. (Mark Mahoney/The Washington Informer)
D.C. resident Samuela Griffiths dances in front of a small audience during a back-to-school festival at the Thurgood Marshall Center in northwest D.C. on Aug. 19. (Mark Mahoney/The Washington Informer)

This week marked the beginning of Samuel Griffiths’ daughter’s first year in elementary school and he wanted her to look the part as she embarked on her academic journey.

On Saturday, the father-daughter pair left their home and walked around the corner to the Thurgood Marshall Center in historic Shaw where, upon walking in its main auditorium, a hair stylist braided the young girl’s hair, free of charge.

For the rest of the afternoon, the father and daughter enjoyed the sights and sounds of the center’s inaugural back-to-school festival that featured live karaoke, a Tae kwon do demonstration, a book bag giveaway, a portrait artist and more.

“My daughter is an overachiever. She’s going to the first grade and has already had a lot of accomplishments since she was 2 or 3,” said Griffiths, a 10-year resident of the Shaw community. “Things like this event in the community show a lot of concern for the kids and [community partners] help them start school on the right foot.”

Griffith counted among hundreds of parents, children, and community members, who attended the festival on Saturday, Aug. 19 where they enjoyed a smorgasbord of activities and took advantage of community resources. In the auditorium, parents sat and talked among one another as children of various ages frolicked and danced to the latest trap-pop tunes emanating through jumbo speakers.

Hair stylists and barbers braided and shaped up children’s hair throughout the day. Down the hall, a resident chef gave a healthy eating demonstration. The Thurgood Marshall Center also coordinated on-site HIV testing. Outside, festival organizers transformed the parking lot into a kiddie wonderland, equipped with an icicle vendor, moon bounce and fire truck. Vendors sold African fabrics and health products.

Families line up at an ice cream truck during the Back to School Festival at the Thurgood Marshall Center in northwest D.C. on Aug. 19. (Mark Mahoney/The Washington Informer)

Throughout much of the afternoon, artist, musician and local favorite Reesa Renee walked with mic in hand to keep the mood upbeat. Ward 1 D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau also stopped by to listen to District residents. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., MD, FACS of Howard University Cancer Center served as the festival’s presenting sponsor.

“The best part of the festival was the haircuts for kids,” said Shavon Collier, referring to Darnell Palmer, a local barber who trimmed young men’s hair well into the evening.

Collier, a Southeast resident, spent much of the afternoon watching her children play in the auditorium.

“We have a lot of low-income families that can’t afford school supplies and other things for their children. This year, I want my children to do what they’re supposed to do academically and get to the level they’re supposed to,” added Collier, a mother of three.

John El-Badr, curator at the Thurgood Marshall Center, who brought his daughter and grandchildren, chatted with community members and enjoyed an icicle under the shade. For the historian, the back-to-school festival, located just two blocks from the U Street corridor, conjured memories of what Washingtonians once called Black Broadway.

“Anything that’s positive for our youth, we need to do as many times as possible,” El-Badr said. “Marcus Garvey came to this area. John Thompson came here to play ball. Langston Hughes was here. We have to fight for Shaw, Howard [University] and our institutions like Ben’s Chili Bowl, Industrial Bank and others that are still here. It’s still Black Broadway, even with the new stakeholders. Events like this are important to show that Black people still live in the community.”

This year, the Thurgood Marshall Center solely launched the back-to-school festival for the first time after hosting it on its premises for the two consecutive years with the Greater Washington Urban League (GWUL). After GWUL announced it would move the festival to its 14th Street headquarters earlier this year, Thomasina Yearwood, president/CEO of the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust, as part of an effort to meet community demand for the annual gathering, decided to continue the project.

“The kids are prepared, looking good and ready to learn. That’s the first step,” said Stacey Palmer, lead coordinator of the festival. “I know the burden school shopping places on your pocketbook. This is why we do it.”

For more information about the Thurgood Marshall Center, visit tmcsh.org. This article originally appeared on AllEyesOnDC.com.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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