Virginia Ali, the co-founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl, accepts her award for her community service. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Virginia Ali, the co-founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl, accepts her award for her community service. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

A number of District leaders, many of whom reside and work in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, were honored on Juneteenth for their volunteer community service with a citation by President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

A large crowd of honorees, presenters and guests filled the pews at Matthew Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast D.C. on June 19 for the President Joseph R. Biden Lifetime Achievement Award and Presidential Volunteer Service Recognition Ceremony.

Radio and television personalities Guy Lambert and Renee Allen co-emceed the event. The Rev. Dr. George E. Holmes served as the chairman of the group that organized the recognition ceremony. Holmes said those recognized gave much of their time in the betterment of Washington, D.C.-area neighborhoods.

“We must pay tribute to those who dedicate their talents and skills to our communities,” Holmes said. “They deserve to be recognized and respected for what they do. The people we honor today are not thermometers who measure the climate but thermostats, who adjust and control the climate.”

Among those delivering short addresses on their community service were former District first lady and founder and CEO of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center and Recreation Wish List Committee Cora Masters Barry; Herb Scott, president of Life Enhancement Services; Virginia Ali, co-founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl; Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes; and Busboys & Poets President Andy Shallal. 

Barry talked about how community service became a part of her life early on because of Isabell Masters, her mother, who had run for U.S. president as a minor candidate a few times, and as the wife of the late four-term District mayor and D.C. Council member Marion S. Barry Jr.

“My mother taught us it was important to be involved in the community and to help make things better for others,” Barry, 78, said. “She thought all service was good. My husband Marion Barry believed in service all the time. I refused to go to the grocery store with him because people would stop him and thank him for what he has done.”

Barnes thanked the committee for her selection. She said her volunteerism is for future Washingtonians.

“What we do is for them,” said Barnes, pointing to the young people in the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Concert Chorale, who were sitting behind her on the church’s choir stand.

Shallal talked about the importance of the contributions of Black people and others of color to the country.

“If it were not for Blacks and those of immigrant communities, this country would be a fascist mess,” he said.

Special remarks regarding the occasion were delivered by Glenarden, Maryland Mayor Cashenna A. Cross and Ward 8 Democrats President Troy Donte Prestwood. 

The Children’s Theater, located in Ward 8, had a presentation in which its young actors dressed up as and portrayed District historical figures such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Chuck Brown, and Marion S. Barry Jr. 

Public relations entrepreneur Raymone K. Bain, who works closely with the former first lady and has worked with Mayor Barry and entertainer Michael Jackson, received the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award & Juneteenth History citation.

Throughout the ceremony, which lasted four hours, attendees were entertained by the Duke Ellington choir and its jazz combo, saxophonist Brian Lenair, dancer Paula Brown, and entertainer and evangelist Montell Jordan with a short rendition of his hit song “This is How We Do It.”

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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