Maria Wood (Robert Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Maria Wood (Robert Roberts/The Washington Informer)

There are a few definitions of love, but Webster’s Dictionary also describes it as unselfish, loyal and benevolent concerns for the good of another.

Black love can be symbolized and celebrated in many forms, such as the African American Association of Holidays did on the day before Valentine’s Day.

The association said it’s not about “where you go” but what you “do” to demonstrate love on Black Love Day that makes it a more cultural, spiritual alternative to the commercialized Valentine’s Day.

It encouraged to demonstrate five acts of love Blacks and Whites can use in their everyday lives: “for the creator, for self, for the Black family, for the community and for the Black race.”

Three individuals interviewed by The Washington Informer explained the various ways of love in their personal and professional lives.

‘Honor humanity’

David Johns credits the love of his education, policy and activist work from his grandfather, a Baptist minister still preaching the word today in Austin, Texas.

Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, passionately speaks out on Black liberation that includes those in the LGBTQ community.

His organization continues to urge Congress to pass the “Equality Act,” which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity that includes housing and public accommodations.

Last month’s assault against “Empire” actor Jessie Smollett in Chicago amplified how some Blacks continue to encounter racial, sexual and gender discrimination. In addition, President Donald Trump has pushed to ban transgender men and women from serving in the military.

“All people who honor and celebrate humanity … should appreciate that this type of violence is endemic and is getting worse based on where we are,” said Johns, who turns 37 this month. “These things that become national issues that don’t really affect people until somebody that they know incidentally shows up in that way.”

His unapologetic love of Black people began in college at Columbia University where he achieved a triple major in English, African-American studies and creative writing. After his bachelor’s degree in 2004, he received his master’s degree from Columbia in sociology and education policy.

He commutes between the District and New York City as he pursues his doctorate at Columbia. His dissertation centers on work he conducted in the White House under former President Barack Obama, which allowed grade-school students provide recommendations that became implemented in policy and school curriculums.

He participated on a panel in November during the National Action Network’s legislative and policy conference on Capitol Hill. Although the topic focused on the 2018 midterm election results, Johns reminded the audience “white supremacy and anti-Blackness still exist.”

However, everyone in the Black community must teach, support and love each other, especially young and LGBTQ people.

“There have been too many people that have called themselves race warriors that have accepted checks to do work around liberating Black people, but who imposed the same problematic and discriminatory ideas, beliefs and practices that ensure that none of us will get free,” Johns said. “I’m going to have fun calling them out.”

‘In my DNA’

Maria Wood of Northeast wakes up daily to travel 13 minutes and arrive at about 6 a.m. at William W. Hall Academy in Capitol Heights.

After the second-grade reaching teacher instructs, laughs and, of course, reads to three different classes composed of 58 students, sometimes Wood stays after school to assist the school’s Drama and William Hall Cares clubs.

Her first jobs as a teenager began at her aunt’s home day care center in Bowie and the last 16 years every summer at Camp Cornerstone at Cornerstone Peaceful Bible Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro.

“Since third grade, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher” Wood, 32, said. “It can be hard. It can be challenging at times, [but] I love it. It’s in my DNA.”

She obtained her formal education at Bowie State University with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in 2009. She received a master’s degree in reading and literacy online from Walden University in 2017.

Wood shared how she continues constant optimism for the profession and at the same school where she started her teaching career 10 years ago.

When walking inside her colorful classroom, there’s a Word Wall, a fish tank with five goldfish and an algae eater fish, and her favorite spots: two library areas with “hundreds of books.”

A unique part of the classroom most without a trained eye would miss: no perfect lines of desks and chairs.

Through some research, Wood discovered “flexible seating,” which allows children to eschew assigned seats. Inside her classroom, students can sit on garden stools, bean bags, step stools and two small lawn chairs. Two students can also perch inside a blue and white tent and read books to each other.

According to Maryland’s newest state report card released in December, William Hill received three out of five stars. About 371 of the 540 students are Black with those in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The urban school received a perfect 100 percent for “access to well-rounded curriculum.” On the elementary level, the school scored 6½ out of 20 points under academic achievement based on percent of students who scored “proficient” or higher on state tests.

Wood still exhibits faith among her students and parents.

“My parents are very invested in their kids,” she said. “We have families that may not have a lot, but they still find a way to help others in need. I’ve enjoyed that about my time here.”

Fatherly love

Frank Malone wears many hats — counselor, social worker and licensed Episcopal minister. His most important job, though, he says, is being a father and helping Black men become better fathers.

“My dad is 94 and he is still driving,” said Malone, 69, who resides in the District’s Ward 5. “I don’t mess with him, either. It’s about respect.”

Some of that esteem Malone seeks to encapsulate in his 100 Fathers Inc., a nonprofit organization which began in 2000 in Alexandria, Virginia, where he worked on the initiative with the city’s first black mayor, William Euille.

Malone said the fatherhood movement in the region began to blossom in 2009 when 250 fathers attended a “DC Dad Cares” program at John Burroughs Elementary in Northeast.

“They came from all over the city to be in the lives of their children,” he said. “We wanted to show that dads care.”

A 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted how nearly half of Black fathers living apart from their children played with them several times a week. In addition, 42 percent said they fed or dined with them and another 41 percent bathed, diapered or helped dress them.

Within the 100 Fathers program, those seeking help — returning citizens, single and married fathers — must participate in classroom instruction.

Some will undergo sensitivity training for putting a child’s needs first, respecting women and reacting calmly to situations instead of violently.

But Malone said he doesn’t work alone.

For instance, Donna Linder, executive director of Child Find of America in New York, created “Parent Help” for those who are parenting apart from their children in different cities, towns, or states. They can call a toll-free number for services such as mediation and conflict resolution.

Locally, Malone has worked with various organizations such as Men Aiming Higher, led by Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro. Malone said he seeks to open an office in Prince George’s County.

Malone’s group plans to hold its seventh annual “Father’s Week” celebration in June throughout the D.C. region that includes a program on Capitol Hill, at Catholic University in Northeast and in Prince George’s.

“Even though a Black father may not be in the house … he will take care of his children no matter what,” he said. “Anybody can be a father, but being a dad is a lifetime commitment. It’s all about love.”

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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