African-American News & Issues
As I watched the arrival of dusk and people, I felt butterflies my belly. There I was, doing something I had never done before and honestly didn’t want to do. I felt wholeheartedly that I should not be there in the banquet hall of the Acres Home Chamber of Business and Economic Development at 6112 Wheatley Street.
I didn’t want to be there because I didn’t feel in my comfort zone. But finds out, I was not alone.
There I was volunteering with people who look like me in a neighborhood where majority of the people look like me; yet the volunteers and I were producing an occasion that was unknown to people like us and to the place where we were.
Theoretically, Acres Homes was not the place for valet parking, evening gowns or cultured gatherings. Nor was it the place for federal government officials to dine with high school teachers. That was the Acres Homes that supposedly existed before June 8, but it is not the Acres Home that I know now exist.
That night the Acres Home Chamber of Business and Economic Development held its 23rd Annual Banquet at their headquarters on Wheatley Street. Yes, in the middle of Acres Home, also known as the 44 for the No. 44 Metro bus line that passes through the neighborhood. Yes, an allegedly dangerous neighborhood was the location for a banquet that rivaled the Chamber’s previous banquets held at four-star hotels.
In attendance were nearly 200 guests who all differed from occupations and goals. The evening began with welcoming words from the banquet’s Master of Ceremony, Honorable Sylvester Turner, and the Chamber’s founder and chairman, Roy Douglas Malonson.
Thereafter, the people rose to sing the Negro National Anthem and to receive the invocation from Benjamin J. Hall III, the founder of The Hall Law Firm, a supporter of the Chamber.
From there, Malonson explained why the banquet was being held in the 44. He said, “The Chamber is here for the neighborhood, so we are here in the neighborhood.”
It was not until I started volunteering for the banquet did I learn so much about the Chamber. The Chamber helped create Acres Home Coalition Administrative School, the first charter school in Texas, and also Aldine’s I.S.D.’s Montessori/Magnet Program.
In fact, that night Malonson presented the Aldine I.S.D. Board of Trustees with the Empowerment Award for education. The Empowerment Award for government went to Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee; for corporate executive, Jason Few, the President of Reliant Energy and Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer of NRG Energy; for small business, Percy P. Creuzot III, the President and CEO of Frenchy’s Companies; and for corporate, H-E-B Food Stores, Inc.
The presentation of the awards were unorthodox—well, at least for me. It was spellbinding to watch Malonson unveil the awards. The awards, too, were like nothing I had ever known an award to be. They were sculpture busts of our 44th president, Barack Obama.
Two of the awards were plates with a picture of both the president and the First Lady. Those awards were given to Bobbi Kelly and Diane Shepard, the daughters of Beulah Shepard, an active citizen in many Acres Homes organizations including the Chamber and of whom the Chamber’s banquet hall in named.
As I watched Malonson hand every little Barack Obama to the awardees, I realized I was not alone in my astonishment and delight of the award. I could hear whispers among the crowd.
The whispers grew into animated conversation as the people dined. The room was alive and warm. It was amazing that people like Congressman Al Green who wrote bills and laws was there in the 44. As my gaze roamed the room, I became more amazed that so many people with powerful voices and ideas were sharing that night for the Acres Home Chamber.
After dinner was the evening’s keynote address from Honorable John Whitmire of the Texas Senate.
Whitmire said that he was not going to give a speech. He said smiling, “We are going to have a conversation.”
He told us how in the beginning of his political career the people of Acres Homes, who although did not look like him, accepted him. That night he was there at the banquet supporting a community that has always supported him, even though his presence was required elsewhere.
“Instead of being of the Texas Democratic Convention, I chose to be here,” Whitmire said.
I looked around the room as the people applauded. There were so many government and city leaders such as Sheriff Adrian Garcia and HPD Chief Charles McClelland present. There were so many people of different professions and positions present when they could have spent their night some place else.
Whitmire went on to tell us about a young man from Acres Home who had been corresponding with his office. It was the hand of fate it seemed that guided them to the banquet. The young man, Kris Sharma, a recent high school graduate, is a member of the Chamber’s Youth Leadership Program. He aspires to eventually attend law school and becoming a politician.
Whitmire called Sharma to the podium. Whitmire said, “This young man is why we do this.”
I found myself nodding at his words. Sharma is a product of individuals who have already achieved some of their goals reaching out to nurture the goals of the youth in the community.
The audience clapped and I looked around the room again.
I saw a different room from the room I saw in the beginning of the night, and I was grateful to share the night with these people, all so different but saw the Chamber’s banquet as the place to be that night. I was comfortable, in my place, in the banquet hall of the Chamber in the 44. And I found that a banquet of such eloquence was too in its comfort zone in the heart of the 44.
After the banquet, Malonson told me, “It was a banquet empowering the community.”
I see now; it was.