Thursday, June 21, 2007

North Brentwood Day keeps history alive

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Bianca White (left), 11, and Rian Coleman, both of North Brentwood, make sun visors at the arts and crafts table Saturday at the North Brentwood Day celebration.
North Brentwood residents hold onto their history, and through first families and old photos, they know how to keep stories alive.

To celebrate 83 years as the first African-American incorporated town in Prince George ‘s County, community members, past and present, came together Saturday for games, refreshments and the chance to share memories at the annual North Brentwood Day.

The event, hosted jointly by the North Brentwood Citizens Association and the North Brentwood Community Center, was as much about family as it was about hot dogs, salsa bands and dancing.

And for a few hours in the town’s modest community center just off Rhode Island Avenue, the celebration was like a family reunion.

‘‘[North Brentwood Day] means old memories and good friends,” said Evelyn Hughes, a former resident and member of the First Baptist Church of Brentwood.

The event provides a place to see familiar faces, said North Brentwood Mayor Petrella Robinson.

‘‘People raised in North Brentwood come back for this,” she said. ‘‘But we still need the citizens to come out more to help. It takes a lot of time and effort to put all this together.”

The centerpiece of the day was a display set up by the North Brentwood Historical Society.

Anna Holmes, president of the society, said she asked past and present residents to bring North Brentwood memorabilia.

‘‘We are working all the time trying to document every piece of history we can,” said Holmes, who recently won a Maryland Traditions Alta Award for her work with the historical society.

The exhibit included military memorabilia, documents, church history, old photos and history on the Randall family, the first settlers of North Brentwood.

‘‘We gotta keep our history going on,” Robinson said as she made her rounds at the event. ‘‘History, in North Brentwood, is number one.”

Nona Battle, a direct descendent of the Randall family, was also in attendance, not just to see old friends, but to impart her bit of history as well.

Battle said her pride in the history of North Brentwood brings her back to visit every year.

‘‘It’s wonderful,” she said. ‘‘I visit my old home and bring the kids.”

Lifelong resident Cheryl Coates was one of the many attendees who could trace her North Brentwood roots back generations.

‘‘I live in the house that my grandfather built,” she said. ‘‘North Brentwood means a lot to me.”

But history wasn’t the only focus of North Brentwood Day. As the salsa band kicked in, people got up to dance across the gymnasium floor.

Children had their faces painted, and inside the kitchen area of the community center, hot dogs, popcorn and juice were served.

The youngsters looked like they were enjoying the food and activities more than the education, but Robinson made sure the children got their history lesson as well.

‘‘Young people in North Brentwood are interested in history,” she said. ‘‘And we make sure they know about their history.”