Sunday, November 15, 2009

TV News Anchor Leon Harris Challenges Youth to "Be Your Best" During Gamma Pi Chapter's Achievement Week Program

When he took to the podium at Saturday's 36th Annual Gamma Pi Achievement Week program at Suitland's Drew Freeman High School, ABC 7 WJLA TV news anchor Leon Harris admitted that he only figured out what he wanted to talk about a few minutes before he walked on stage. Saying to the audience "I probably should not have told you that," he half-jokingly looked back at the chapter Brothers who were sharing the stage with him, wondering what their reaction would be. And then he launched into an emotional, captivating, from-the-heart stemwinder that amounted to a personal appeal to the students in the audience to look past the naysayers ("even if they are related to you") and the obstacles and make something of themselves.

"You are a miracle. Don't blow this one opportunity," he implored the students. Both the adults and the students in the audience seemed to be taking in every word as Harris talked about how he overcame his own odds to realize success in journalism. The audience seemed surprised to learn from Harris that his own father beat his mother and that for Harris, there were numerous days as a young boy when he would "wish I had been anybody but Leon Harris," adding that he shared his father's name, Leon Harris. Sr.

Harris also talked about how he gained a new perspective on life and his purpose when he visited Africa and saw an area of the continent where people were offered two choices: either be shipped out for American soil as slaves or swim with the sharks in the water below. He also drew some laughs when he talked about how he attended Ohio University on a National Merit Scholarship but "perpetrated" that he was on a football scholarship because he did not want to appear "smart." That was his way of encouraging students to look at being smart as "cool."

Harris's message fit nicely with Gamma Pi using the opportunity of the Achievement Week program to recognize local winners of chapter scholarship awards as is done every year. The Harris keynote also underscored an inspired performance from the Surrattsville High School choir, led by Gamma Pi Brother Marcus Davis.

Gamma Pi also took time to pay homage to several community leaders for their unsung efforts in the Prince George's County community. Those honorees were Rev. William "Bill" Lee, Assistant Pastor of the Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills, as Citizen of the Year; Rev. James Jordan Jr., Pastor of Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ in Riverdale as the Religious Leader of the Year; Michelle Powell-Larkin, the recently retired principal of Rose Valley Elementary as Educator of the Year; and Sam Yirerky, a student at Parkdale High who was selected as Scholar Athlete of the Year.

The chapter provided $1500 scholarships to the following students: Doninique Felicia Gill (University of Georgia), Kayla LaShell Hartley (University of California), Briana Martina Riche (Temple University), Melanie Nicole Countee (Texas Southern University), Tevin Terrell Jones (Morehouse College), Alexander L. Strachan (Dickinson College), Joy Mariah Hines (University of Maryland), and Brandon Edwin Browne (Winston-Salem State University). The chapter provided follow-on support for the same amount to hager Franklin (University of Maryland), Evan Robert Ash (Georgia Tech), Vivian Louise McCall (Catholic University), Ogechi Cynthia Achuko (Vanderbilt University) and Cameron Elaine White and Claire Nicole White (Bowie State University). Also recognized were three recent graduates and scholarship winners from Project ENRICH: Kimberlyn Davis (Bowie State), Jeremiah Hudson and Thaddeus White III (Morgan State).

On hand to witness the chapter's Achievement Week program were County Executive Brother Jack Johnson; Brother Dr. Mickey L. Burnim, president of Bowie State University; State Senator Ulysses Currie and former state legislator Brother Rushern Baker, who is preparing to run to succeed Brother Johnson in the County Executive chair.

Several members of the Gamma Pi chapter were also honored during the program on Saturday. Brother Akima Rogers, Vice Basileus of the chapter, was presented with the Founder's Award. Brother Melvern McCottry, who heads the NAACP Committee effort, was given the Superior Service Award. And Brother James Alexander, Chapter Editor, received the chapter's Omega Man of the Year award. Enjoy the video clips below:

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