By Maxine Gross

IMG 4661
Maxine Gross is chair of the board of directors at the Lakeland Community Heritage Project.

Stormy skies threatened as we Lakelanders gathered in April to unveil a historic marker for our community. The threat of rain didn’t throw us off; we’ve weathered storms before. As cars whizzed by on Baltimore Avenue, nine elders, all over the age of 90, took their seats in front of an audience of more than 100. Most of us had been classmates at Lakeland High School, back when it was the only high school open to African American students in this part of Prince George’s County. 

State and local officials turned out for the event, which was led by Denise Mitchell, mayor pro tem and the first woman of color to hold that position in College Park. Rev. Stephen Wright guided the group in spiritual centering and Violetta Sharps Jones, vice president of the Lakeland Community Heritage Project, offered a traditional ceremonial libation: “We pour this libation to give honor, reverence, respect, and recognition to our ancestors whose shoulders we stand on and whose shadows we walk in. We pour this libation, honoring you for making that journey to Lakeland so many years ago, you are our heroes. It is in your memory that we gather here today, and this marker is being unveiled.” 

Jones added, “Lakelanders have been fighting for our recognition, for acknowledgement of our existence, our purpose, our contributions. Hopefully this is just the beginning.” 

sign cover2
Members of the Lakeland community gathered to unveil this historical marker at the intersection of Baltimore Avenue and Lakeland Road.
Credit: Lauren Reeder

Julie Schablitsky, chief of cultural resources with the Maryland Department of Transportation, spoke about her relationship with Jones and her understanding of Lakeland’s history. She also noted the importance of the marker we were about to unveil.  

Ed Williams spoke of his love of Lakeland and of the legacy of that love he was passing on to his children and their children. He also sang: “It’s been a long , a long time coming, but I know a change gon’ come.” Other Lakelanders gathered that day echoed his sentiments.

Many of us started the day at Embry African Methodist Episcopal Church with a book drive and the church’s Literacy Enrichment and Legacy Walk/Run. Signs along the route spoke to Lakeland’s story and some of the people who made our community so special. These signs were yet another way we Lakelanders are reaching back in our history and forward to our future at the same time. As Rev. Latishia Cokley, pastor of the church said, “There is a definite connection between our past and our future, between legacy and the importance of literacy. The two work hand in hand to bring about a brighter future for Lakeland.”

The idea of legacy connected Lakelanders that day. To some, a legacy might be a story, watch, a sum of money or even a plot of land. To others, and certainty to many Lakelanders, legacy may be represented by those things — and by so much more. For these people, for us Lakelanders, legacy is a living thing, a community of place and people, of lineage, of caring across generations. Here in Lakeland, we celebrate and work towards the fullness of legacy as we honor our community’s past and value its present. And we look to our future in Lakeland, too, by advocating for home ownership, holding events, collecting stories, writing books, publishing to digital media, lecturing and exhibiting artifacts of our history — and writing columns like this one.