The annual community Thanksgiving celebration sponsored by Bismarck and Marie-Pierre Myrick combined the new and the familiar; the young and the not so young. The Myricks have hosted the get-together since 2002, when Bismarck returned to his hometown from Africa, where he served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia and Lesotho.
Appointed by President Clinton, Myrick was named Liberia's Diplomat of the Year three times and received the highest honor given to a noncitizen in Lesotho. He represented the U.S. at the swearing in of South Africa's first democratic parliament, led by Nelson Mandela.
While in Africa, Myrick introduced his friends and co-workers to the customary Thanksgiving meal. From the beginning, the dinners included people of different ages, races and economic statuses who might not have met otherwise.
When he returned to the states, Bismarck continued the celebration at the Jeffrey Wilson apartment complex, where he grew up as a child. When the units were torn down, the Myricks moved the dinner to the neighborhood recreation center at 900 Elm Avenue. Currently a lecturer at Old Dominion University, Bismarck's annual meal continues to bring people together.
"We are delighted to do it," he said.
The Myricks buy all the makings of the traditional holiday feast, and the meal is cooked by Wanda Davis, something she has done from the beginning.
About 200 people gathered Thanksgiving evening. Some were family, but most were friends who have become like family. It was a multicultural gathering, with old acquaintances from Portsmouth mingling with guests from South Africa, Liberia, Russia, and Sierra Leone.
A few new friends were made that evening. The Afro Dogs of Hampton Roads, an African American motorcycle club, were the guest speakers. The national group started 40 years ago when a group of bikers used good works to affect their communities. Locally, the Afro Dogs have had school supply drives, adopted a nursing home, raised money for breast cancer and sickle cell and sponsored scholarships.
Afro Dogs member Gloria Kelly introduced the group to the attendees. Like Myrick, they know the power of reaching out and uplifting others.
"We feel like we're with family," she said.
Myrick told the kids they matter and can rise above their circumstances, and the youngsters also had a place on the program. The children and grandchildren of guests read poems and scripture and lead prayer. Dance students from the SAGE homeschool co-op at Western Branch Baptist Church presented an African dance.
The Myricks presented gifts to seniors and children under the age of 12. There were also raffles at the end of the evening.
There was a moment of remembrance for Bernard Griffin, the former educator and public servant who died in May. Griffin had been an ardent supporter of the Thanksgiving dinner.
Burlene Branch, Jean Elliott Davis and Clementine Elliott led the time of sharing. Members of the audience gave their recollections, including his widow, Alveria, and sister-in-law Margaret Jackson.
"He was a people person, an encourager," Clementine said about Griffin. She later shared about the time she wanted to pull her son out of sports, convinced it was taking too much of his time.
"Bernard told me not too," Clementine says. That son, Chesapeake deputy sheriff Lamar Elliott, went on to lead Pop Warner football and the 757 Seahawks, a youth sports organization that includes football, basketball and track.
Former I.C. Norcom classmates, relatives and a host of community volunteers formed the dinner's planning committee and many of the helpers have been on board since the first event.
"They are wonderful. We couldn't do it without them," Maria said.
An Estonian proverb was the evening's theme: "Who does not thank for little will not thank for much." The Myrick's annual meal is a big "thank you" to the community.
Pamela Nichols, firstname.lastname@example.org