Audrey R. Johnson-Thornton, president and founder of the American Women’s Heritage Society, (AWHS) is a passionate and dedicated leader. “Twenty-five years ago, a group of African-American women forged an alliance to protect and preserve the Belmont Mansion, a site with significant relevance to the history of Philadelphia and its African-American legacy. This has been a journey of love and discovery, as we learned more about the Mansion, its role in American history and as a Freedom Station on the Underground Railroad leading American slaves to freedom,” the fashionable and energetic Johnson-Thornton said.
The gala honored the Society’s work to restore and preserve Fairmount Park’s historic Belmont Mansion and the many people who have supported those efforts. The anniversary celebration kicked off a $2.5 million capital campaign to create an endowment that will assure continued maintenance and improvements to the Belmont Mansion for decades to come. The American Women’s Heritage Society, founded in 1986, is leading efforts to restore and maintain Belmont Mansion, one of the most historic buildings in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.
Despite the drenching rain, hundreds of supporters came out to celebrate The American Women’s Heritage Society (AWHS) 25th Anniversary gala at the Historic Belmont Mansion on Friday evening. Former Governor Ed Rendell, former Mayor John F. Street, former Mayor the Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode Sr., Mayor Michael Nutter and state Sen. LeAnna Washington were honorary co-chairs of the event and were recognized. Dignitaries spotted at the gala were U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady and state Sen. Vanessa Brown.
The Rev. Dr. Goode, senior fellow and national director of Amachi said, “This event was a tribute to a group of Black women led by by Audrey Johnson-Thornton who dared to dream that a broken down building could become a museum that honored those who aided slaves in their flight to freedom. It also underscores that nothing great was ever achieved without a struggle.” He accompanied his wife and former first lady of the City of Philadelphia Velma Goode.
Dyana Williams of WRNB Radio and Lori Williams of NBC 10 did a great job as the evening’s mistresses of ceremony and co-hosts. Poet, scholar and activist Sonia Sanchez and Tanya Hall, executive director of the Multicultural Affairs Congress, were recipients of special awards. Toni Nash presented the award to Tanya Hall and both awardees made gracious remarks and expressed their gratitude.
There were many special touches that made this a memorable and enjoyable evening. Guests were welcomed by the rhythmic West African drum beat of Diabate Cultural and Performing Arts. Acting as hostesses, students from The Docent Training Program were dressed in period costume in keeping with the historical element of the evening. Miss Black Pennsylvania 2011, Jillian Patricia Pritle, performed an inspirational solo, and guests were also entertained by Warren Oree-Appreggio Jazz Ensemble, Musical Legacy.
The food was delicious and I asked Jewel Mann-Lassiter, president of Tuxedo Catering, about her involvement in helping to make the evening a success. “Audrey asked if I would chair the dinner committee and planning events is a big part of what I’ve done for years. She knew that the menu and dinner would play a major role in this event. My responsibilities included meeting with all caterers and planning a classic menu. Her plan was for me to contact a list of local caterers she recommended to donate their time, services and menu selections for the anniversary event. Each of seven caterers prepared one dish from the menu. Tuxedo prepared butlered hors d’oeuvres for the VIP reception and an entrée for the dinner menu. All of the participants did an incredible job. I was honored to work with all of them,” Mann-Lassiter said. Congratulations, best wishes and continued success are wished to Audrey Johnson-Thorton and all involved!
Have a fantastic week “Out & About” in Philadelphia, everyone!