P.I.T.S. Sports Founder Robert Pettis (in center with black track jacket) stands with Cheryl Franklin (first from left) Anthony “Bear” Smart (tallest in grey hat), and other volunteers at Robert R. Gray Elementary School.
With the kitchen almost closed, and many of the menu options no longer available, Robert Pettis served himself last.
“If I eat first it’s a problem,” he said.
When Positive Innovations To Succeed in Sports founder and CEO completed his job of serving the Addison Road community food and providing clothing, he sat down at one of the long brown lunch tables, where many families ate just minutes and hours prior, in the Robert R. Gray Elementary School cafeteria and ate a personal sized portion of what remained on the menu.
He then recalled what happened that day.
For the second year in a row, members, friends and family of P.I.T.S. Sports met on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to serve food to a Prince George’s County community.
This year the Capitol Heights community was served. In 2014, the Largo community was served.
Unlike last year, more families were fed at the site than were fed through food deliveries. Last year, when the inaugural event was held at Largo High School, only five people showed up, Pettis recalls; and that was mainly due to transportation issues. That led the event leaders to deliver 150 dinner boxes in 2014.
But in 2015, transportation was no longer an issue.
An estimate from a volunteer says that this year 100 to 150 people went to pick up items from the food pantry and clothing drive alone, which was held in a room down the hall from the cafeteria where hot food was served. Pettis says that “about 60” people were served hot meals this year.
A lot of outside help made the The 2nd Annual Pay It Forward Thanksgiving Brunch a success in the event creator’s eyes.
Pettis says the event was more organized this year, and he relied on more people to put the event together rather than rely on resources within P.I.T.S. Sports alone.
For one, Robert R. Gray Elementary School’s principal was all for collaboration.
Cheryl Franklin, the principal of Capitol Heights school, said that P.I.T.S. Sports asked her if they can help her community. She couldn’t resist.
“How could we not be of service to the community?” she rhetorically asks. “[Students] have so many needs before they open up a book.”
“Servant leadership means it doesn’t matter what your job title is,” Franklin said, “but your mindset, your heart, your value system, your belief system means you’re here for children and we’re here to serve.”
Franklin organized volunteers, made sure the food pantry and clothes giveaway area was well-stocked, and informed as many people from the community as she possibly could. She asked her staff put information about the event on social media, and fliers were given to students to take home, and calls to parents were made.
Chef Rome, who helped out at last year’s Thanksgiving event, thoroughly enjoyed serving the community.
“It’s all about love,” he said. “And what better way to reach somebody but than to reach them through their stomachs?”
He added: “We’re going to do it until time expires…until God calls us home.”
Roasted turkey, garlic mash potatoes, green beans, carrots. sweet potato casserole, apple-glazed ham was on the menu. For dessert, P.I.T.S. sports provided Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pies, corn bread muffins, cakes, chocolate chip cookies, and oatmeal raisin cookies.
Romona Johnson, whose late son attended Largo High School and was coached by Pettis, worked as a set-up team member and also worked in the pantry.
Through P.I.T.S. Sports she gives out at least two $500 scholarships a year. A boy or girl student with a 3.0 GPA and plans on playing basketball in college is eligible. Students at Surrattsville High School and Largo High School have received scholarships in the past.
However, in 2015, both scholarships went to Largo students because no one at Surrattsville High School was academically eligible.
The highlight of her day was seeing Raw Element Dance Company perform.
“It’s like they’re having so much fun and they’re enjoying themselves,” Johnson said.
Raw Element Dance Company, which is made up of many male and female teen dancers, performed at the inaugural event as well. Besides doing choreographed pieces, they also had an entertaining dance battle between the members.
Other volunteers included My Mind On Sports and the 6th Man, a sports media company. Dr. Bernard Winchester, Jr., of the First Baptist Church of Fairmont Heights, manned the pantry.
Anthony “Bear” Smart, who is within the board of directors at P.I.T.S. Sports, says his main job was to embrace his people.
“It’s not easy for someone to ask for help,” he says. “So you have to make them feel blessed and wanted.” He added: “Hey, we don’t have to talk about it. You don’t have to discuss it. You being here is good enough. Take what you need.”
He encourages those in need to speak about their needs, noting that slacks, coats, and all sorts of clothes were available.
The school will be first hub for Bear’s non-profit, Proposition Enrichment For The Next Generation, which will have programs to help develop students to achieve academically above average grades.
A child’s circumstances at home, Bear said, is not a reason not to hope or dream.
“You don’t have to be what your environment tells you you have to be,” he said, or what the media tells you have to be.
“Every black person in America is not ignorant. Every black person in America is not negative,” he said. “And we do know how to love our people. And we do cherish our community. And we do want the violence to stop.”
Bear hopes he plays a part in making Prince George’s County the next Black Wall Street.
The original Black Wall Street was a thriving black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1920s. The community was burned to the ground by white mobs and was later rebuilt.
Kids have to know that there are programs in place to help them succeed in order for that to take place, Bear says.
The organization closed the day by sponsoring Robert R. Gray Elementary School.
Christopher Goins is a copy editor and freelance journalist. He searched for five years for the least expensive graduate program only for it to close down after finding it. Thanks to technology like The Great Courses, Moodle, and Udemy, he has no need for any kind of grad school education anyway.