Geraldine Manley presents Living Legend award to Zollie Gill
LOUISBURG -- Family is important to Annie Thomas, whether by blood or by choice.
This past weekend, when outgoing Nu Epsilon sorority chapter president Phyllis Perry recognized her as one of four recipients of the organization's Black Living Legends Awards, that message hit home.
"Most people will start saying that it's a pleasure to introduce someone out of formality," Perry said during the group's banquet ceremony last Saturday at Louisburg College.
"When I say it's a pleasure for me to introduce our last honoree tonight, it is truly an honor, deep in my heart, to introduce this lady," Perry said. "Tonight, I could have been at my grandson's senior basketball game.
"I missed that to introduce this lady when others could have done it.
"But, I wanted to do it myself."
Thomas, longtime pastor the Rev. Claude Dunston, former legislator and educator Bobbie Richardson and county NAACP President Zollie Gill were recognized by the sorority as Black Living Legends as part of Black History month celebrations.
Earnestine and Annie Thomas began accepting foster children in their home in 1973. During a 20-year span, besides seven biological children, they took in nearly 100 foster children, giving them a home when no one else would.
"She asked the Lord to never allow her to see her biological children versus foster children because they were all children who needed love," Perry said.
"Some of them stayed for a short time. Some of them stayed for a long period of time," Perry said. " And some are still with her now.
"Some of the children were newborn babies, right out of the hospital," she said. "Some of them were autistic, had disabilities and some of them were from other races.
"They even adopted some of them.
"... She still loves all of them and thanks God for how things worked out," Perry said. "... It is with great pleasure that I present to you one of my favorite, favorite foster mothers."
During the evening, members of Nu Epsilon presented the rest of the honorees with plaques for their community service and commitment, which garnered them the recognition.
Nu Epsilon incoming president Geraldine Manley presented Zollie Gill with his award.
"At [N.C. A&T] he was a strong advocate of civil rights and participating in sit-ins and marches," Manley said of Gill's early foray into community involvement.
He's served as president of the Franklin County NAACP who, like his father, the late Deacon Otis Gill, helped lead the organization.
In 2015, Gill participated in the national NAACP march -- the American Journey for Justice -- aimed at protecting and enhancing the civil rights of all Americans, Manley said.
Gill also is an advocate of voter registration and participates in a number of groups and organizations, including Social Services and the Boys and Girls Club.
"He is a man of faith who believes in family," Manley said.
The Rev. Claude Dunston, who has been a fixture in almost 10 churches, serving as pastor or as an interim, was recognized for his service to the community, too.
"The Rev. Dunston believes that everybody is somebody," Alston-Burgess said. "His fatherly disposition and genuine love for people is communicated by the way he speaks, his hearty handshake and his brilliant smile."
Bobbie Richardson, whose robust resume includes stints in the legislative halls in Raleigh, classrooms in the area and boardrooms across the region, was recognized for her service, also.
Born on her family's farm in Wood, Richardson earned her undergrad and masters degrees from N.C. Central University before receiving her doctorate in educational leadership from UNC.
She served in educational and leadership roles for exceptional children programs in the classroom.
She also had public service goals, serving on the county's Board of Education before serving terms with the state House of Representatives.
Currently, Richardson is First Vice Chair of the NC Democratic Party, Chair of NC Legislative Black Caucus, a board member for Golden Leaf Foundation, and an advisory member of Burroughs Wellcome.
"... [If you ask her] her inspiration was: 'Certainly my parents, selfless and unconditional love molded me into the woman I am today," Nu Epsilon member Jeanette Richardson said by way of introducing and recognizing Bobbie Richardson.
"'They taught me self respect, respect for others and a love of education and the knowledge of right from wrong.
"The love they gave to me, along with the rest of my family, has always sustained me.
"My first grade teacher ... was also a strong influence.
"When I was growing up, an educator was often the only professional a black child would come in contact with.
"From her, I developed a passion for learning and I knew after I met her that I was definitely going to college.
"My experience as an educator motivated me to help others to give more of myself to worthwhile causes.
"Above all, the love of god keeps me grounded.'"
At the conclusion of the banquet, Perry reminded those in attendance that the quest to recognize others for their service continues.
"... Next year, one of you sitting out here tonight could be one of the people we're honoring as a Black Living Legend," she said. "... We're watching you and seeing who's doing what for whom.
"So, let's do good for our community."