They came from everywhere: Memphis, Alabama, Chicago and other parts of the country to honor the legacy of a life punctuated by love and faith. The Mabel R. Smallwood Foundation launch took place Friday, April 26 at Howard University’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel.
The crowd included young and old alike. Those who never met Mabel Ruth Smallwood came to celebrate the legacy of a woman who believed in investing. Her investments were not in the stock market, but in the foster children that she loved and nurtured and gave not only her time, but her heart.
The mother of gospel great, master musician and multiple award winner Richard Smallwood left a large footprint behind and the foundation launch was evidence that her good works continue to resonate with so many.
“She inspired you to be like her, be a Godly woman She was an outreach kind of girl…She was my Godmother when I was out of my mother’s grasp”~ Ollie Milligan
Bernard Richardson, Dean of Chaplains, Howard University opened in prayer and the evening was moderated by Ollie Milligan, Administrative Officer of the Mabel R. Smallwood Foundation. R&B songstress and former Smallwood Singer A’ngela Winbush performed. Gospel legend Edwin Hawkins sent his support and well wishes in a video. The stage was set for an evening that celebrated a life well lived.
Fourteen children received love, nurture and biblical foundation in the Smallwood home in Washington, D.C. Others in the neighborhood were also beneficiaries of the Smallwood love umbrella. The stories were poignant, touching and humorous as each speaker who took the stage unveiled another layer of the woman who was Mabel Ruth Smallwood.
Gloria Ellis who was the very first foster child, recalled how she came to Mrs. Smallwood when she was just 7 years old. She did not know her alphabets and case workers had predicted that she would achieve little in life because of her challenges. Needless to say, Ellis learned the alphabets, surprised naysayers and today works with children who have intellectual disabilities and is a mother herself.
Bernice Muldrow told her touching story of being led to the Lord by Mrs. Smallwood when she was young. Barbara Prophet and Sandra Underwood also shared heartwarming stories of their time with Mrs. Smallwood.
Valerie Mathews called Mrs. Smallwood, “the voice of reason.” She and her brother were part of the “Baby Smallwood Singers.” She recalled the spiritual foundation that Mrs. Smallwood laid in her life by always requiring that they learn a bible verse each Sunday.
“She had a special love for battered and bruised children and nurtured and loved them… She taught me to be strong woman of the Lord.”~ Dr. Jacqueline Cadlett McHenry
Dr. Joy Kinnard, Director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House compared Mrs. Smallwood’s work with children and youth to that of famed educator Mary McLeod Bethune. Dr. Kinnard said Mrs. Smallwood had left an indelible mark on juvenile delinquents. It was also revealed that a digital story of Mrs. Smallwood had been created and that story will be placed on the Bethune website.
A video of Richard Smallwood playing “It is Well/Come Ye Disconsolate” during his “Persuaded: Live in D.C.” recording. Mrs. Smallwood was in audience that night and the camera caught her praising God throughout the performance.
Highlights included musical tributes by Richard Smallwood and Vision including one of Mrs. Smallwood’s favorite songs, “Healing.” Smallwood recalled how his mother would often be cheered by watching videos of their videos.
A portrait of Mrs. Smallwood was presented to Union Temple Baptist Church, the church founded by Mrs. Smallwood and her husband. Union Temple trustee Charles Matthews accepted on the church’s behalf.
Richard Smallwood thanked everyone for coming to the launch and shared a few of his own stories about his mother. “God gave me a very special mother that was meant to be shared with the world,” he said. He offered special thanks to Ollie Milligan for her vision in making the foundation a reality.
“She taught us how to live a life with purpose and dignity. I am a fruit of that labor. She was God’s stabilizer for me” ~Angela Winbush
A’ngela Winbush performed the song she wrote when she was 18, “The Power of Love.” After briefly playing the piano herself, she was accompanied by Richard Smallwood. The night ended with “Total Praise” and Dr. H. Beecher Hicks, Senior Pastor, Metropolitan Baptist Church closed the event in prayer.
The conversations about Mrs. Smallwood continued during the reception that was held immediately after the launch. Valerie Matthews, who spoke earlier during the launch shared, “Mrs. Smallwood was a remarkable woman. She had just a sweet spirit and heart. She just loved the children.” Matthews recalled how due to Mrs. Smallwood’s influence her brother became a command sergeant major in the army. “I was the first one in my family to finish college. She would encourage you. She left such a lasting impression on me when I was growing up. She guided me,” Matthews went on to say.
“Children need something like the Mabel R. Smallwood Foundation in their lives to let them know that there is hope, they do have a future and they can achieve,” said Minister Rosalind Tompkins Lynch who serves on the Foundation’s’ advisory committee.
Ollie Milligan was pleased with the way the night turned out. ‘I was very satisfied from a spiritual perspective, the soul of what we were trying to do was experienced. We were here to remember Mrs. Smallwood, not to have a concert. The Lord moves in a way that the real spirit of what is going on is as strong as it can be.”
Milligan says the foundation plans to get out into the community. “We want to be visible and connect with other organizations that are about the same thing.”
The evening can definitely be considered a rousing success. It was not a traditional foundation launch, but an intimate look at a woman of faith and love. As story after story unfolded, the chapel was transformed into a great big, comfortable living room as many reveled in their memories and others wished they had been blessed to cross paths with Mabel Ruth Smallwood.
The Mabel R. Smallwood Foundation continues to solicit donations as it moves forward in its mission to help and be a blessing to young people. For more information and to donate, visit http://mabelrsmallwood.com/
© 2013 Sarah Hearn (Photo credit: Jeffrey John Fearing)