"You want to see something positive, brother? Look around," said Willie Toney, 31, when a reporter arrived Saturday afternoon to attend the Youth Community Day sponsored by the Southeast Neighborhood House.
Toney, a youth counselor at the Neighborhood House, organized the event to honor the achievements of Anacostia youth.
Attracted by free pony rides, music and fresh fruit and other health foods, more than 500 people -- mostly youths between the ages of 7 and 17 -- gathered around the block-long complex of buildings (between Maple View Place and Howard Road Se) that serve as the main office of the Neighborhood House.
Merit awards and trophies were given to about 30 youths who recenlty participated in the Neighborhood House's summer job program, sports activities and crime prevention projects.
Youths received awards for "demonstrating progress in developing a positive self-concept and self-control" and "showing leadership, self-motivation, a positive attitude and an ability to work with others," among other things.
Other attractions included a basketball hoop anchored with rocks and sand bags on a blocked-off street, and outdoor photographic exhibit, a continuous film presentation on the dangers of drug use and a D.C. "Reading Is Fundamental" trailer, sponsored by the United Black Fund Inc. and PEPCO.
"I'm enjoying everythig here, everything," said 12-year-old Thomas Mason as he stood in a long line in front of the RIF trailer, hoping to receive a free book.
A friend standing near Mason, 12-year-old Bobby Nails, said, "I like the music and the pony rides the best."
The photographs -- more than a dozen 30-by-40-inch portraits of black children on District streets and playgrounds taken by 33-year-old medical photographer Oliver Nophalin -- were donated by Nophalin to counter what he called "the limited cultural exposure in Anacostia." The photography exhibit hung on the Neighborhood House buildings.
After the awards were handed out, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) sang "The Greatest," an inspirational song by George Benson.
Fauntroy dedicated the song to the youths and to Dorothy Ferebee now over 80, who founded the Neighborhood House 50 years ago made a surprise appearance at the event. As Fauntroy sang, Ferebee approached the crowd, which then turned and greeted her with applause and shouts of "We love you, we love you . . ."
The frequent smiles and gentle expressions of affection that were shared by many in the crowd created a warm and relaxing atmosphere. "I feel a lot of positive vibes from everybody here," said Willie Young, 16. ""It's like a big beautiful block party."