At bedtime Thursday, 8-year-old Precious Thomas lay, burning with fever, in her mother's lap. The thermometer said 104 degrees.
She had been sluggish, solemn, not her usual, playful self much of the week. Yet, she rose Friday morning and went to school, as she does most days. This child learned early in life to get up and go on, despite the ever-present, deadly AIDS infection that dictates daily how she feels.
A gifted speaker since age 2, Precious has spent much of her life educating others about AIDS, urging them to open their minds and change their unsafe behavior. For her activism, the Prince George's County Branch of the NAACP on Saturday bestowed on her its highest honor, the President's Award, during its 12th annual Freedom Fund Dinner in Greenbelt.
"Precious is an example of a person who can live and live a good life with AIDS," said Edythe Fleming Hall, president of the county NAACP chapter, who personally selected Precious for the award.
Precious, a fifth-grader and an honor-roll student at Edgar Allan Poe Elementary School in Suitland, wore a deep purple dress and matching shoes. Her hair was pulled into thick, bouncy, black twists highlighted by shiny silver bows.
The audience gave Precious a standing ovation as she received her plaque, which thanked her for "more courage than years, more compassion than all our tears." Later, Hall was joined on the stage by presidents of NAACP chapters in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, Baltimore and the NAACP state conference, who had another surprise for Precious.
"We're going to take you on a shopping spree and buy you the computer of your choice," Hall told Precious.
Rocky Thomas, who adopted Precious as an infant, beamed with pride.
"I think it's a great honor just knowing she was nominated," Thomas said. "To actually win the award was tremendous. I'm very proud of her."
Although many with AIDS choose to keep their diagnosis a secret, Thomas said she has allowed Precious to become somewhat the poster child for AIDS because she wanted her daughter to make a difference. Precious's voice has been especially powerful in minority communities, where AIDS is often a taboo subject. Statistics show that AIDS is growing rapidly and disproportionately among African Americans and Latinos.
Precious was the youngest award recipient. For the first time, the chapter also presented six men and women with its "Image Award"--a local version of the national honor announced during a televised ceremony--for outstanding contributions to life in Prince George's.
The event drew a crowd to Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt for the five-hour awards presentation, dinner and dancing. This year's theme was "90 Years of Making Democracy Work."
Rovenia Brock, co-host of the "Heart and Soul" health and fitness show on Black Entertainment Television, kept the program flowing as master of ceremonies. Educator and recording artist Davey Yarborough and gospel recording artist Robert Finney provided entertainment.
"It is just critical that at this point in time we lift up our own," Hall said. "There are people in our community who otherwise might not get noticed. This allows us to establish a tradition."
The NAACP gave community service awards to three organizations for their involvement in education: the chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in Fort Washington for its work with Potomac Landing Elementary School; the Prince George's Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. for its work with Glassmanor and Seabrook elementary schools and the Youth Development Program at Bladensburg High School; and the Prince George's Chapter of the Links for its tutoring and summer jobs programs.
The Image Award winners were nominated by NAACP members and selected by the organization's board. One person was chosen in each of six categories: media, community, youth, religion, politics and business. Respectively, the winners were:
* Cathy Hughes, founder and owner of Radio One, a Lanham-based radio conglomerate of 26 stations across the country, one of the largest and most influential African American-owned broadcast companies in the nation.
* Eugene Green, head of the Coalition of Concerned Black Christian Men, an active member of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington and a member of the Prince George's County Housing Commission.
* Binta Mamadou, an active student who has attained a 4.089 grade point average at Friendly High School in Fort Washington and has served as president of the sophomore, junior and senior classes and as president of the Prince George's Regional Association of Student Governments.
* The Rev. Jonathan Weaver, pastor of Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church in Upper Marlboro and head of the Collective Banking Group, a coalition of African American ministers who have worked out an arrangement with several banks to steer more money to religious communities.
* Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills), vice chairman of the County Council and a longtime community activist who has helped increase minority participation on county commissions and boards and has participated in the revitalization of communities inside the Capital Beltway.
* Michelle Lamb Moone, president and chief executive of the Moone Group Inc., a human resources consulting firm, and winner of the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce's Business in Excellence Award.