At a time when the country was still racially segregated and blacks and whites lived in completely different worlds, Henrietta B. Franklin and a group of black mothers came together to form a Montgomery County Maryland Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc. to ensure that their children had a place to socialize and support each other as the young people pursued their dreams.

Last week, the county chapter celebrated its 50th anniversary by holding a gala and dinner at the Marriott Hotel in Bethesda. Montgomery County executive Isaiah Leggett, University of Maryland Baltimore County president Freeman Hrabowski and other prominent area African Americans came together to celebrate the chapter’s work and the legacy of Franklin and the other women who wanted a better life for their children. Like Jack and Jill chapters across the country, the local group was formed to help develop a sense of community among African American children and expose them to the importance of community service and to develop leadership skills.

“My mother saw Jack and Jill as the opportunity for enrichment,” said Sherrie Franklin Cox, Henrietta Franklin’s daughter.

During the gala, Cox was honored as well as Karen Roberts Franklin (no relation) because both were daughters of the charter members of the first chapter. In addition, Lonnie Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture was honored.

Bunch, Leggett and Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler all marked the milestone of the chapter, but Hrabowski used the opportunity to challenge the current Jack and Jill mothers to push for greater gains in their community in terms of education.

“How do we teach children to have a sense of self ?” Hrabowski said during his keynote address. “Even today, two thirds of black children don’t have a college education. What do we do to support other people’s children? Choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”

Raised in Georgia, Kimberly McLurkin-Harris said she knew first-hand about segregation because her dad was a chef on the Seaboard Coast Line trains that went between New Orleans and Jacksonville.

“Growing up, my mother said we are not going to sit in the black-only section,” said McLurkin-Harris, who is the current president of the Montgomery County chapter of Jack and Jill. “The bus station had the black waiting room. It was very separate and unequal.”

McLurkin-Harris, who is an assistant principal in the county, said: “Our work will never be done as long as there are children who need support. We just don’t look out for our children — our goal is to increase opportunities for all children.”