It was the first time black teen-agers from over Anne Arundel County have been together since the '60s, when black students attended segregated Bates School in Annapolis.
But a gathering Monday evening in Glen Burnie was far different, said county NAACP president Jean Creek. This first annual Awards Banquet was a time to celebrate the achievements of black young men and women from all county high schools.
About 400 students, parents and community leaders met at La Fontaine Bleu, where 43 students were honored for having the highest grade-point averages among black seniors at their schools.
Among the merit students were 10 who received scholarships for scholastic achievement and school activities. The 1992 first- , second- and third-place winners received $1,000, $750 and $500, respectively, from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Seven other students received $200 scholarships for honorable mention.
Creek said the event was a testimony refuting the impression that black American youths are not achievers.
"All you have to do is look at the newspapers and see the negative stereotypes they feed us about our kids," she said. "They tell us our youth are bummers. But we're here to testify that is not true. A great number of our students are trying to move forward in life, trying to do the right thing."
Among the winners was Johnnetta Diggs, 17, who went home with the first-place scholarship. Johnnetta, a senior at South River High, plans to study computer science next year at Morgan State University.
The young woman maintains a 3.2 GPA and finds time to tutor elementary children at nearby schools as well as peer tutoring at her own school.
At Monday's banquet, she glowed with the praise of family members. "I left work at 12:30 just to be here, but, girl, I didn't know you'd be No. 1!" said her aunt, Brenda Cook.
Even when she was a little girl, Johnnetta was a scholar, said her cousins. "We used to bring our homework home and make Johnnetta do it. At age 3, she could tell time and add," said one cousin, Hope Bankett.
Added her mother, Theresa Foote, "She always had a pencil or book or something in her hand."
Johnnetta, quiet and graceful, said the $1,000 scholarship will enable her to work fewer outside jobs and study more during college. "I'm very thankful. It will make it easier," she said.
Other merit honorees included twin sisters, Karla and Karen McConnell. The 18-year-old North County High seniors, dressed alike in white lace sheaths, said they hope to study medicine and become doctors. The twins will attend Penn State next year.
"It feels good to be here, recognized like this," said Karla.
"It feels special," said Karen. Creek pointed out that black seniors in the county have been accepted at fine schools ranging from Yale to the University of Maryland engineering school. "This country belongs to all of us!" she said.
Hannah Chambers, chairwoman of an NAACP program to recognize achievement, said it was time newspapers printed positive information about black teen-agers, rather than portraying them as violent law-breakers.